The outlook on the rest of the NHL season continues to change frequently and get more confusing as time passes into the summer without a definitive plan in place.
As covered in an article last Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild have two potential, realistic opponents in the event the NHL returns for the playoffs this summer. Whether it be the Vancouver Canucks or the Dallas Stars, both clubs are similar to the Wild in terms of points this season. Each, though, has a significantly different roster makeup and varying levels of experience in playoff situations.
Here, Zone Coverage will analyze the matchups and point out some things to watch for with either opponent, should they face off with the Wild in the playoffs.
Regular season series: Minnesota 2-1-0, Vancouver 1-1-1
The Canucks are back to competing for the playoffs after a near half decade of rebuilding and retooling since their last playoff appearance in 2015.
Their 78 points in 69 games this year was good for fourth in the Pacific Division, but due to the strength of the Central Division this season, Vancouver would have been the first team out of a wild card position in the regular playoff format, just ahead of Minnesota with 77 points.
The rebuild for the Canucks has resulted in a few dynamic and impressive players that have come to the forefront of league-wide marketing. Those topping the list are Elias Pettersson and Minnesota native Brock Boeser, who played on the same line for much of the season and combined for 43 goals.
Although Pettersson gets much of the national attention, he wasn’t even the leading point-getter for the Canucks. That title belonged to center J.T. Miller with 72 points in 69 games. Vancouver is much different from Minnesota in its youth, speed and multiple, high-danger scoring threats.
While Kevin Fiala had a breakout year for the Wild in showing his dynamic goal-scoring ability, Minnesota doesn’t have many threats beyond Fiala, while a number of speedy Canucks forwards could score the puck on the other end. Not to mention Quinn Hughes, a high-scoring defenseman that is just 20 years old. He has shown he can score at the NHL level but remains a weak point on the defensive end for Vancouver. With other defensive stalwarts Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev, the Canucks back end is finally backstopped by a resurgent Jacob Markstrom.
After a slow start to his career, he finally solidified a starting spot in the NHL as of the 2017-18 season.
Expect this hypothetical series to be very competitive, but don’t be surprised if the high-flying skaters for Vancouver impress early.
Regular season series: Minnesota 3-1-0, Dallas 1-2-1
The Stars are just a bit different from the last time they faced the Wild in the playoffs. Obviously, that won’t be a shock because the teams are both in the same division and match up at least four times each year.
Like Minnesota, Dallas is a veteran-laden team. In the offseason, Dallas added 33-year-old Andrej Sekera on defense and two 35-year-olds in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. While that veteran presence is certainly felt on that team, along with the Stars’ two most prominent offensive players, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, some of the team’s youth shines through.
Twenty-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen exploded onto the NHL scene this season and put up 35 points in 68 games, good for the third-highest point total on the Stars. In addition to Heiskanen, forward 23-year-old Roope Hintz made a mark this season as well with 19 goals and 14 assists.
While Seguin is Dallas’ only player with more than 39 points on the season, the team has still managed a third-place position in the Central Division. In the regular playoff format, the 82-point Stars would have met up with Colorado, but now it could be Minnesota.
The Stars traditionally rely heavily on their offense, but the back end has a formidable backstop tandem in Ben Bishop and familiar face Anton Khudobin, who was drafted by Minnesota in 2004. Though Bishop has moved around in his career and has a long injury history, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.
This season, the two goalies have similar numbers but combine for a .924 save percentage along with a 2.38 goals-against average, according to HockeyReference.com. Technically, Khudobin is the 2019-20 league leader with a .924 save percentage, but combined with Bishop those numbers are good for fourth in the NHL. Both Khudobin and Bishop are in the top-10 in the league in their respective goals-against averages.
Dallas has proven resilient as well, posting a consistent record after firing head coach Jim Montgomery midseason. The stars went 17-11-3 (.597) under Montgomery, who was let go for unprofessional conduct. Under interim coach Rick Bowness, they are 20-13-5 (.592).
Only time will tell what playoff format the NHL ultimately decides to go with. Until then, fans wait with bated breath to see if their team is indeed included or on the outside.