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Wild about offense in Minnesota: Season Preview

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09-03-2009, 09:28 PM
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DD88
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Wild about offense in Minnesota: Season Preview

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After nine years of defensive hockey, the Minnesota Wild are ready for some scoring.

Missing the post-season for the fifth time in eight seasons, it was time for a shake up, as coach Jacques Lemaire and GM Doug Risebrough, both with the team since its expansion, will not return. In their place, and with the hope of a more up-tempo, offensive-octane game, is new GM Chuck Fletcher, while Todd Richards, formerly an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks, will man the bench.

And that is not the only major change in Minnesota. After years of waiting for a scoring breakout, the Wild have cut ties with injury-plagued winger Marian Gaborik, who signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent. In Gaborik’s place is Martin Havlat, another oft-injured winger, though he avoided the injury bug last year in a successful campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

That was the only big change the Wild made up front, meaning the team will be banking on secondary scorers Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Andrew Brunette. The team is hoping that last season was not a fluke for Owen Nolan, who produced better than expected.

Nolan, 37, rediscovered his offensive game after struggling with Phoenix and Calgary. Through 59 games last season, Nolan scored 25 goals and 20 assists, while cutting his penalty minutes to 26.

The Wild made no changes to its top-four defense, though Marc-Andre Bergeron, Kurtis Foster, and Martin Skoula were replaced by Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy.

Vezina Trophy nominee Niklas Backstrom will receive the bulk of work in goal but it will be interesting to note his performance when not playing behind a defensive system. The Wild had difficulty signing backup Josh Harding, though the two sides did avoid arbitration. Harding posted solid numbers last season, with a 2.21 GAA and a .929 save percentage, though his 3-9-1 record did not reflect those statistics.

Prediction: 8th in West
For more season previews, check out www.corywilkins.ca

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