Wild coach Dean Evason is no dummy.
While he will remain in the Twin Cities next season after inking a contract extension about a month ago, he knows his team as a whole will look much different than it does now.
That’s simply the way it works in the NHL, regardless of circumstance.
“There’s always tweaking obviously at the end of the season, and our team is no different,” Evason said. “There’s no question there will be tweaking. We do like our group and the way that we played for each other and the way that we conducted ourselves. We liked the way we played throughout this series, for sure.”
For the Wild, the 3-1 series loss to the youthfully unproven Vancouver Canucks was yet another example of this core not getting over the hump.
They are good enough to make the playoffs. They aren’t good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup.
It’s long been the same story for owner Craig Leipold, which prompted his decision to part ways with well-respected general manager Chuck Fletcher after the 2017-18 season, as well as his decision to fire the much-maligned general manager Paul Fenton after a tumultuous tenure.
Now the job belongs to general manager Bill Guerin. He took over last August and will have to navigate through a sea of unknowns in his first offseason at the helm.
Here are five storylines to follow:
Will Mikko Koivu retire?
This could be it for the only permanent captain the franchise has ever known.
Since being drafted with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2001 draft, Mikko Koivu has become synonymous with the Wild. He’s the franchise’s all time leader in games played (1028), points (709), assists (504) and many other statistical categories.
That said, the 37-year-old Koivu is in the final year of his contract, and there’s a good chance Guerin decides not to re-sign him. His role significantly decreased late this season, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
That said, if Koivu doesn’t garner a contract, he has already made it very clear that he has no intentions of playing for any other NHL team. Thus, if he wants to continue his playing career, there’s a chance he could do so by sailing off into the sunset in his native Finland.
Is Kirill Kaprizov ready?
You have to feel for Kirill Kaprizov. He will have almost no margin for error when next season rolls around.
As far as the impatient Wild fan base is concerned, the 23-year-old Kaprizov better be a 40-goal scorer from the moment he steps on the ice.
Those are the expectations that come with being the best player in the world not currently in the NHL.
There’s no doubt Kaprizov is a star in the making. He has scored at every stage of his career, his release is generational, and he appears to live for the big moments.
That said, there are growing pains that come with making the jump to the NHL that can’t be ignored. It will be interesting to see how Kaprizov handles that moving forward.
Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes
If there’s any consolation to bowing out of the postseason, it’s that the Wild now have a 12.5 percent chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick and with it, the right to draft dynamic winger Alexis Lafreniere.
There hasn’t been a prospect this coveted since Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby before him. In other words, Lafreniere could change the landscape of whichever franchise gets him.
This is a position the Wild have never been in, as they have been stuck in the NHL’s version of purgatory pretty much since their inception. More often than not they aren’t good enough to contend for a Stanley Cup, yet they aren’t bad enough to have a legit shot at the No. 1 overall pick.
That changed this season thanks to a wonky wrinkle in the NHL Return To Play Plan that saw a placeholder team win the draft lottery. That means every team that lost in the qualifying series will have the same odds — 12.5 percent — at winning the No. 1 overall pick during a separate draft lottery at 5 p.m. Monday.
That list obviously includes the Wild. You can almost see Guerin crossing his fingers and toes from here.
Who's the starting goalie?
Alex Stalock got every start in the postseason, and rightfully so. His play this season is the reason the Wild even had an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup in any capacity.
That said, it’s fair to wonder if the 33-year-old Stalock will be the guy moving forward. He has been a backup for most of his career, and while he proved capable this season, he’s not getting any younger.
It’s possible that Guerin could make a splash this offseason and get a household name between the pipes. It’s also possible that Guerin is content having Stalock compete with Devan Dubnyk and Kaapo Kahkonen ahead of next season.
If that’s the case, the edge might actually go to Kahkonen considering the trajectory of his career. He was recently named the best goaltender in the American Hockey League and appears to be ready to take the next step. He went 3-1-1 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage this season during his cup of coffee in the big leagues.
When will next season start?
All of these storylines could end up being moot if the NHL has to continuously push back its start date for next season.
While it’s reportedly supposed to start in December, that could change with still so much uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s also unclear how the logistics of next season would work.
While the NHL has rightfully garnered praise for having no positive tests over the past few weeks, that success is largely due to the bubble system in Edmonton and Toronto. It seems unrealistic that the NHL would have a bubble system again next season.