Earlier this week, I did a post talking about why I think the Minnesota Wild will be better this season. If you haven't read it yet, it might be worth a look before you read this post.
Here, I'll discuss what I think are the extremely valid reasons to be pessimistic about this year's team.
Hockey games aren't played on paper. On paper, the Wild appear better. But we don't decide the games that way. When the chips have been down in recent years -- both under Jacques Lemaire and Todd Richards -- this team has perennially not played well enough and not done enough on either end of the ice to make a difference.
It can't all be Todd Richards' fault. And it's not all Doug Risebrough's fault, either.
What if the chemistry isn't right? Right now, the Wild appear to be going with Mikko Koivu centering the former Sharks, Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but what if it doesn't work? Heatley worked with Joe Thornton for the last couple years. Koivu is a very good player, but he isn't Joe Thornton. Will Heatley be able to develop the kind of chemistry with the Wild captain that he had with the Sharks captain?
And I know they're friends, but the fact that Setoguchi and Heatley are boys off the ice doesn't mean they'll be able to co-exist on the same line. They're both shooters, and shooters can sulk at times where they're not getting enough chances to shoot.
The defense won't be as good. New coach Mike Yeo wants to play an up-tempo, puck possession game. That's probably a good thing, because the best defense is not letting the other team have the puck. And the Wild aren't sporting a bunch of blue-chippers on defense right now.
Brent Burns was traded to San Jose in the Setoguchi deal, leaving Marek Zidlicky as the top offensive defenseman on the roster. Minnesota will miss Burns' slick puckhandling and passing, and no one who will make this team can replace either of those qualities. Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon will be effective as defense-first guys on the blue line who can lead and play a lot of minutes. They'll be surrounded by youngsters, with guys like Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser and Justin Falk all potentially making the team and playing a significant role. So far, former Blackhawk Jordan Hendry has looked good. He's on a tryout after blowing out his knee last season, and it would be really cool if he could make the team. He was on the Cup-winning Chicago team in 2010, and he could be a great steal for GM Chuck Fletcher, even if he ends up on a two-way deal.
In the end, there are just too many questions on defense to think the unit will be good enough to get this team in the playoffs.
Goaltending issues? Simply put, Niklas Backstrom wasn't as good as necessary last season. Too many soft goals and rough nights, even though his overall numbers weren't terrible. There were times that backup Jose Theodore looked more like the starter than Backstrom.
Josh Harding is back as the No. 2 this year, off a knee injury. With the defense in front of them likely not as good as it has been, there will be more burden on the goaltenders.
Of course, if the team takes to Yeo's system and plays it the way the coach demands, there might not be much of any significant pressure on the goalies, and that makes this all null and void.
In the end, I am very optimistic about this Wild team. I believe in Yeo's message more than I ever believed in Richards, and while it might be a hill of beans in the end, it seems the players have bought in so far.
The keys to the season are undoubtedly the chemistry up front with the new faces among the top six forwards, the ability of guys like Cal Clutterbuck, Darroll Powe, and Eric Nystrom to bring the pain, and improvement out of the defense, even without Burns.
If those things happen, Yeo's first season will be as much of a success as his first season in Houston was.
If they don't, the Wild will be just another lame Minnesota pro sports team.