Wild: Five Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
There's almost no question the Wild overpaid for the two most prized and sought-after free agents, but those signings weren't just about how the duo will pay off on the ice.
This is as much about changing perception for a team that had become almost an NHL afterthought in recent years.
Not to mention erasing last season's nightmare. Sitting atop the NHL at 20-7-3 after a win on Dec. 10, the Wild crashed the rest of the way, going 15-29-8 en route to missing the playoffs by 14 points.
Needless to say, expectations are sky-high now. And I do believe the Wild are legitimate contenders.
1. Adjustment Period?
The short camp and short season could be a challenge for a team that made so many changes in the offseason. Gone from last season's roster are Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin, Nick Johnson, Warren Peters, Erik Christensen, Kurtis Foster and Jed Ortmeyer. The star duo of Parise and Suter leads the newcomers, a list which also includes Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and Jake Dowell, plus the promotion of prized rookie Mikael Granlund. That's a face-lift, all right. And given the minutes that Suter and Parise will play, the jelling period will hopefully be a short one for everyone concerned. Just how long it takes for the Wild to find team chemistry and make all the pieces fit early in the short season is an important storyline to monitor.
2. The Big Line
Captain Mikko Koivu is slated to open the season between Parise and Dany Heatley. It has the potential to be one of the very top units in the entire NHL. All three players are responsible defensively, which suggests their ice time will be heavy, as coach Mike Yeo will not only lean on them for the big goal but also for tough minutes when protecting a lead. Heatley's goal production has decreased three straight seasons, but I'm feeling a big season here for him. And there's certainly pressure on this trio to perform after the Wild placed dead last in the NHL in goals per game last season at only 2.02 per contest.
3. The Calder Candidate
Mikael Granlund arrives to the Wild with much hype and expectation, although the Finnish phenom might be able to slip under the radar just a little with the signings of Parise and Suter. Helping him in his bid to succeed early in the NHL is the fact he played AHL hockey during the lockout, missing a month with an ankle injury but otherwise putting up 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) in 21 games. Turning 21 in February and chosen ninth overall in the 2010 NHL draft, Granlund played pro hockey in the Finnish elite league over the past three years, which also should help his adjustment to the pro game. Projected to begin the season as the second-line center, Granlund is my pick to win the Calder this year.
4. Blue Line OK?
Suter's arrival boosts a blue line that needed a bit of boosting. The Wild certainly don't have the established depth on defense that they do up front. But Jared Spurgeon is underrated. Tom Gilbert is a solid two-way guy. Clayton Stoner is a tough, solid fifth guy. The key for this group is the development and play of Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Jonas Brodin. If the young guys struggle, GM Chuck Fletcher will have to add via the trade market. But the Wild are high on these young guys long-term.
5. Can Bouchard Stay Healthy?
Pierre-Marc Bouchard is a talented playmaker when he's healthy. But concussions, including a season-ending head injury a year ago, have limited him to just a few games over the past three seasons. He's symptom-free as the season beckons and, if the Wild can get him to stay in the lineup this season, the second-line forward will be almost like a free-agent addition.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering second NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Wild:
• May 10: Re-signed D Clayton Stoner.
• June 19: Re-signed G Josh Harding.
• June 25: Re-signed C Chad Rau and LW Stephane Veilleux.
• June 28: Re-signed LW Matt Kassian.
• July 1: Signed C Torrey Mitchell and C Zenon Konopka.
• July 3: Signed C Jake Dowell.
• July 4: Signed LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter.
• July 5: Re-signed D Justin Falk.
• Sept. 14: Re-signed RW Carson McMillan.
• LW Guillaume Latendresse (unrestricted free agent, signed by Ottawa)
• D Mike Lundin (unrestricted free agent, signed by Ottawa)
• RW Nick Johnson (unrestricted free agent, signed by Phoenix)
• C Warren Peters (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh)
• C Erik Christensen (unrestricted free agent)
• D Kurtis Foster (unrestricted free agent)
• RW Jed Ortmeyer (unrestricted free agent)