Since the Year 2000, they have been the National Hockey League’s dirty little oxymoron: the Minnesota Wild.
The truth is, Minnesota has never been anything close to Wild. To the contrary, the franchise has been entirely tame for the sum of its existence, a dreary, subdued band of trapping Pilsner Boxes during the Jacques Lemaire years, bereft in equal parts of star power and a forecheck.
Dig a little deeper, and one discovers that the Xcel Energy Center is also fraudulently titled. There is, in fact, historical very little energy in this rink, a place where the Wild have not historically excelled at all — other than one stultifying, hook-’n'-ride run to a Western Conference final more than a decade ago.
Some people would call the above statements "a narrative." We prefer to call it an accurate depiction. When the facts change yet the story is reported as the same, only then does it become a narrative.
Which brings us to this year’s playoff run by Minnesota.
Ask folks in Colorado and Chicago, and they’ll tell you the Wild may be pressuring the puck more in the offensive zone these days, but they are still a right-side-of-the-puck, defence-first squad. They’ll speak of a team that finds its greatest strength nowadays in an ability to maintain a cycle down low, but that cycle teams always maintain that high forward whose primary responsibility is more defensive than offensive.
In Minnesota, however, this Wild team is viewed as a complete departure from the narrative. It’s got far more speed than in past years, more explosive players like Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, and the emergence of a Mikael Granlund, a Nino Niederreiter, or the incredibly quick Erik Haula make Minny a plenty entertaining team to watch. Jonas Brodin is an awesome talent on defence. Clayton Stoner is everyone’s mistake, considering he once went through waivers untouched.
Of course, entertaining, high-skill players can be forced to play a boring game, and vice versa.
So which is it with the Minnesota Wild? Let’s see…
Offensively, Minnesota ranks sixth among the remaining eight teams in goals per game (2.90), an improvement from its regular-season average of 2.43, which ranked 24th. The Wild average 30 shots on goal per night, again ranked sixth, a vast improvement from 26.6 shots per game this season, which ranked 29th.
So the offensive production isn’t exactly "wild."
What we know is that a team tends to be able to execute its preferred style at home, when it has the last change, as opposed to on the road. In playoff games at Xcel, the Wild average an even three goals per game, allowing an average of 0.75. Minny is 4-0 at home in the playoffs, where its style is fully employed and fans are treated to about 49 shots on goal per game combined — well below the playoff average of 61.25 (all stats include overtime minutes).
On the road the Wild have played more entertaining hockey to the eye of an objective hockey fan, yet Minnesota’s only win in six playoff road starts came in Game 7 at Colorado. It was an awesome offensive effort by Minnesota, which overcame four one-goal deficits to prevail 5-4 in an overtime thriller.
The Wild deserved to win five or six of the games versus Colorado. They were the better team, had the puck more, and generated more chances.
They looked the way Wild fans say they now play — unshackled and playing a fun game. Their Achilles heel is in goal, however, where Ilya Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper are just OK, and frankly don’t give the Wild a level of goaltending necessary to support run-and-gun hockey.
On the road, the Wild score at virtually the same pace (2.83 goals per game), but that 0.75 goals-against average balloons to 4.30. The combined shots on goal also jumps up eight shots to 57.
So, at home the Wild keep the shots and goals down and prevail. On the road the game opens up, and they struggle.
So what are they? Wild or mild?
Well, there is more skill here than there ever was before, but not enough to trade chances with the likes of Chicago, which is no sin.
The plan in Minnesota is to play defence-first hockey, clearly. But do 30 coaches not say the same thing of their own team?
This group is not as passive-boring as it used to be, yet there is one word you’d never use to describe Minnesota.