The Minnesota Wild had their best-ever regular season in 2016-17, finishing with 49 wins and 106 points. They had the second-most points in the Western Conference and were trade deadline buyers, acquiring Ryan White and Martin Hanzal for minor leaguer Grayson Downing, a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 second-rounder.
Hanzal, a 6-foot-6, 226-pound centre was a coveted player for teams looking for help down the middle this season. Best utilized as a third-line pivot, Hanzal was 18th in the league with 767 faceoff wins and had a 56.4 per cent success rate in the circle. He’s hit the 40-point mark on more than one occasion and scored at a better pace than that with the Wild, posting 13 points in 20 games.
He kept up that faceoff success rate in the post-season, but managed just one point in a five-game elimination at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in Round 1. It was a disappointing upset for the Wild and their owner, Craig Leipold, said that in hindsight, he wishes the team had kept the first-round pick instead of selling it off on Feb. 26.
“In hindsight, geez, I wish we wouldn’t have done that,” Leipold told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I supported that decision at the time, and I’m willing to live with it.”
To be clear, Leipold wasn’t knocking his general manager, Chuck Fletcher, for making the Hanzal deal because the owner supported the move. Leipold told the Star-Tribune that he still fully supports the direction in which the Wild are headed and is excited about the prospects coming through the system, but that the team’s best-ever 82-game season wasn’t good enough.
“I’m not satisfied where we are,” Leipold said. “In my feeling with the playoffs, we took a step back, and we never expected that. We didn’t think that was going to happen, so it’s causing us to think, ‘What do we need to do?’
“Again, you look back at those five games and you go, ‘How did that happen?’ I can’t certainly blame Chuck for any of that, and I don’t. … A lot of good things happened last year. We just ended up bad. We have to identify what happened there, and we need to address those, and I know Chuck is doing that right now.”