Last year was supposed to be a big coming out party for the Wild. They made the two biggest splashes in free agency, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge deals... the kind of huge deals that resulted in the lockout that came soon after them, which sort of put a damper on the proceedings for Minnesota. To make matters worse, the Wild did not have the impact they perhaps wanted in the first year of the Parise and Suter Era. They barely made it into the playoffs as an eight seed, where they were quickly vanquished by Chicago. However, that was only year one of this new look Wild team. As anybody who has looked at the contracts knows, there are many more to come.
Parise and Suter will be relied upon heavily again, which is fine, because both were quite good last year, with Suter being a finalist for the Norris. Part of why, perhaps, the Wild were slightly disappointing was the fact their touted young players didn't quite pop. Jonas Brodin was quite good, but Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle weren't quite ready. Maybe they will be this year.
Minnesota also still has Mikko Koivu, and, while Matt Cullen has moved on, they did trade for Jason Pominville last year, and he is still around, and they added Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter in the offseason. Niederreiter is a former high draft pick, and he is only 20. Maybe a change of scenery will help. The Wild will also hope that is the case with defenseman Jonathan Blum. There are also questions about Dany Heatley, who is not the player he once was.
However, the real question may be the goaltending. It was thought the Wild had two starter quality goalies in Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, although the latter was dealing with serious healthy issues. Backstrom ended up playing the vast majority of the games, but only managed a .909 save percentage, which isn't good. Harding struggled in limited action, and Darcy Kuemper ended up with the best numbers of anybody, albeit in a very small sample size. They need better goaltending. That will be the difference between squeaking into the playoffs and making some real noise.
I definitely think this is a playoff team, and it shouldn't be as hard this year. They are in the somewhat easy Central, where they are clearly behind Chicago but nobody else. I could see them finishing second in their division, which would be big for them. I wouldn't call them Cup contenders, but if they get strong goaltending, I could easily find myself amending that.