Monday, September 30, 2013

The 2013-14 Minnesota Wild: Defense

Coming out of the 2011-12 season, the Minnesota Wild defense was just abysmal. They had traded away blueliners Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky, and Greg Zanon mid-season and brought in Tom Gilbert to help get a spark going offensively from the blueline (Gilbert had five assists while playing the role of top defenseman).

So by the beginning of the offseason, Minnesota's blueline featured Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, and Nate Prosser. Not exactly a championship winning defensive core.

So headed into the lockout shortened season of 2012-13, the team added Ryan Suter and brought up Jonas Brodin from the AHL. After a few rough games, the pair found their strides and became one of the best defensive pairings in the league.

But still behind Suter and Brodin, the Wild were still struggling defensively. Gilbert had an awful season (and was later bought out in the offseason), Stoner seemingly could do no right when he hit the ice, Spurgeon (who received a contract extension this summer) did not do anything great but he certainly did not do anything bad, Marco Scandella spent most of the season in the AHL after having struggles early in the season, andFalk/Prosser/Brett Clark spent the season switching off as healthy scratches.

The Wild defense was less than stellar in the postseason as the Blackhawks did circles around the outgunned defense, which lead to a Chicago triumph in just five games. Not exactly the way you want to make your first playoff appearance in five years.

So now enter the 2013-14 season. Keith Ballard was brought in to add some physical and veteran presence to the blueline. It would appear that for at least the beginning of the season that Matt Dumba will get to play on the third pairing with Ballard to see what he can do before the team has to decide whether or not to send him back to Red Deer. Spurgeon and Scandella are still here and will hold down the second d-pairing to open the year.

With all this in mind, the Wild need better play from the bottom two pairings. It is a lot easier said and done now that the team is in a new, tougher division. But if they have any aspirations of going further than five games in the playoffs, they really need more consistent play from the defense.

They took a gamble on signing Ballard to a two year deal after being bought out from Vancouver. His play was less than admirable, but with a fresh start he could be a real bargain for the Wild. They are taking a gamble on Spurgeon and Scandella getting their own d-pairing together. And if Dumba gets sent back to Red Deer they are taking a gamble by having Stoner and Prosser play in the lineup.

Its an extreme roll of the dice for the Minnesota Wild defense for 2013-14. Place your bets cautiously and hope for a winning roll.

Projected Defensive Pairings
Extras: Stoner, Prosser

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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