Wild Musings: Free Agency Rocks Minnesota- 7/17/2012
The last time I checked in, it was the night before free agency, and we were previewing where some of the top talent would land (I got 3 right, with 3 yet to sign). I did not predict that the Wild would make the splash that they did, but I am of course, pleasantly surprised (who am I kidding, I’m ecstatic). Ryan Suter and Zach Parise make the Wild a whole lot better than they were when I last wrote this blog on June 30th. The Wild have also added Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell to bolster the third and fourth lines, and add that grit that Chuck Fletcher is so very fond of. Now, with all that said, I think this without question makes the Wild a much better team, but I do not think it is the “Monumental Shakeup” in the Western Conference that I think everyone is making it out to be.
The Western Conference is tough. The Wild finished 12th last season, after a strong first half. They are going to have to bump someone out to get in, which will be no easy task.
The Playoff teams last year were:
St. Louis Blues
Detroit Red Wings
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
None of these teams have gotten substantially worse (As of this writing Shane Doan hasn’t signed anywhere yet, and I am going to act under precedent and assume he will remain in Phoenix), and the other non playoff teams: Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets- have all gotten substantially better (especially Colorado, I really liked what they did on July 1st). I think the Wild are very capable, and should be making the playoffs this season, but I feel this is far from a guarantee.
With all that said, I like the Wild’s chances for a couple of reasons. I think the big asset the Wild gained with the Parise and Suter signings is depth, which is what really killed them last season. Last month Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Zack Phillips, Brett Bulmer, and Johan Larsson were going to be fighting for roster spots, and making a splash in the NHL next season. Now, with the exception of Granlund, these guys are all more than likely starting with the Houston Aeros in the AHL. These guys are going to be developing, and be available for call ups and fill-ins as the season wears on. This is a depth that few organizations have, and that the Wild have never even been close to having. This would have been a game changer last season, and may save the Wild in the coming year. The other big reason is that Mikael Granlund, and any of the other rookies that may make the squad, are going to be able to fly under the radar a little bit. When Granlund signed his deal at the beginning of the summer, he was the Wild’s focus as far as improvements to the team at that point. The signings of Parise and Suter are going to let Granlund be more like one of the guys, and take most of the media attention off of him, which can only help him as he adjusts to Minnesota and the NHL.
With Granlund and the Wild’s Wild summer in mind, let’s look at some of the line combonations that Mike Yeo could be running out at the Xcel Energy Center in October (make it happen Donald Fehr).
Kassian and Veilleux would be the scratches in this scenario. You can obviously switch guys like Cullen, Brodziak, Powe, and Mitchell around as they have the ability to play both Center and the Wing. I think that the top two lines above are going to be the top two lines to start the season (unless Bouchard hurts himself before the season starts….which is entirely possible given the way he has been going over the last couple of seasons). That top line should be great. Setoguchi should return to form playing with real offensive playmakers in Bouchard and Granlund. If Seto can get back to his game (shoot the puck- ask questions later) he could possibly have a career year. The third and fourth lines can go any number of ways depending on how tough Yeo wants to get. A line of Kassian-Powe-Konopka would quite possibly be the most menacing lines we have ever seen in the State of Hockey. The Wild could also role out three legitimate scoring lines with Brodziak-Cullen-Clutterbuck as the third line. This is what the Wild have created during free agency: depth and options. If Pierre-Mark Bouchard gets hurt, Cullen or Clutterbuck could play that wing, or Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, or Johan Larsson could be called up. These are great decisions the Wild would be forced to make (I hope Bouchard stays healthy, this is just an example).
As for the Defense pairings:
Nate Prosser will be with the team, as he signed a one way deal last season, but I do not see him as being better than Falk or Stoner (If I was putting him in, I would replace Stoner). Word out of camp, and amongst the Wild brass, is that they think Jonas Brodin will make this Wild team. That obviously remains to be seen. Brodin is still very young, and could use more time developing and growing. But if he does impress as it’s believed he can, a move will have to be made to fit him in. Yeo has said he will start Suter with Spurgeon when camp opens up. Yeo has always had a lot of faith in Jared Spurgeon, so that probably plays a factor in the pairing, but I have to believe that the Scandella and Gilbert pairing at the end of last season played a bigger part. These guys were fantastic in the last two weeks of the season. They played big minutes, and played very well with each other. Things are always subject to change, and the pairings can be mixed up and players can change, but this is what I would expect when the Wild break camp.
The coming season is going to be very exciting for the State of Hockey (and it is definitely not getting here fast enough). The product on the ice should be much better, and the results at the end of the season should be much better. Of course, only time will tell, but I am much more optimistic about this season, than I have been leading up to seasons in the past.
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