After getting off to a 20-7-3 start last season under rookie head coach Mike Yeo, the Minnesota Wild seemed poised to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. However, after an abysmal second half, the Wild saw themselves free fall down the standings, ultimately landing at 24th in the NHL.
Rather than beginning to auction off their players for picks and prospects and going into full “re-build” mode, the Wild showed faith in their core of Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley and chose instead to add to this talented group.
Minnesota’s offseason started with the re-signing of backup goaltender Josh Harding. Although this move didn’t get as much publicity as the Wild’s others, I still believe it was an incredibly savvy move by General Manager Chuck Fletcher. Harding has all the skills necessary to be a starting goalie in the NHL. By bringing him back to form a tandem with Nicklas Backstrom, it gives the team two exceptional options between the pipes. Having two legitimate starting goalies to share the increased workload of a compressed schedule will prove invaluable for the Wild this season.
The Wild’s next big move of the offseason came at the draft in Pittsburgh. With the 7th overall pick, they selected Matt Dumba, a dynamic, hard-hitting defenceman playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. Although he may not be ready to make an impact at the NHL level this season, Dumba will be a big part of the Wild’s future for many years to come.
The biggest move of the Wild’s offseason came on July 4th, when owner Craig Leipold opened up his chequebook and gave Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the summer’s two most prized free agents, matching 13 year, $98 million deals. The acquisition of these two elite players instantly changed the complexion of the franchise.
Parise, an Olympic silver-medalist just a few months removed from leading the New Jersey Devils all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, was lured away from the shaky ownership situation in New Jersey by the allure of playing in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Parise is a special player, there’s no questioning it. He has tremendous playmaking and scoring ability, and his leadership qualities make him the type of player you can build a franchise around.
Suter, who also has an Olympic silver medal to his name, has spent his entire career playing for the Nashville Predators. Although he had the privilege of playing alongside Shea Weber, arguably the best defenseman in the league, during his time in Nashville, the teams financial restrictions prevented them from being serious contenders in the league. By signing in Minnesota, Suter gets both the contract he desires and a chance to finally win a Stanley Cup.
Suter’s physicality and sound defensive play make him an intimidating force on the blueline. Add to that his above average offensive ability and you have another ideal player to build a franchise around.
During the offseason, the Wild re-signed one half of their dynamic goaltending duo, drafted a talented blue-chip prospect, and added two elite NHL players. Going out and signing both the best forward and best defenseman available in free agency was an impressive feat. You have to spend money to be competitive in pro sports, and that’s exactly what the Wild did this offseason. There’s no doubt that the Minnesota Wild had the best offseason of any team in the NHL.