Minnesota Wild's Future Playoff Hopes: Key Issues To Address

Cody StromContributor IMarch 23, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 28:  Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards watches as his team takes on the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period on September 28, 2010 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

The trend of the Minnesota Wild over the last three seasons has not been appealing to the Twin Cities area. They have finished 19th, 22nd and currently sit 20th in the league.

It appears as though they will miss the playoffs for the third straight year, which is unacceptable in their rich hockey market. The Wild have many issues they need to resolve to become cup contenders in the future.

The Wild’s biggest issue this year has been scoring (26th overall). They tried adding Martin Havlat in the 2009 offseason, but he has yet to have been able to match his career high of 31. Havlat currently has 21 goals.

Also, Guillaume Latendresse, who had 25 goals in 55 games with the Wild last season, has fallen victim to the injury bug this season. This team will need to add either a sniper or a game-changing playmaker that can allow Havlat and Latendresse (if healthy) to concentrate on scoring goals.

The Wild also have problems in the defensive zone not entirely shown by their goals against rank, which sits at 15th. The Wild have strong goaltending from Niklas Backstrom, the problem lies with a young defensive core averaging 26 years of age, the oldest being Marek Zidlicky at 34.

Zidlicky is an offensive-minded defenseman, which doesn't help this defense in shutdown situations. They’ll need to add a veteran defenseman that can help demonstrate to the young core how to play in the defensive zone.

As always, pointing out the issues is always easier than resolving them.

The Wild have seven upcoming UFA’s (five forwards, two goalies), but only makes $7 million in cap space available for the 2011-2012 season. This binds the Wild in this summer’s free agency to go out and pick up any prolific players that may be available.

The Wild will need to bargain hunt for quite a few players but also must spend each cent as wisely as they can. The Wild’s main goal should be to add a veteran defensive defenseman from this year’s free agents.

The Wild will look at the draft to add a scorer. With the current standings, the Wild are looking at a pick in the 7-13 range (currently 10th). There have been numerous gems that have fallen to those early mid-range picks, so the Wild will be hoping this can be the case in this year's draft class.

The Wild essentially have two incoming first-round picks for next season with Mikael Granlund’s contract expiring over in Finland making him available for the 2011-2012 season. Granlund, a quick, skilled playmaking center, should make an immediate impact on this stagnant offense. Therefore, the Wild should be looking to draft a sniping winger in this year’s draft.

The question will be asked by the fans in Minnesota: “Will we make the playoffs this year?” This question right now cannot be answered. I would love nothing more than to say, “Yes, the Wild will make the 2012 playoffs.”

However, I still have concerns with the team and would like to see how they address these problems. If the Wild continue to improve their team over the next year, I do think that they will be making the playoffs in 2013.