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With the 2021 NHL season fast approaching, it’s time to take a deep look at the newly aligned West division to see how the Colorado Avalanche are set to fare against their seven regular season opponents this year.

In my last piece, I looked at a somewhat competitive Los Angeles Kings roster that also has one of the best prospect pools in hockey, and will likely play in a lot of spoiler games this year.

Next up, the Minnesota Wild.

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Minnesota Wild (35-27-7) 6th in Central
Team Stats (2019-2020)
GF: 220 (15th in NHL), GA: 220 (22nd in NHL), PP%: 21.3% (11th in NHL), PK%: 77.2% (25th in NHL)
Team Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020)
2-2-0 (.500P%, 13 GF, 13 GA, 3.25 GF/G, 3.25 GA/G)
Players to Watch
Kevin Fiala Jersey – 64gp 23g 31a 54p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 20gp 8g 10a 18p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 1g 3a 4p

Ryan Suter Jersey – 69gp 8g 40a 48p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 21gp 4g 10a 14p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

Jared Spurgeon Jersey – 62gp 12g 20a 32p
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 19gp 4g 6a 10p

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 4gp 1g 1a 2p

Of the teams that made a coaching change during the 2019-20 season, the Minnesota Wild are clearly one of the clubs that had something great going with the replacement. And prior to the season restart, the team removed the interim tag from Dean Evason’s job title.

The Wild ran into a razor-hot Vancouver Canucks club in the qualification round, so their bubble journey ended quickly. What will the 2020-21 season bring? Here’s everything you need to know prior to opening night:

Big question: Is this a playoff team?
The Wild were roped into the postseason through the 24-team tournament expansion last summer; otherwise, their .558 points percentage wasn’t enough to make the cut. But this Minnesota team, coached by last year’s interim boss Dean Evason, should be better than that edition. The Wild added offense to a group that has a rising star in Kevin Fiala; and, in Cam Talbot, have improved their goaltending in back of a defense whose analytics were some of the best in the league last season.

NHL Goalie Depth
Alex Stalock Jersey – 38gp, 20-11-4, 2.67gaa, .910sv%, 4so
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 9gp, 5-3-0, 2.54gaa, .916sv%, 1so

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): 1gp, 1-0-0, 2.01gaa, .926sv%, 0so

Cam Talbot – 26gp, 12-10-1, 2.63gaa, .919sv%, 2so
Stats vs West Division (2019-2020): 10gp, 6-2-1, 2.47gaa, .921sv%, 1so

Stats vs Avalanche (2019-2020): DID NOT PLAY

Notable Offseason Acquisitions
Cam Talbot
Nick Bonino
Marcus Johansson
Oh… yes we Cam! ✍️

The #mnwild has signed goaltender Cam Talbot (@ctalbot33) to a three-year contract.

» https://t.co/kS3r0xjbFT pic.twitter.com/S6Gua2uYpK

— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) October 9, 2020
The Minnesota Wild will look to build off of a season that, had they been in any other division, would’ve likely been well into a playoff spot. After being eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in the qualifying round, Wild GM Bill Guerin shocked the culture of the team by trading off some significant pieces in Eric Staal Jersey, Luke Kunin Jersey, and Devan Dubnyk Jersey.

While they retained some significant pieces in the offseason like Cam Talbot Jersey, Marcus Johansson Jersey, and Nick Bonino Jersey, what remains to be seen is whether or not the Minnesota Wild actually got better. For a team that has struggled to get over the hump of mediocrity that they’ve been stuck in for so long, the front office has always been hesitant to be active on the trading and free agency market.

With their great defensive core and the promising group of forwards in front of them, they will likely be in the playoff picture among the best teams in the division.

Prediction: 4th in Division, Make Playoffs

Colorado Avalanche v Minnesota Wild
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
Colorado Avalanche – 42-20-8 (2019-20) 2nd in Central
Team Stats (2019-20)
GF: 237 (4th in NHL), GA: 191 (5th in NHL), PP%: 19.1% (19th in NHL) PK%: 81.4% (13th in NHL)
Team Stats vs Wild (2019-20)
2-2-0 (.500P%, 4 GF, 7 GA, 3.25 GF/G, 3.25 GA/G)
Players to Watch
Nathan MacKinnon – 69gp 35g 58a 93p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 20gp 8g 16a 24p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

Mikko Rantanen – 42gp 19g 22a 41p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 11gp 4g 6a 10p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 3gp 1g 2a 3p

Cale Makar – 57gp 12g 38a 50p
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 15gp 6g 8a 14p

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 4gp 2g 3a 5p

NHL Goaltender Depth
Pavel Francouz – 34gp, 21-7-4, 2.21gaa, .923sv%, 1so
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 12gp, 6-5-1, 2.58gaa, .907sv% 1so

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 2gp, 1-1-0, 3.54gaa, .897sv%, 0so

Phillip Grubauer – 36gp 18-12-4 2.63gaa .916sv% 2so
Stats vs West Division (2019-20): 9gp 5-3-0 2.22gaa .916sv% 1so

Stats vs Wild (2019-20): 2gp, 1-1-0, 2.56gaa, .919sv%, 0so

With the season series being split 2-2 this past season, fans should mark all eight matchups that these teams have this season on their calendars. Despite the notable skill gap that Colorado has when looking at some of the other teams within the West Division, the hockey is going to be as competitive as ever, and rivalries will be brewing.

