Minnesota Wild now has a marketable, watchable hockey team

Give credit to Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold.
Leipold’s directive was to give the Wild fans a watchable product, and general manager Chuck Fletcher has done just that.
Whether the Wild are a Stanley Cup contender is still highly debatable, but after the moves made by the team in the past two weeks, the Wild certainly looks like a team that is moving in the right direction.
The crowning move in the Wild’s transition was Sunday’s trade for high scoring forward Dany Heatley. Heatley has twice been a 50-goal scorer during his NHL career. For a team as desperate for offense as the Wild is, trading Martin Havlat even up for Heatley is a steal.
Havlat was a flop with the Wild. He was out of the same mold as Marian Gaborik, a powder puff soft player who created just enough offense to keep fans and management hoping that he was the answer. Even if Heatley doesn’t score any more goals than Havlat, his mentality will bring a change to the Wild. Heatley has a passion for scoring. So does Devin Setoguchi, who was acquired in another trade with San Jose.
The Wild were dead last in the NHL last season in shots taken. There were so many games last season where the Wild would score one goal and try to milk it for a 1-0 win. With their failure to make the playoffs, it was clear that formula wasn’t working. To make matters worse, for the first time since the team’s inception, Wild fans were starting to grow disillusioned over the product they were forced to watch on the ice.
This is where Leopold jumped in. He recognized that the weak product the Wild was putting on the ice was going to be reflected in ticket sales. There haven’t been any more patient or loyal fans in the NHL than Wild fans. By changing the focus of the team to a more offensive, attacking system, the Wild should be able to win over their fans again.
There are still steps needed before the Wild can be considered a legitimate contender. Mike Yeo has to prove that he can handle coaching NHL player mentalities. Yeo did a marvelous job in leading the Houston Aeros to the American Hockey League championship. But the mentality of NHL players and minor leaguers are vastly different. The one advantage Yeo holds is the relationship he’s already built with the young players who are trying to move from the minor leagues to the Wild roster. The Wild will need several players to step up and fill the third and fourth forward lines.
Another big question for the Wild is the defense. They received a king’s ransom from San Jose in trading Brent Burns. But Burns’ departure leaves a huge void in the team’s defensive unit. The Wild do not have a number one defenseman to replace Burns. The Wild have some defensemen with strong defensive skills, but they don’t have anyone who can match Burns’ offensive possibilities. In the first half of last season Burns was one of the elite offensive defensemen in the NHL. But he made himself tradable in the second half of the season. His play dropped off significantly. He could blossom into a star for San Jose. He could just as easily be the same maddening, inconsistent player we saw last season.
Speaking of inconsistent, hopefully Niklas Backstrom can return to form as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders. The Wild are banking heavily on his play. If Backstrom can’t hold up his end of the deal, the Wild might lose as many games as last season. At least they will be 4-3 losses instead the dreaded 1-0 losses that Wild fans got so tired of seeing.

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