The inevitable has finally happened. The Minnesota Wild have finally missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. After sneaking in a few times during their playoff streak and not advancing past the first round since 2015, this miss clearly signals additional changes that need to be made.
After a 101 point season in 2017-18 where they were eliminated in five games in the first round against the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild made few major changes other than firing GM Chuck Fletcher and replacing him with Paul Fenton. After a solid start to the season, the loss of defenseman Matt Dumba to a season-ending hand injury suffered in a fight against Calgary proved to be devastating as the Wild went 3-6-1 in December after said injury.
During a solid month of January, Fenton pulled the triggered on a trade of underachieving forward Nino Niederreiter to Carolina for forward Victor Rask. This trade has backfired, as Niederreiter has rebounded for 28 points in 34 games with Carolina, while Rask has only 3 points in 21 games with the Wild. The trade of forward Charlie Coyle to Boston for forward Ryan Donato looks good for Fenton, but trading key scoring forward Mikael Granlund to Nashville for forward Kevin Fiala has proved to be a wash, as neither appears to have gelled fully yet with their new teams. Losing captain Mikko Koivu to an ACL tear in February did not help the club's playoff chances either.
To his credit, Fenton has gone in the direction of youth with the previous two trades, as Fiala and Donato are both just 22 while Granlund and Coyle are both 27. Even so, additional changes need to made to improve the team and find a way to not only get back into the playoffs but make the Wild a Stanley Cup contender instead of first or second round exit.
The re-addition of Dumba and Koivu to the lineup in the fall will help, but neither appear to be incredible enough to turn them into a contender. In addition, the contract situation of the Wild makes it hard for them to completely tear the team apart and rebuild this offseason. Forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter are both 34 and have six years remaining on their matching $7.5 million per year contracts, while forward Eric Staal, also 34, was just re-signed to a two year, $3.5 million per year contract.
It would appear that the Wild would not want to trade their other three top-four defensemen in Dumba ($6 million per year until 2023), Jared Spurgeon ($5.2 million per year until 2020), and Jonas Brodin ($4.2 million per year until 2021), but you never know. A good enough offer for Spurgeon or Brodin may be too good for Fenton to pass up. With the salary structure the way it is for the Wild now, they are almost forced towards going for a playoff berth next year despite appearing to be nowhere near contending for a Stanley Cup.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau could very well be fired after the season ends, as this year's regression is quite concerning, even with the injuries and underachieving. Fenton will need to consider all of his options when contemplating major moves for the short and long term future of the franchise.
The Wild have only made it to the conference final once, coming in 2003 where they were swept by the Anaheim Ducks. For the so-called "State of Hockey", where hockey is part of the mainstream state culture, fans have to be demanding change from a middling organization.