The landscape of the entity that is the NHL Playoffs may have changed significantly this off season. The Minnesota Wild hit the free agent jackpot and acquired two of the most sought after free agents in some time. Zach Parise (formerly of the New Jersey Devils), and Ryan Suter (formerly of the Nashville Predators), signed matching contracts on July 4th. Both contracts are 13 year, 98 million dollar contracts, both are front loaded with signing bonuses and small salaries to lessen the cap hit. The major portion of the money will start to be paid in year 3, when both will earn 9 million bucks. Both gentlemen have ties to Minnesota. Parise was born and grew up in the state of hockey, and Ryan Suter’s wife is from Bloomington. Even though Suter is from Madison, Wisconsin, it’s just a few hours away from the twin cities.
But beyond the signings of the two super free agents, Coach Yeo will have a whole arsenal of weapons at his disposal next season. Start with Dany Heatley. Twenty-four goals and fifty-three points last season on a team where he was one of only 3 players to play in all 82 games. The other two were Kyle Brodziak and Darrell Powe.
I started this post back in July after the signings of Parise and Suter, but never got around to finishing it. As I write this, the Wild are sitting in third place in their division and (I really dislike this phrase) if the season ended today, they would be on the outside looking in at the playoffs. A team that is fabulous at home, they are no better than abysmal on the road, having no wins outside of the Xcel Center. Zach Parise, who started the season slowly, leads his team with only 10 points (6-4-10). Heatley has 4 goals however no other player has more than 2.
Devin Setoguchi last season scored 19 goals, the first time he failed to score at least 2o in a full season, but the shocking number was his plus/minus rating. Last season he had an astonishing -17. This season, with 10 games played, Devin has only managed to notch 2 assists. Players like Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak should be performing better than they are, having 2 goals between them. Rookie Mikael Granlund has got to be feeling some pressure in Minnesota with the scoring woes that the Wild appear to be experiencing.
The goaltending should be solid this season. Josh Harding is a good tender and could possibly start on a few NHL teams. Niklas Backstrom is strong however the defense doesn’t appear to be putting their best foot forward. None of the defensemen have a positive plus/minus and only two of them are at zero.
The Wild need to find a way to play more consistent hockey going forward. The team plays well in spots, but it would appear that when one aspect is succeeding, another struggles. The cliche, one period at a time, one shift at a time may apply. Minnesota has the talent, but need to gel it together. Getting their first road win will go a long way towards instilling confidence in a team that, at the start of the season, appeared primed to make a solid run at the playoffs. No one is talking Stanley Cup, and with their road efforts as of late, the fans may not see a playoff run this year either.