From a statistical standpoint, aside from the wins and losses column, the Wild have been one of the best matchups for the Avalanche when it comes to just how competitive the games have been. 3.25 in the goals for per-game as well as the goals against per-game in the season series this past year, and managed to somehow lose two games even with Mackinnon, Rantanen and Makar scoring at at least a point per-game against them.

Although Minnesota may not be the flashiest team in the league for a lot of fans, they have some deceptively skilled players who, if were playing in a larger market, could be stars in the NHL. This matchup will not disappoint.

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The Minnesota Wild were about to hit the ice for morning skate at Xcel Energy Center ahead of facing the Las Vegas Golden Knights, when the NHL put the season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Four months later, the Wild were in the Edmonton bubble, and sent home after losing to the Vancouver Canucks in four games.

With the NHL’s announcement Sunday, we now know how the 2021 season is going to look, and it’s going to be a lot different. Welcome to playing sports in the middle of a pandemic.

“I think everybody can say that they’ve learned to be flexible and expect the unexpected. We’ll be ready to go and we know it’s a different world that we’re living in and working in right now, so we just have to be able to roll with the punches,” said Wild General Manager Bill Guerin, speaking with reporters Monday afternoon on Zoom.

Many Wild players are already skating on their own at TRIA Rink. The team will convene for training camp on Jan. 3, and it won’t last long. A 56-game regular season will start Jan. 13.

Wild fans will need to have extra coffee on hand this season, as plenty of late nights are ahead. The Wild have been moved to the West Division. Their regular opponents are Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis and Las Vegas, which they will all face eight times.

Plenty of late night starts on the road are ahead for the Wild. Guerin isn’t worried about it, and won’t let it be an excuse.

“It doesn’t concern me. We travel on great planes, we stay in great hotels, we eat properly. There will be plenty of time to acclimate to different time zones. If you’re in the West at all, your travel is tough.” Guerin said. “That’s just the way it is. I’m not worried about it at all.”

Guerin also isn’t concerned about the shortened season, which will feature back-to-backs and stretches where the Wild play three games in four nights. He cited winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, which was a 48-game regular season.

After the 56-game regular season concludes, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will feature a 16-team tournament, consisting of the top four teams in each division. All series will be best-of-seven, crowning a champion with the hopes of returning to a more normal schedule with the 2021-22 season.

The Wild went through a fair amount of turbulence last season. Guerin fired Bruce Boudreau, eventually naming Dean Evason the full-time head coach. There’s been roster turnover, and now a new goalie to start the season with Alex Stalock Jersey out injured and Devan Dubnyk Jersey leaving the team in the offseason.

There will be COVID-19 protocols in place to start the season, and games played in empty arenas. But the team’s goals and expectations aren’t changing.

“This is another season in the National Hockey League and we expect everybody with the Minnesota Wild to compete, and compete for a championship, bring their best every night,” Guerin said. “Expectations are the same, if anything, this is when we find out the type of guys that we really have. It’s going to be tough, but it also can be really rewarding.”

Other than injuries to Stalock and Mats Zuccarello Jersey, Guerin doesn’t expect any other absences before the season. He said Monday he’s not expecting any players to opt out of the season, after there were no opt-outs in the Edmonton bubble.

Ready or not, training camp starts in two weeks.

“I trust these guys that they’re all going to come in in great shape and ready to go. I think they’re all anxious to play,” Guerin said.

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The Minnesota Wild know what players are going to be wearing letters during the next NHL season, but they aren’t spilling their guts quite yet.

Coming up to their first season without Mikko Koivu Jersey on their roster since the 2004-05 lockout, the coaching staff was facing a new issue this off-season. Despite the several theories of what path they will go down — roster full of alternate captains, no letters at all, etc. — they have made their mind and we are all just sitting here, trying to wait patiently.

“We have an idea of what we want, and to be honest,” head coach Dean Evason told The Athletic’s Michael Russo on KFAN last week, “we do know who we’re going to name. We have to go through that process. But we certainly have a lot of candidates, and you can just look at our roster.”

General manager Bill Guerin mentioned a few weeks ago, that they know what type of player, on and off the ice, that they want in a captain. Someone dependable and that will always be there; all of those nice characteristics that you idealistically want. Even if that description can mean a handful of players on the Wild’s roster, the decision has already been made prior to the Jan. 13 puck drop.

“I don’t think you can look at it and go, ‘Okay, that’s the guy,’” Evason said in the same radio interview. “We’re excited about that because we have several different guys that could wear the ‘C’ on our team. We have several different guys that are going to lead our hockey club regardless if they have a letter on their jersey. We’d like to get to that point as well, to name him, so that it can be out there. And we’re excited to do that, but you’ll have to wait.”

Everyone knows the usual suspects in Minnesota’s leadership group. Zach Parise Jersey, Ryan Suter Jersey, Jared Spurgeon Jersey, and Marcus Foligno Jersey are the four likely candidates that everyone can blindly guess. If one of them isn’t named captain, that would be one of the more shocking things to happen in Minnesotan hockey.

After the careful teasing from the head coach, we’ll just have to sit on our hands and patiently wait until they feel like telling us. Or maybe just until we randomly spot the letter on opening night, in an extremely casual reveal.