The Minnesota Wild enter 2022/23 in a positive mindset following a season which saw them finish second in the Central Division (53-22-7), behind only the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, and set a team record with 113 points and 53 wins.
In the playoffs, the Wild, +2000 for the Stanley Cup, were beaten by St. Louis Blues in the first round over six games and with little change over the off-season, a deeper run in the playoffs is the main focus for a team which has taken significant steps over recent years.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||7th October 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||Premier Sports & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100|
The Wild, +375 to win the Central Division, have been a regular participant in the Stanley Cup playoffs, qualifying nine times in the past ten seasons.
However, they have not won a playoff round since 2015 but General Manager Bill Guerin has chosen to seek answers rather than make any significant moves during the off-season.
He said: "This team had something special about it. And we made tremendous steps in the direction that we want to be going in."
The Wild tied for third-most comebacks wins in the NHL last season with 25, and no team had more multi-goal turnarounds than their nine.
Minnesota turned a deficit into a winning shoreline in the third period on 10 occasions, pointing towards a characterful group, but the knack didn't carry over into the playoffs.
In all four of their victories, the Blues scored first, a tone set in Game 1 in a 4-0 shutout at Xcel Energy Center to take home-ice advantage away from the Wild.
Only twice did the Wild tie St. Louis after trailing with Captain Marcus Foligno claiming he didn't feel they were outplayed, but that their opponents "managed the games better" and "played smarter", something which Minnesota will aim to learn from.
The Wild scored 310 goals in the regular season which was a franchise record and fifth most in the NHL (3.78 average goals-per-game).
That production dropped in the playoffs, though, and they were limited to two goals or fewer in each of the six games by the Blues.
Minnesota will need to solve their offensive struggles in the post-season without forward Kevin Fiala who had 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 82 regular season games last season.
The 26-year-old was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Brock Faber and the number-19 pick (Liam Ohgren) in the 2022 NHL Draft, with GM Guerin stating it was impossible to fit his new contract within the Wild's salary cap.
Fiala was one of three 30-goal scorers for the Wild in the regular season, but like Ryan Hartman too, failed to score in the playoffs, so may not have been thought of the answer anyway.
The third forward to score more than 30 goals in the regular season was Kirill Kaprizov, who in his second NHL season hit 47 goals, 61 assists for 108 points, all franchise season records.
The Wild scored 16 goals in the six-game series against the Blues and Kaprizov scored seven of them.
He now has nine goals and two assists in 13 career playoff appearances on top of 74 goals, 85 assists in 136 regular season games.
The 25-year-old won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2019/20 before signing a five-year contract to lead Minnesota forward until at least the summer of 2026.
One of the highlights of the regular season for Minnesota was the acquisition of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is +3000 for the Vezina Trophy.
The 37-year-old appeared in 11 regular season games, winning nine of them with a .910 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against-average (GAA).
Fleury won the starter job in the playoffs, winning two of his five games with a .906 save percentage and 3.04 GAA.
Desperate for something to change, Cam Talbot played Game 6 in which the Wild were eliminated and he has since been traded to the Ottawa Senators, meaning Fleury will be the bonafide number one in 2022/23.
He will be supported by 24-year-old Filip Gustavsson who was acquired from the Senators for Talbot.
Fleury has vast experience in the NHL and the playoffs, and his experience of winning the Cup three times and making the Final five times will be invaluable for a team learning how to get it done when it matters most.
Ultimately, the Wild, +900 for the Western Conference, were unfortunate to draw the Blues last season, a team which got as hot as them to end the season and that they have not matched up well against for several seasons.
The Wild went 17-2-3 following the NHL Trade Deadline on 21st March and had the best points percentage (.841) in the NHL. The Blues were fourth during that stretch, going 15-4-2 (.762).
The two teams have played 18 regular season games since the start of the 2018-19 season. The Blues are 13-3-2 and have outscored the Wild 69-46.
The match-up with the Blues was undeserved for a record-breaking season, and confidence remains rightly high in the group and coach Dean Evason.
A significant improvement is required in the post-season, though, and the areas for improvement are clear.
In a tight cap situation, the time for this Wild to deliver is now, otherwise they might not get the chance together again.