The Minnesota Wild dominated NHL headlines in early July by signing left winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, the top two players in this summer’s unrestricted free agent market.
It was a significant coup by the usually cost-conscious Wild, out-bidding traditional free-spending clubs such as the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks by inking the pair to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.
The move also excited a Minnesota fan base weary of the Wild’s years of inability to become a perennial playoff club, providing a substantial boost to the club’s season-ticket sales this summer.
As exciting as the additions of Parise and Suter to the Wild roster were for the club’s fans, it remains to be seen what impact it will have over the long-term.
Last season the Wild were among the league’s lowest-scoring teams, sitting dead last in goals-per-game, and 27th overall on the power play.
Parise (31 goals, 69 points with New Jersey Devils last season) and Suter (a career-best 46 points in 79 games with the Nashville Predators) should provide a much-needed offensive boost, but they won’t be able to do it alone.
Healthier seasons from scoring forwards such as Mikko Koivu (limited to 55 games last season), P-M Bouchard (37 games) and Devin Setoguchi (69 games) would certainly help, as could a resurgence by Dany Heatley, whose offensive production has been in steady decline in recent years.
A full season with puck-moving defenseman Tom Gilbert patrolling the Wild blueline could also help, especially if he responds well to the extra ice time he’ll receive this season from coach Mike Yeo.
The Wild lacked scoring depth at center for some time, but promising Mikael Granlund is expected to make his NHL debut this season on the second line. If Granlund plays up to expectations, he could be a Calder Trophy nominee, as well as further bolster the Wild’s offense.
Goaltending has usually been a strong suit for the Wild. Veterans Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding will return as the club’s tandem this season, but some concern exists over their consistency and health, as both have been plagued in recent years by nagging injuries.
That could be off-set with promising Matt Hackett waiting in the wings. The 22-year-old acquitted himself well in limited action with the injury-ravaged Wild last season, posting a 2.37 GAA and .922 SP that outshone his 3-6-0 record.
One area that still needs to be addressed is the defense. Despite the additions of Suter and Gilbert, and the promise of Jared Spurgeon, the Wild are lacking experienced, physical blueliners. Justin Falk, Marco Scandella, Clayton Stoner and Nate Prosser will certainly give their best, but they’re still unproven.
Should a lack of experienced defensemen become a factor that threatens the Wild’s playoff hopes this season, expect GM Chuck Fletcher to go shopping for blueline help between mid-season and the NHL trade deadline.
Fletcher could try to shop Heatley or Setoguchi for blueline help. Their contracts expire at the end of the 2013-14 season, but their cap hits (Heatley’s $7.5 million, Setoguchi’s $3 million) would prove a tough sell, particularly if they continue to struggle offensively.
Other possible trade options include Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. The duo carry affordable contracts, but their hard-working style has made them fan favorites in Minnesota, as well as invaluable to the Wild’s checking lines.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla’s Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.