The 37-year-old Walz had nine goals and 15 assists for the Wild last year and is one of only two players on the team who has played with the Wild since the franchise’s inception in 2000. After goaltender Manny Fernandez was traded to Boston on Sunday, winger Marian Gaborik is the only other member of the original team left.
The gritty Walz scored his 100th career goal last November, and is the franchise leader in games played (427), shorthanded goals (14) and shorthanded points (21).
“Centres are important in the league and centres are very important to the Minnesota Wild,” assistant general manager Tom Lynn said. “We feel it’s the second most important position behind the goaltender and a position we wanted to upgrade. Wes has played that position and played it well for years.”
The Wild let the smaller Todd White leave in free agency, and he signed a four-year deal with Atlanta. Lynn said the Wild have made it a priority to get more physical at the centre spot, and that’s where the 190-pound Belanger comes in.
The 29-year-old Belanger had 17 goals and 35 points while playing for Carolina and Atlanta last season. Most importantly for Minnesota, he won 53.1 per cent of his faceoffs last season, an area in which the Wild struggled, especially in their first-round playoff loss to Anaheim.
“He’s a physical six feet and a grittier player,” Lynn said. “Now we have a centre that will stand up to the more physical front-line players.”
The Wild signed Schaefer to a two-year deal to compete for the back-up job.
The 27-year-old Canadian bounced around the American Hockey League last season, playing for Worcester, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 34 total games, he was 14-16-3 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
Schaefer has had some success in the NHL. He went 5-1-0 with a 1.88 GAA in seven games with San Jose two years ago, becoming the first goaltender in Sharks history to win his first five games.