Last time we saw the Wild on the Xcel Energy ice, Minnesota was in the process of losing its third consecutive home playoff game — all by one goal, two of them in overtime — to cap off a disappointing five-game series loss to the Blues in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. That, however, followed a regular season in which the Wild registered 106 points — the most in franchise history — and carried serious hopes of a deep playoff run.
The Wild will be back on that ice next week for the start of training camp, while the regular season opener Oct. 5 in Detroit is officially less than one month away.
While this offseason was devoid of huge roster moves, there was some sneaky reshuffling. Sure, the top two lines figure to be about the same as they were last year while many of the same top defensemen return as well. But the trade of Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, in addition to lower-leverage signings of forward Matt Cullen and defenseman Kyle Quincey, at least give the Wild a different look among their lower lines and defensive pairs.
That said, the core of the team is very much the same. That means a lot of the same guys who have factored significantly into getting the Wild into the playoffs five years in a row (and conversely who have never helped them get further than the second round) will be tasked with repeating the first task while improving on what happens next.
When it comes to projecting how this year’s Wild will fare — particularly when talking about the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup — the task is both easy and complicated at the same time.
It’s easy to look at the Wild’s roster, then consider the guidance of coach Bruce Boudreau, and see how this team figures to be a good bet to have another good regular season (maybe even triple-digit points again) and reach the playoffs. In the NHL, with thin enough margins where hot goalies and a little luck can fuel a run to the finals, getting invited is a big part of the battle.
But five years is also a large enough sample size to wonder if the current group is what it is: A nice team that doesn’t have enough of an extra gear when the playoffs come around. Add in the Wild’s strong division and the task gets even tougher.
With that as a backdrop, I noted with interest the most recent Stanley Cup odds released via Vegas Insider. The Wild opened up at 14-1 odds, moved as high as 12-1 last month and now sits at 16-1.
There are only eight other NHL teams with better odds to win the Stanley Cup, but three of them (Chicago at 12-1, plus Dallas and Nashville at 14-1 each) are in the Central Division with the Wild. That doesn’t even include St. Louis (28-1), the team that eliminated Minnesota last year. And 15 different NHL teams — half the league — has at least 22-1 odds or better.
So that’s the reality for the Wild again: Hoping this year is the same, but also hoping this year is different, all of it against good competition and many very similar teams.
To put it all into local perspective, the buzz-worthy Wolves are at 33-1 odds to win an NBA title, the Vikings are 40-1 to win the Super Bowl and the Twins have 40-1 odds to win the World Series, all per Vegas Insider.
So the Wild is still the team — at least in the eyes of Vegas — most likely to deliver a major men’s sports championship in the near future. We’ll see if slow and steady eventually wins the race.