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Wild overcame a lot to make playoffs, but finish was disappointing

April 22, 2018 GMT

Isolate the season from those that came before it, and the Wilds performance the past six months is encouraging if not admirable.

It chipped away at an early hole to climb into one of the Central Divisions top three spots and ended up as one of the most productive teams in the Western Conference. Only one other club had a better home record in the entire league, and more than a few individuals shined.

Center Eric Staal eclipsed 40 goals, winger Jason Zucker surpassed 30 and youngsters like Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Nick Seeler emerged as reliable options when given the chance.

That all this culminated in a sixth straight trip to the playoffs was even more impressive considering the Wild accomplished the feat rarely at full strength, what with injuries prying away pillars such as defensemen Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin and forwards Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter.

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Those challenges could make getting upended in five games to a Stanley Cup contender like the Jets look like a badge of honor, a testament to how much the Wild had to weather to even be relevant beyond the regular season.

But tack on 2017-18 to its predecessors, and the skid of postseason futility continues another shortcoming even if the Wild did have to scratch and claw for it just a year after crumbling under the contender label.

And regardless of the process, the result ushered the Wild into the offseason with a familiar feeling: disappointment.

We want more, Coyle said. We expect more from ourselves. We let another one slip away.

Amid such a quick demise, the Wilds clash with the Jets revealed cracks some of which started to sprout in the regular season.

After scoring the second-most goals in the NHL in 2016-17, the dynamic edge of the offense was buffed out and the Wild slid to 11th at 3.05 goals-per-game.

While some soared, others such as captain Mikko Koivu and Niederreiter couldnt match their previous outputs, showing just how much banner years cant be expected.

There were bouts of inconsistency in the regular season, but the drought flared against the Jets, with the Wild going the final 141 minutes, 37 seconds without a goal. Coyle, Zucker and Niederreiter all failed to register a point in the series.

I didnt do enough personally to do what I can for the team, Coyle said. I had plenty of chances to finish. I didnt finish, or the goalie came up big. Whatever it is, I didnt get the job done. That hurts. You always want to make sure you play your best for you team, and I felt like I didnt.

On defense, Matt Dumbas career season was a bright spot and so was the veteran play of goalie Devan Dubnyk. The unit took a major hit when Suter suffered a season-ending right ankle fracture in March. And while the back end was able to limit the Jets in stretches, it also got exposed struggles Suter likely could have patched up or at least disguised.

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Overall, the blue line ranked 11th (2.79 goals-against per game); special-teams play trended closer to the middle of the pack, with the power play 18th (20.4 percent) and penalty kill 13th (81.3).

Our guys, when we miss them, coach Bruce Boudreau said, we really miss them.

With the bulk of the roster under contract for next season, change this summer appears discretionary.

Zucker and Dumba headline the class of restricted free agents, and General Manager Chuck Fletcher has said he feels the team can re-sign both with their values being influenced by how the team finishes an outlook that flatters one more than the other. Forwards Daniel Winnik and Matt Cullen are among the unrestricted free agents.

The Wild has about $7.5 million in cap space for next season, according to capfriendly.com, but that number should grow if the cap lands between $78 million and $82 million as projected.

Trades are also a possibility, and that might be the best way to spark to a group thats had trouble getting past the first round in recent years.

If the focus stays narrow on this season, maybe more tweaks occur to help the offenses depth. Either way, whether the evaluation is short-term or encompasses the past, some type of fix seems inevitable.

It always does when the end arrives sooner than anticipated.

We couldnt get it done, Koivu said. We gotta regroup and find a way to get better. Thats what it comes to. Its tough to get to the playoffs, but you cant be satisfied with that.