Analysis: High-end additions infuse jolts of energy and credibility

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2012 - 11:45 PM

In one swoop, the Wild reinvented the franchise and reinvigorated its fan base.

It was 10:30 p.m. in Turku, Finland, and Mikko Koivu picked up the phone with a fervent, "What's up, buddy?"

The Wild center was saying things like, "It's huge," and "I'm super, super excited," and he sounded like a man ready to strap on the skates that very moment.

Koivu might have been 4,500 miles away, but the usually guarded Finn couldn't help but join thousands of Wild fans in celebrating the July 4th fireworks the team detonated by signing game-changers Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher called Koivu on Wednesday to assure him he still was the captain, still No. 9, still the Wild's flag bearer.

But Koivu isn't worried. He just wants to win, and he believes Parise and Suter will help the Wild do just that.

"This just gives us so much confidence," Koivu said.

The excitement trickled right through the team Wednesday. Dany Heatley said that within seconds of the news six or seven "pumped" teammates texted him.

For a franchise that has missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons, that was losing its relevance not only nationally but locally, Parise and Suter change the face of a franchise and energize (what was) an antsy, frustrated fan base.

Because of Craig Leipold's commitment and one heck of a sales job from Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo, the Wild is deeper today, more skilled today, has more leadership and character today and certainly more national attention today.

Last season, the Wild was the best team in the NHL until Koivu hurt a knee. In the second half, the Wild fell apart when Koivu hurt a shoulder. The season before, the wheels came off the track when Koivu broke a finger.

At the very least, the Wild no longer should be an annual Mikko Koivu injury from disaster.

In fact, arguably, the team has too many forwards now, but Fletcher said he is willing to wait until training camp and see how things play out unless a trade fell into his lap.

"We've had so many injuries the last few years; let's see how things play out," Fletcher said.

Four seasons ago, Parise scored 45 goals and 94 points for New Jersey. Suter scored a career-high 46 points last season for Nashville and averaged 26 minutes, 30 seconds a game -- third most in the NHL and a minute higher than any of his previous seasons.

"They're two of the most elite players in their position," Wild veteran Matt Cullen said. "Suter is as good as any defenseman in the league. Zach is equally as good up front. It just instantly gives you those top-tier players that are so hard to find, and one at each position."

Suter plays half the game, gives the Wild another minute-munching, mobile, offensive-minded defenseman to complement Tom Gilbert and can help mentor youngsters Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon.

And while the production and clutch style that Parise brings should pay dividends to the NHL's lowest-scoring team of last season, what often is overshadowed with Parise is how exceptional he is defensively and how his work ethic and commitment to winning are worn on his face.

Kind of like ... Koivu.

"Maybe we can teach this to the younger kids coming," Koivu said.

Parise and Suter could have signed anywhere. They chose Minnesota, in large part because their agents schooled them on the large corps of prospects assistant GM Brent Flahr and his scouts have assembled.

Both players studied Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Johan Larsson and others. They believed in what the Wild was building, because remember, the signing is not only about next year but the next dozen.

Signing Parise and Suter, as well as Torrey Mitchell and Zenon Konopka on Sunday, likely means most of the prospects start in the minors. Yet in large part, they are the reason Parise and Suter bought in.

This is how the good teams such as New Jersey, Detroit and San Jose do it. They are patient and develop their kids together in the minors. Then when those youngsters are ready, they are promoted instead of being force-fed.

The Wild had to convince Parise and Suter that Minnesota is a place where they could win perennially. That's not easy when you haven't won perennially and are going up against suitors who have.

But Parise and Suter were willing to invest in the Wild as much as the Wild was willing to invest in them.

Wednesday was a stunning day, and the hope is that there will be many more.

"Ryan and I like what they're doing here in Minnesota," Parise said. "We like the young players they've drafted, the goaltending. They've got the pieces. Our hope is we can come in and help this team get to where everyone wants it to go."


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