In the cruelest of ironies, the two cornerstone pieces and closest of friends that the Wild signed in 2012 each lost his father four months apart last season.

It made for a miserable year for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, one that required balancing professionalism during the public eye of a hockey season with the heartache that comes with losing the men they idolized the most.

"It was hard. I'm not going to lie," Parise said of mourning the loss of his dad, J.P., following a battle with cancer so soon after Suter lost his dad, Bob, of a sudden heart attack. "At this point now, this year can only be better, I guess. It was a long season, a long year away from the rink.

"You know, there's always something that makes you think of him. Every single day, there's something that reminds you. That's just life. It'll hit me sometimes where you get sad, or sometimes you just laugh. Your mind's always working. But what's been good for me is to have kids of my own where I lose myself with them and not just drive myself crazy.

"That's what helped me through it a ton last year, to be honest. But I'm in a good spot mentally now where I think this year can only be better."

Considering what he endured while watching his father suffer those final weeks, Parise had an impressive season. In 74 games, he tied for 10th in the NHL with 33 goals, becoming the fourth 30-goal scorer in Wild history. He tied for 11th in the NHL with 11 power-play goals and finished with a plus-21, the single-season record for a Wild forward.

One year after scoring 29 goals, Parise hopes this is the beginning of some big years.

"All things considered, I was happy," Parise said. "I felt like I played well. Physically, I felt good. Mentally, I can't say I felt as good, but all things considered, I thought I had a pretty good year and want to continue to get better."

Parise and Suter are already entering their fourth years with the Wild. They have 10 years left on their contracts. The Wild has made the playoffs three consecutive years, the longest string in franchise history, and is one of five NHL teams to make it to the final eight two years in a row.

"I think we've definitely gotten better each year, there's no question," Parise said.

But Parise is 31. Suter turns 31 this season. They strive to win a Stanley Cup.

"I think we're fine and going the right way," Parise said. "I don't feel old. In fact, I feel better each and every year. But in a perfect world, you want to keep progressing.

"It's so hard. Teams are so good. There's no easy games. It would be very hard to replicate what we did in the second half last year. Someone made a joke to me that we had a better chance of getting the first overall pick than making the playoffs at one point, so we can't do that again.

"Ideally, we want to make it further, meaning we have to play better throughout the season and, frankly, against Chicago in the playoffs. It's just as important to have a good start as a good finish. You can't afford to go on long slides. It's just too hard to get those points back."

Parise likes this year's team, thinks the continuity from few offseason changes will be good and finds it "comforting that we have [Devan] Dubnyk starting the year.

"I don't think we can ask him to put up a .940 [save percentage] again. That's tough. We're a good team that plays real well without the puck. We don't give up much. So if he makes the normal saves and two or three you shouldn't every game, we'll continue to grow."

Parise and Suter talk almost every day during the offseason. Parise expects to see a "real motivated Ryan" this season because "I don't think he was overly thrilled with his season last year."

Suter seems at better peace and is excited about his team's potential.

"I don't argue with people, but I tell people our D corps, I'd put up against anyone in the league," Suter said. "We have depth, we have guys that can skate and play. We're definitely a top-five D-corps in this league.

"When I first came here, no one really knew what anyone's potential was. Over the last three years, guys have grown into their roles. … This year will be a good year for us. It has to be. We're running out of time, we're running out of chances to win."