Wild Catch ‘Em All

I fully didn’t expect any major signings in the NHL (Parise and Suter), so I had no problem sleeping in, and had no problem meandering my way to Twitter.

So imagine my surprise when I logged on to Twitter to find the Wild had signed Suter, and Pittsburgh and Detroit were out of the running.

I wanted to get this out even Suter sooner, but I’ve had to calm down my own giddiness. I’m seriously giggling for no reason and jumping around like I was asked by the quarterback to the prom (but a nice, cute, humble one, not a GHB-weilding douchebag). I have a very heavy Wild coat that I’m considering wearing, even though it’s 72 degrees outside. This is a very, very big deal.

Oh, yes, the Wild are here. And they’ll be relevant for a while.

I think the biggest cause for celebration was most eloquently stated by Chris Long of KSTP: “It took a while, and an incredible amount of work by Chuck Fletcher, but (the Minnesota Wild)  are finally out of the hole Doug Risebrough dug them into.”

And what a hole that was. After years of losing free agents (Gaborik, Rolston) for next to nothing, and a string of fruitless first round draft picks (in order, Thelen, Pouliot, Sheppard, Gilles, Cuma, not even mentioning second round busts like Ondrej Fiala or Roman Voloshenko), the Wild had the makings of a perennially bad team.

In comes Chuck Fletcher, who rebuilt the team from the ground up. Sure there were some mistakes. Kim Johnsson and Nick Leddy for Cam Barker was a disaster. Chuck Kobasew for a second rounder is sneaky-bad. Matt Cullen’s contract didn’t kill anyone, per se, but 3.5 million for his skill set is a bad deal, nonetheless.

But Fletcher, with the help of Brent Flahr, has rebuilt a stable of prospects that is the envy of every team except maybe the Oilers, Red Wings, Panthers. And now, they brought in the kicker: the two premiere free agents in the NHL.

In case anyone doesn’t know what you’re getting in these players, here’s the basic rundown. Picture Koivu’s skill set. The defensive tenacity, the playmaking ability, the leadership. Now add goal scoring. Put it on the wing, and boom, that’s Zach Parise. Ryan Suter can do it all, too. Defend, run a power play, start the breakout. In short, he’s (on paper) the best defenseman in Wild history.

The impact on the ice should be staggering. Adding Parise adds goal scoring juice to a team that includes Koivu, Heatley, Granlund, and Setoguchi. Attention will now be shifted from Heatley (who has a great shot, but can’t really create his own anymore) to Parise, who scored 31 last year, and has scored 45 in his career, and is showing no signs of decline. Koivu and Parise could team up to be a shutdown pair of forwards on par with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. A potential line of Granlund, Setoguchi, and (if healthy, which is far from a given) Bouchard could give opponents nightmares.

But the bigger impact is on the area I felt the Wild were weakest at last year: defense. Suter patrolling the blue line at the X should cause an amazing ripple effect. First, Suter scored 46 points last year, which represents more than half the points scored by ALL Wild defensemen last year (85 points), and twice as many as the Wild’s leading defenseman (Spurgeon). This takes the “next Brent Burns” tag, and all the pressure with it, off of Marco Scandella, and allows him to develop at his own pace, without the pressure to carry the Wild now. It greatly improves the Wild’s power play, as the upgrade from Spurgeon (who struggled running it last year) to Suter on the power play is enormous, and Spurgeon running the second power play unit should be an upgrade over… who DID run the second unit power play?!?! Suter also improves our forwards. The Wild got outshot regularly, not so much because they had bad forwards, but because the Wild couldn’t get the puck out of it’s own end consistently. It’s a problem that the Wild have been trying to fix, and with Suter, as well as Tom Gibert, and possibly Jonas Brodin, this should improve remarkably, increasing our shots, and lowering our shots against. Running Suter out for 26 minutes a game is perhaps bigger than signing Parise.

The impact off the ice is perhaps just as big. Locally, the Minnesota sports scene is currently inundated with perennial disappointments (Vikings, Twins), perennial losers (Timberwolves, Gophers Football and Basketball), and perennial mediocrity (Vikings, Twins, Wild until now). It’s a scene desperate for a team to take the fan base by storm and generate buzz. The Minnesota Lynx of the little-watched WNBA grabbed the state’s attention by winning the league’s championship. That does that for the Minnesota Wild, and even though the Timberwolves are improving with Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, they aren’t at the level of contention the Parise and Suter signings put the Wild at. The days of being 4th best in our own market are gone for now, and this should put an end to fan comments such as “The Wild are boring”, or “I hate those Christmas uniforms, let’s buy the North Stars logo from Dallas”, or “We really need to get the North Stars back”. The Wild will now begin making their own identity, their own history. Feels good, man.

Nationally and league-wide, this is just as big. The Minnesota Wild has instantly gone from a boring expansion team that makes you wanna flip the channel from a team to watch. They made the front page scroll thing on ESPN, and though I don’t have cable, I’m sure Barry Melrose will talk about the Wild on SportsCenter or wherever they give hockey a token 5 minutes. The attention from the hockey media that matters will increase, too. Puck Daddy, TSN, Backhand Shelf, you name it, should pay attention to the Wild, recognizing them as an exciting team in the coming year, and if they achieve success, in the coming years. We’re looking at a Winter Classic soon.

All of this without having to give up a single prospect.

Well done, Fletcher. Well done.

P.S. More to come- including salary cap implications, Winter Classic implications, and expectations for next season, but I’ve gotta shower and go to work. Forgive me.

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