Minnesota Wild Preview: Five Burning Questions About The 2010-11 NHL Season

On Wednesday night, as the Minnesota Wild opened the 2010-11 NHL preseason at Xcel Energy Center, their 400-plus game sellout streak came to an end.

Sort of.

As pointed out, preseason hockey doesn't count in these numbers as far as the league is concerned, and while Wednesday night's game is in reality the first game in the history of the franchise that didn't see 18,568 people in the stands. But when a team fails to sell out, preseason or not, for the first time in over 10 years, eyes open.

Is this a sign of things to come in the State of Hockey?

Well, the team hasn't performed well in recent years, and if you glance at our SB Nation Preseason Power Rankings, it looks like they could have a lean year once again. Goaltending fell off the map last year, the defense was atrocious, and hopes have dimmed in St. Paul.

With help from our Wild bloggers at Hockey Wilderness, we examine whether or not these old problems will plague the 2010-11 club.

1. Can Guillaume Latendresse match or exceed the production of last season?

Hockey Wilderness: Yes, he can. Naysayers be warned, this kid is for real. Misused by the Canadiens organization and playing under extreme pressure, Latendresse had zero chance of success. When he had success, they knocked him backwards, likely just to prove a point. He is playing on a line with Martin Havlat, a known playmaker, and has developed real chemistry with him. Reports out of camp suggest that Matt Cullen has also found some chemistry with the pairing, which only makes them more dangerous. Top end maybe 30-35 goals, but it is a realistic goal.

2. Will Niklas Backstrom return to his dominating ways, or was it truly the system?

HW: It's the system. I truly believe that Backstrom is an above average goaltender, his numbers will prove that, but they were inflated based upon the Jacques Lemaire system. However, last season was an outlier, based upon the number of odd-man rushes and time in zone for the opposing offense. Backstrom was simply left on an island too often, wasn't able to make the number of big saves he did in previous seasons, and he ended up with a bad hip. If the hip is healthy, he should be fine, since there's one more year in the system for the defensemen.

3. How hot is the seat under Todd Richards?

HW: If the team starts out the way it did last year, Richards will be job hunting. With eight out of ten at home to start the season, there is no reason the Wild should not be able to come out fast. They struggled on the road last season, but a fast start with the games at home should give Richards some breathing room to figure things out on the road. Chuck Fletcher is a reasonable man, and willing to accept the system struggles in the first year, and injuries contributing, but if it begins to go down hill quickly, Fletcher will take action. So, how hot is the seat? It's warm, but not yet at a boil.

4. Does the loss of Derek Boogaard and John Scott really eliminate the intimidation factor, and leave the Wild vulnerable against physical play?

HW: In a word, no. Guys like Cal Clutterbuck, Brad Staubitz, Brent Burns, Eric Nystrom and Guillaume Latendresse aren't afraid to stick up for themselves and others. In fact, when you look at the number of fights Boogaard had last season, he almost matched his point output. Yeah, it was that low. If your fighter isn't fighting, and your guys are being pushed around, maybe it's time to try something new. This is a non-factor.

5. Will Pierre-Marc Bouchard return, and if so, will we see the offensive spark he can provide?

HW: He will return, though not right away. Seems like within the first 15 games is reasonable for a return, with probably 10 games after that before he really gets back to himself. The offensive spark he can provide depends on where he ends up in the lineup. If he gets paired with Koivu, you can bet there will be sparks. If he starts out lower on the card, without the finishing skills, he will have a down year. From what Richards is saying, Bouchard seems a lock at the top line RW spot. Which makes sense because with his small size and previous history, he is not going to make a good checker. Upside would be 40- 50 points this season, but those would be some most welcome points.

***

For more on the Wild, check out Hockey Wilderness and SB Nation Minnesota.

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