The first two games for the Minnesota Wild this season have not gone according to plan. Two games have resulted in two losses, both in which the Wild gave up four goals before the end of regulation. One of those two losses was a shootout loss so the team did get a point for it, but when you are in the stacked Central division like the Wild are, you need wins, not pity points.
Obviously only two games into an eighty-two game season is not even close to the time for panic to set in. The Wild were projected before the season by many to be one of the top three teams in the Central division after last season’s success. Two losses doesn’t change that. After all, the Colorado Avalanche started last season off with two wins before ending up one of the worst teams in modern NHL history.
What the two losses do mean though is that we have to take a closer look at the team’s defense. Despite being one of the team’s biggest strengths, the Wild’s defense went through a significant reconstruction over this offseason. Through trades and free agency, the Wild lost three of their top seven defensemen. Could these losses cause the team troubles this season?
Marco Scandella is the most noticeable loss on defense. Scandella was sent out in a trade to the Buffalo Sabres with Jason Pominville and a 2018 4th round pick in exchange for Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and a 2018 3rd round pick. Scandella was a focal point on the Wild defense, having played at least 64 games and averaging 18 minutes on ice for 5 of his last 6 seasons. He also had the second most defensive zone start times among the top five defensemen, and played on the second penalty kill unit for the whole season with Jonas Brodin.
Scandella has been replaced in the lineup by Kyle Quincey. Quincey’s biggest team benefit is that he only costs $1.25 million against the cap while Scandella costs $4 million. For being the Wild’s fifth best defensemen, $4 million is a lot. Scandella will do well in Buffalo, but Quincey is more cost-effective for the Wild. Quincey is a steady fifth defender, but not as great as Scandella. The exchange is a step down, but considering Quincey is the team’s fifth defensemen, and Scandella’s lost time can be spread around the Wild’s top four, the lost is not significant.
The other two of the three losses defensively won’t stand out. Christian Folin and Nate Prosser were both depth on the Wild defense more than centerpieces. They played 51 and 39 games, and scored 8 and 7 points respectively. Not anything that can’t be replaced, theoretically. But the pair also brought a gritty, hard-hitting play style that doesn’t seem apparent in their replacements. If they had played a full season each, Folin would have led the team in blocked shots and Prosser would have led in hits. They were also both homegrown talents, with both being signed out of college after getting undrafted. Prosser had been with the team since 2010.
Realistically though, these losses don’t amount to much. Folin signed with the Los Angeles Kings, and Prosser with the St. Louis Blues during the summer. Their replacements, Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson, are at worst lateral moves. Both are more offensively and possession-minded players, and the rest of the returning Wild defense does well in the hard-hitting style as it stands.
As I have concluded here, there should be no worries about the Minnesota Wild’s defense going forward. Their first two games were not the best, but Devan Dubnyk was off his game against Detroit and the lost shootout to Carolina means nothing other than one lost point. If the Wild keep losing due to high goals against, then we can look into how to improve the defense.