Minnesota Wild: 49-25-8, lost in the first round, $0 in cap space
Biggest changes: The Wild made one decent move in the offseason, dealing defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a package for forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. This freed Minnesota from the 34-year-old Pominville's $5.6 million salary-cap hit and the 27-year-old Scandella's $4 million cap hit while helping them get younger with the 27-year-old Ennis and 26-year-old Foligno. The Wild also lost forward Erik Haula to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Haula was a solid depth forward and scored 29 goals combined the past two seasons. The Wild scooped up 40-year-old local boy Matt Cullen from the Pittsburgh Penguins with a one-year, $1 million contract to add veteran depth on the lower lines. Cullen had 31 points in 72 games last season and was a key contributor on their back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning teams.
Case for: All the key components that made the Wild successful a year ago return this season. Forward Mikael Granlund, who led the team with 69 points, finally realized his prodigious talent and appears to have arrived as a consistent contributor. Veteran center Eric Staal rediscovered his game with 65 points, his highest full-season total since 2011-12. It's not a stretch to think Staal can hit the 60-point mark again. Captain Mikko Koivu was a Selke Trophy finalist, and he and Staal should once again provide one of the Central Division's savviest 1-2 punches down the middle. Forwards Nino Niederreiter (25 goals last season), Charlie Coyle (56 points) and Jason Zucker (19 goals) all came into their own as top-end talents and should be able to repeat their 2016-17 successes. Minnesota has a solid group of defensemen, led by Ryan Suter, who should again crunch close to 27 minutes per game. Suter and Jared Spurgeon make up one of the league's more underrated pairs, and the Wild know they're in good hands when both players are on the ice. Devan Dubnyk, who posted a 2.25 goal-against average and .923 save percentage last season, has been one of the NHL's top goalies since he arrived and should be able to replicate those numbers.
Case against: A lot of Minnesota's core players are in their 30s, and a decline has already started for some, including Zach Parise, who failed to hit the 20-goal mark (19 goals in 69 games) in a full season for the first time since his rookie year and had injury troubles in camp. Staal's numbers had plummeted before last season, and there's worry that he could slide backward after his rebirth season. Although Suter has shown no signs of slowing down, he'll turn 33 in January and has played the most minutes in the NHL since 2012-13, his first season with the Wild. Furthermore, coach Bruce Boudreau's teams have often seemed to struggle in the face of adversity. Boudreau has won eight division titles but advanced past the second round of the playoffs only once. He has gone 1-7 in Game 7s as a head coach. He is one of the more well-respected coaches in the NHL, but it's tough to expect that he'll get over the hump in the playoffs.
Trade bait: Defensemen Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin have seen their names mentioned in past rumors. Dumba is due for a raise after this season as a restricted free agent and currently makes $2.55 million per year. Brodin is signed for $4.167 million per year through 2020-21. If Dumba's offensive numbers increase again -- he had 11 goals last season -- his salary could come in too high for the cap-strapped Wild, which would necessitate a deal.
Goalie situation rating: 10. Dubnyk struggled down the stretch last season, with a 9-10-2 record and .901 save percentage in his last 22 games, but he's still an elite netminder. Backup Alex Stalock has proven himself to be good enough in that role over his career.
Scout's take: "Staal is not a young guy anymore. He had a helluva year, and he fit right in, but with those guys, you have to worry about falling off. But if he can have another good year and they can maintain their chemistry, I think they should build on where they were. They obviously reacted well to Boudreau, especially during the regular season. I think, internally, Boudreau has to figure out how they're going to get by in the playoffs when they're playing tough Central Division teams like Chicago and Nashville and St. Louis. That Central is not an easy division, but I think they should do well. I don't see any reason they wouldn't."
Prediction: 5th in Central