Signings and Short Lists

The Wild have made no secret for months that they are trying to make a splash in free agency, attempting to woo Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. Seeing as each would appear to be a coup on their own, naturally Wild fans have been waiting with anticipation for July 1st to happen for months now.

So, when the Wild announced they signed two free agents, Zenon Konopka and Torry Mitchell, it was a bit of a surprise. Not that it’s out of the realm of possibility that a team might sign a role player or two on the first day of free agency, and not only because fans were looking for the big ticket item, but because it wasn’t so obvious how much uncertainty there was in the bottom 6 for next year. I guess the holes that could only be filled by Parise were what I was focusing on.

So, what do these guys bring to the rink?

Zenon Konopka is a 31-year-old enforcer who spent last season playing for the Ottawa Senators. This is curious, as Matt Kassian was recently signed and will presumably be playing for the Wild next season. But Konopka has some advantages over Kassian. First, there’s full confidence in Konopka getting playing time that enforcers rarely get. For example, Kassian averaged about 5 1/2 minutes of TOI per game last year, Konopka averaged almost 8, to go with 11 in the playoffs. Secondly, Konopka offers his services as a very skilled face-off man, finishing 6th in the league in face-off percentage (min. 100 FO) last year. And while finding the exact number for the Wild’s collective face-off percentage isn’t a fruitful search for me, I’m pretty sure it’s not 59%. Throw in the fact that he’s on a cheap, cheap contract (2 years, 925 K), and I’m absolutely on board with this move.

Torrey Mitchell is a 27-year-old grinder from San Jose who brings something to the Wild that they don’t really have anymore: Speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed*. He can chip in some points, but mostly, he’s there to be an energy, forechecker guy. He’s signed to a reasonable deal as well (3 years, 1.9 million).

These deals have an impact on the Wild in two ways: 1) It’s a sure thing now that most of the youth will remain in Houston next year, and I’m happy about that. Let them get top line minutes, let them play together, let them win together, let them get chemistry, all of that’s good, but only if your NHL team has depth. Chuck Fletcher is doing his part to hold up his end of the bargain there. The only way Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer, Jason Zucker, Zach Phillips, and probably Charlie Coyle will make the team out of camp is by force. 2) If one of the kids does force their way on the team, then the Konopka and Mitchell signings could be the writing on the wall. It could be Cal Clutterbuck, but I think the Wild will want to hold onto a guy who is a useful third-liner and a fan favorite. I think if the Wild are forced to do a trade, it will unload Matt Cullen. He has a year left and all that veteran-y stuff going on teams like, and he doesn’t fit on the team if Larsson or Coyle force their way onto the second line.

But now we’re going to talk about other free agents! Yayyyyyy!

We were waiting on Justin Schultz to make a decision Monday, when he chose to sign with the Edmonton Oilers. Schultz would have made an excellent addition to the blue line prospect depth- a smooth-skating offensive defenseman who made WCHA Defensive Player of the Year for the past two years. There has been speculation he could step into a team’s Top-4 right now, especially one as weak as say, Edmonton or Minnesota. But it wasn’t in the cards, although the Wild were one of 6 teams on his short list, and apparently made an excellent (but not that excellent, apparently) presentation.

But Schultz was the whipping boy on his signing day, especially in the Wild blogosphere, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I get the basic premise: Schultz exercising what many believe to be a bad rule in the CBA to leave the Ducks and sign with another team is kind of shitty, especially when he had given the indication to them that he would sign. That doesn’t sit well with me. But after that, I’m not sure how Diva-ish Schultz was being, and I do think that whatever “Diva” actions were occurring, I’d chalk it up to, at worst, Schultz listening to bad advice from an agent in his first free agent negotiation, and not anything on his character, per se. I think when people were actually acting relieved the Wild didn’t nab Schultz, that was more sour grapes than anything else, although Ms. Conduct’s reaction, “Any kid who wouldn’t run through a wall to play for Yeo is suspect.” was funny and probably had some truth to it. But don’t be deceived: Schultz would have been an excellent edition to the Minnesota Wild.

Also in the category of players with the Wild on their short list are Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (Perhaps Minnesota isn’t such an unattractive destination, after all). Both of them, as you know, are obviously star-caliber players, and both of them, as you know will get large contracts, and both of them are expected to make their decisions sometime this afternoon/evening, Parise before Suter. The speculation out there is that if Parise signs, the Wild’s chances at Suter will be bolstered. This would no doubt be a coup for the Wild, and even a springboard into real competitiveness. Like, maybe Cup Contender-ness. But Wild fans should be wary of signing two massive, long-term contracts with a stable of prospects on the way. Of course, it’s too early to worry about it really (as neither have signed), and if it comes to that, it will mean the Wild have too many good players, and not enough room to sign them, so it’s not the worst problem (unless Suter/Parise disappoint). Anyway, that will be explored if the Wild manage to get them both.

It could happen. We made the short list. It’s like the playoffs. Make it and see what happens.

*From Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The movie that’s always fun to quote, but never fun to watch.

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