Monday, August 6, 2012

NHL 2013: The West is in for a Wild Ride

By Jason Klau

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If you read my post on NHL Free Agency you certainly did not get the inside digs on what players would sign to what teams. However, I did say that the Minnesota Wild would be in on Zach Parise; the Rangers are still certainly in on Shane Doan, who has yet to sign. But if this year's free agency has taught me anything, it's that, unlike recent years, Free Agency can be slow and unpredictable.

While some teams, like the Philadelphia Flyers, didn't have the offseason they had in mind, the Minnesota Wild certainly have had as good of a summer as they could have hoped for. By landing Parise and star defenseman Ryan Suter, the Wild have put themselves in prime position to finally put a contending team in the state that embraces the sport more than any other in the country.

Expect to see Mikko Koivu's "Gabby Douglas" impression a few more times than usual in 2013

Lets rewind a little bit, back to December of this past season. The wild were the surprise team of the league. A seven-game win streak had them at the top of the NHL standings, and Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard had emerged as top players in a market that certainly had not garnered too much attention in recent years.

But luck would not be on their side. Koivu and Bouchard, the two guys they counted on to lead the offense, were both sidelined with injuries. Koivu and Bouchard would miss 27 and 45 games respectively. Dany Heatley couldn't carry the load by himself, and strong depth guys in Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cullen, who all held their own, had to play roles that they shouldn't have played.

A strong goalie tandem, with Nicklas Backstrom starting and Josh Harding earning more time than the average backup, was good, but couldn't do it all. They've been playing behind a defense that, until now, had no star power. Tom Gilbert was added from Edmonton at the trade deadline last season, along with Clayton Stoner (Top 5 best names in hockey) and Justin Falk, the Wild have three solid defenseman. Not stars, but solid players with a simpler style of play. The addition of Ryan Suter gives them the element they lacked on the backend, and should give their goalies a bit of a break. While the loss of Marek Zdlicky on the back end won't help, they have more than made up for the loss.

Zach Parise will thrive up front. And Koivu and Bouchard are just the tip of the ice-berg of his support. Dany Heatley has had a troubled career but you cannot doubt his $8MM per year talent. Devin Setoguchi is a good secondary threat, Matt Cullen is as good of a 3rd line center as you could hope for (although throughout his career, he's shown he isn't a 2nd line guy wherever he goes) but what might be the most exciting thing in Minnesota, is potential rookie standout Mikael Granlund. Take a look:

An old coach of mine who works a lot with the Finnish national team gave me the heads up about this kid a long time ago. He may just have more talent than anyone on this Minnesota Wild roster. The 20-year-old from Finland signed his first professional contract and, barring any unforseen circumstances, should make the team right out of camp.

Some bad luck and inconsistency might have been the difference between a high playoff seed and no playoffs at all for the Wild this past season. They made history by being the first team to be in first place in the NHL at the start of December, to miss the playoffs, finishing a dreadful 14 points out of the final spot. It seemed that it all had fallen apart for a team that showed so much promise. Now, the Wild have a real shot at redemption, to prove that the first half of last season was not a fluke. In their Northeast Division, their biggest competition will be the Vancouver Canucks, who won the presidents trophy for the best record in the NHL this past season. But with the rebuilding Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and a Colorado Avalanche team who is improving, but still young, the Wild will certainly be more than just a threat. With a little bit of luck, and I mean the good kind, the Minnesota Wild will be ready to really compete, and ready to win in a tough Western Conference.

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