High expectations for Wild welcomed to town

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 6:36 AM

Fans are gobbling up season tickets in anticipation of seeing a winner.

For months, the names Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have been linked as one in the Twin Cities.

"Think they'll get Parise? ... Think they'll get Suter? ... Think they'll get both?" wondered a rabid fan base that was tired of the Wild's inability to make the playoffs.

On Monday, five days after the two actually joined forces in Minnesota, it was confirmed in the flesh that this was no dream, no sick joke. This was for real. In front of flashing cameras, in front of a Wild backdrop at Xcel Energy Center, Parise and Suter draped Forest Green "Minnesota Wild" sweaters over their shoulders for the first time.

"First things first, I've got to pinch myself," said owner Craig Leipold, who committed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts for the star forward and defenseman. "Free agents of Zach's and Ryan's caliber are often attracted to the major markets, where there is more attention, brighter spotlights and, frankly, more money. These two chose Minnesota ... and in doing so have transformed our franchise. We've all walked a little taller since July 4th."

Leipold invited the entire Wild staff to the news conference. More than 150 showed. They applauded. They laughed. The looks on their faces conveyed just how much big of a morale booster this has been for a staff that feels losses, in a lot of ways, harder than the players.

Parise and Suter jerseys are flying off the shelves. Almost 2,000 season-tickets have been sold.

"We're picking up the phone, not calling people," said Chief Operating Officer Matt Majka.

Leipold talked about his hope of getting a Winter Classic, a practice facility, an eventual Stanley Cup or two.

It had been so long since Parise and Suter signed, the event -- also featuring General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo -- was mostly a photo-op. But there were some funny moments, like when Parise didn't realize he and Suter's jerseys showed they have been named Mikko Koivu's alternate captains.

"Zach, we probably should have talked about that," Yeo quipped.

Parise raved about Koivu, calling him "one of the best two-way centers in the game. I always thought that he and I would play well together."

He then looked at Yeo and smiled: "I'm not dropping hints or anything."

Yeo, the Wild's soon-to-be second-year coach, already said half-kiddingly to Leipold that he feels like he has become a better coach overnight.

Parise is a five-time 30-goal scorer. Suter is coming off a career-best 46-point season, a year in which he made the All-Star Game and averaged 26 1/2 minutes a game.

"It changes the dynamic of your team instantly," Yeo said.

There's a lot of time between now and when training camp is scheduled to start Sept. 21, but Yeo said if camp started today, Parise and Koivu would be on a line with Dany Heatley and Suter would be paired with Jared Spurgeon.

After that, Yeo said he wants to be more flexible this training camp with line combinations. Not only are players going to have to earn their jobs this fall, but players will have to earn where they're slotted.

Yeo expects a bounceback year from winger Devin Setoguchi, wants to make sure Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who missed the second half because of a concussion and is back training and skating, is healthy. He expects a big step from defenseman Marco Scandella, wants more consistent play from Justin Falk and Nate Prosser and can't wait to see how prospects Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson, Brett Bulmer and others challenge for spots.

"Training camp is going to be important for a lot of people," Yeo said.

Mikael Granlund will be penciled in as second-line center to open camp, while versatile veteran Matt Cullen could wind up moving to the wing on the second or third line.

"Cully is so valuable to this team," Yeo said.

Mostly, Yeo can't wait to get a look at the Wild lineup with Parise and Suter in it.

Parise's north-south style should fit perfectly in Yeo's system, and Suter could pay huge dividends for a low-scoring team that lived in its own zone.

"We defend as well as any team in the league. But the problem is we spend too much time defending," Yeo said. "Ryan, with his execution, the way he moves the puck, he's going to allow us to spend a lot less time in our defensive zone. He's going to create a lot more offense for us just by getting the puck up to our forwards.

"These are the kind of guys that it doesn't really matter what [opposing coaches] do, they're going to put their stamp on the game because of their talent level, because of the way they think the game. This is going to change the way we view ourselves and what we're capable of."

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