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|Wild optimistic about Parise, Suter signings in Minnesota|
|Written by Mike Cook|
|Tuesday, 10 July 2012 14:04|
It's been a few years since there was a sense of optimism in Minnesota surrounding the Minnesota Wild, but with the dual signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, hope now springs eternal.ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold couldn’t help but smile at lunchtime Monday.
Actually, the joyful look has been on his bespectacled face since Independence Day when his team agreed on 13-year, $98 million contracts with the top two free agents on the market — forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
“It’s truly been a wild ride around here since the first of July,” Leipold said at a press conference welcoming both players to the State of Hockey. “They have transformed our franchise. We’ve all walked a little taller since July 4. In fact, Mike Yeo told me he has become a better coach overnight.”
For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008, and just three times in its 11-season history, the pressure is now on to not only make the postseason, but also thrive.
Since the signings, the team has sold almost 2,000 new season tickets and the team store has been busy with people purchasing Parise and Suter sweaters for $190 apiece.
“I love our future, and now can clearly see a respected franchise, a Winter Classic, the playoffs, more playoffs, deeper playoffs and a practice facility across the street,” Leipold said.
Currently, when the Xcel Energy Center is unavailable, players must get in their gear at the arena and bus to a rink about 15 minutes away for practice.
There’s no need to tell either of the team’s high-profile signings about added expectations in this hockey-crazed state, but it’s nothing they don’t already deal with individually.
“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves,” Suter said. “We both want to win and I expect the fans they want to win too. So, I don’t think it’s any added pressure.”
With such parity in the league, Parise said it’s hard to predict anything. He quickly cited the Stanley Cup Final where a No. 6 seed battled a No. 8 seed.
Although talking about pressure can be a negative thing, Yeo believes the signings will change what the Wild is capable of doing.
“With these guys coming in, we believe we’re that much closer, but there is still a lot of work to do,” Yeo said. “To me, it’s much more excitement than pressure. Knowing what we’re capable of with these guys in the lineup, what they’re going to add to our group, it changes the way we view ourselves.”
Coupling the Parise and Suter signings with its youthful talent base, Minnesota may not be a Stanley Cup contender next year or even the year after, but as the young players gain experience, the Wild could become one of the league’s more feared teams in the not-so-distant future.
In the past few years, Minnesota has upgraded its talent through the draft to the point that free agents can look at the young crop of talent, such as centers Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle and defensemen Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba and decide there is a bright future for the franchise.
Still, Leipold knew after last season that some puzzle pieces still needed to be obtained.
“There was an opportunity this summer with our cap space and with the commitment from Craig to try and go out and be aggressive in free agency and we did that,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “I would like to think that some of the players we have on our team and the emerging talent we have were factors as well.”
“Ryan and I talked about this, that we like what they’re doing here in Minnesota and that came into our decision,” Parise said. “We like the young players they’ve got drafted and are coming in. We like the goaltending. They got the pieces there and we hope that we can come in help this team get to where everyone wants to go.”
Yet, 13-year deals are a long time for a pair of 27-year-olds.
“We wanted to show them that we wanted them here for the rest of their careers,” Fletcher said.
He and Leipold believe each player has the ability to play effectively until age 40.
Now Yeo gets to figure out who plays with whom.
He is leaning toward Parise playing on the team’s top line with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu, although he is open to trying new lines in training camp. Granlund is expected to center the second line, potentially with Devin Setoguchi and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
“I always thought that (Mikko) and I would play well together,” Parise said smiling, before turning to Yeo, laughing a little, and saying, “I’m not dropping hints or anything.”
With Parise and Suter on board, Minnesotans cannot wait for the 2012-13 campaign to get underway, assuming that labor negotiations get completed.
“We have every full intention of playing 82 games,” Leipold said.
Calgary resigned C Mikael Backlund to a one-year, $725,000 contract. Backlund, who had four goals and seven assists in 41 games last season, views the contract as a deal where he must prove himself. "I had a tough year, so I understand they're not 100 percent sure where I stand. And for me, if I have a good year, it's really good for me . . . and I can get a better contract. If it goes the other way, it wouldn’t be too good, but I’m not planning to have a bad year again,” he told the Calgary Herald. … Nice story in The Denver Post about the career perseverance of P.A. Parenteau before signing a free-agent deal with the Avalanche. … Colorado D Jan Hejda continues to nicely recover from offseason wrist surgery and should be ready for training camp. … Edmonton resigned G Devan Dubnyk and D Jeff Petry to two-year deals. Dubnyk won 20 games in 47 appearances last season with a 2.67 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Petry was 4-23-27 in 73 games last season. … Minnesota signed D Brian Connelly to a two-year contract. Connelly led all AHL defensemen in scoring last season with 52 points on six goals and 46 assists while playing for Rockford and Abbotsford. … Vancouver G Roberto Luongo seems resigned that he won’t be a Canuck when the season starts. “I think we all know what's going on. We've all seen what's developed. At the end of the day, I think it's time to move on. And I'm OK with that. I had a great six years in Vancouver. It's a really wonderful city. I really enjoyed my time there,” he said. … The Canucks signed Mason Raymond to a one-year, $2.275 million deal; although speculation persists Raymond could be moved because he’s not likely a top-six forward on the roster.
Photos by Getty Images
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 13:23|