DETROIT – Daniel Winnik got one piece of business out of the way Wednesday, when he signed a one-year contract with the Wild. Before the forward could play in Thursday’s season opener at Detroit, he had to take care of another: dealing with the federal government.
Winnik, who played throughout training camp on a professional tryout, is a Canadian citizen who requires a work visa to play in the U.S. He couldn’t get one until he had a job, giving him and the Wild just one day to get his papers in order. Thursday morning, he participated in the morning skate at Little Caesars Arena not knowing whether he would be in the lineup, or whether coach Bruce Boudreau would have to use 11 forwards and all seven defensemen against the Red Wings.
His papers came through, allowing Winnik to play his first game with the Wild — and finally breathe easier, as he extends his NHL career to an 11th season. Winnik finished Thursday’s 4-2 loss with two hits and two blocked shots in 12 minutes, 55 seconds of ice time.
“Now that I’m signed, it feels like I’m actually part of the team,” Winnik said. “It allows you to focus on your game at hand and not so much on surviving and staying in the league.
“There was a lot of unease, not knowing where I was going to go. I dealt with the possibility of [playing in] Europe. That would have been tough for my wife and I. We’re just happy to be back in the NHL.”
The Wild is the eighth NHL stop for Winnik, 32. He played two seasons for Boudreau when the coach was behind the bench in Anaheim and was grateful for his ongoing support.
After making $2.25 million last season with Washington, Winnik accepted a $660,000 salary with the Wild, which had little room under the salary cap. Winnik had a career-high 12 goals with the Capitals and was a workhorse on the fourth line and the penalty kill. He will play a similar role with the Wild, which significantly upgraded its fourth line with the signings of Winnik, center Matt Cullen and winger Tyler Ennis.
The Wild got its first glimpse of Little Caesars Arena during Thursday’s morning skate. Boudreau liked the red seats and the expansive lower bowl, while the players appreciated a spacious and well-appointed visitors’ locker room.
The Red Wings still are awestruck by the new surroundings, too. Their locker room has a clubby feel, with dark wood, soft lighting and photos of Red Wings legends above each stall.
“Everything is top-notch,’’ said Detroit defenseman Nick Jensen, who grew up in Rogers, Minn., and played at St. Cloud State. “The weight room is giant, and there’s a kitchen where chefs cook homemade meals for us. They really outdid themselves.”
Not everything in the building is new. The neon-lit letters that adorned the exterior of the Detroit Olympia, the city’s first NHL arena, now add a touch of history to the concourse. And while the team waits for new locker stools, it is using the well-worn ones brought from Joe Louis Arena.
• The Wild scratched defenseman Gustav Olofsson. Forward Zach Parise is skipping the opening road trip to Detroit and Carolina while he continues to recover from a back injury.
• “Mr. I” — the nickname for team owner Mike Ilitch, who died in February at age 87 — was emblazoned in red behind both goals and on patches and pins worn by Red Wings players and staff.