The Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in one of the greatest free agency coups that the state of Minnesota has ever seen. A couple of stars in their sport had chosen, together, to come to Minnesota. There was an immediate enthusiasm, and discussion about how far the duo could take the team.
I have bad news for you, though. Parise and Suter are not going to take the Wild to the Stanley Cup. Not by themselves, anyway.
Last year should have taught us the importance of team health, and failing health, the importance of depth. After a very strong start, the team started losing stars, like Mikko Koivu, leaving Kyle Brodziak as #2 on the team in points, and Dany Heatley’s 53 points as the team lead. Only 7 players logged 70 or more games, with only 3 playing all 82 (Heatley, Brodziak and Darroll Powe).
Yes, there was a dearth of talent, especially at the top lines, and Parise certainly addresses that, and Ryan Suter will help shore up the blue line. What made the potential of this team a little bit more exciting before the two signed in St. Paul was the emerging crop of young talent. Mikael Granlund might be a young superstar in the making, and players like Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell are going to add depth. If anyone — scratch that — WHEN someone gets hurt, more able bodied skaters will be able to move up lines, and young guys from Houston are a little bit more experienced and a lot more talented than I think we are used to. Might we see Charlie Coyle this year?
While players are healthy, though, we will be able to see increased production from players skating with better linemates. Dany Heatley has been a scorer in the past, averaging a point a game with Daniel Alfredsson. For some reason, he wasn’t able to match that success with Cal Clutterbuck. I suspect he will find a little bit more of a scoring touch playing with Koivu and Parise. Opening night and the two goals he scored were certainly a positive indication of that.
There are still holes on defense beyond Suter, but youngsters like Jonas Brodin and Matthew Dumba may be able to step in and solidify the blue line. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have questions, but Matt Hackett looks like a goalie for the future.
I’ve said in the past that this season is going to be driven more by luck than on ice skill, so anything is possible through June. Next season, though, after the Wild have had a half season to gel, I fully expect Minnesota to have a playoff team to root for in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.