Minnesota is the state of hockey. However, it has very rarely been the state of NHL hockey. The city lost its NHL franchise in 1993 when the Minnesota North Stars left for Dallas, and some wondered whether hockey would ever return again. After plenty of petitioning and encouragement towards local investors, it was announced that an expansion franchise would come to Minnesota. The Wild would play their first season in 2000-01. However, one of the areas with the richest local hockey involvement and history in North America was still unable to produce an NHL product that captured the imagination. That may have finally changed on July 4, 2012 when GM Chuck Fletcher unveiled the twin signings of Parise and Suter. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are both entering their primes at 27, both bring incredible talent to this franchise and plenty of intangibles, and they also bring genuine hope that Minnesota can finally build itself into a hockey superpower at the professional level.
The NHL’s return to Minnesota certainly had some pretty humble beginnings. The appointment of Jacques Lemaire as head coach was a major coup and one of the most exciting young stars in the league, Marian Gaborik, was the team’s first draft pick. After two disappointing seasons, Lemaire’s strict defensive style would finally pay big dividends for the Wild as they reached the playoffs for the first time in 2002-03 and made an unlikely run to the Western conference finals only to lose to Anaheim.
A team that had been unable to spend big appeared to have its chance in the post-lockout salary cap era, and GM Dough Risebrough sprung upon the opportunity after the team missed the playoffs in 2005-06. 2006 was arguably the most aggressive Minnesota offseason before the signings of Parise and Suter this offseason. During that summer Minnesota would sign Kim Johnsson, Mark Parrish, Branko Radivojevic and Keith Carney, while also acquiring Pavol Demitra in a trade. Demitra joined Gaborik, Mikko Koivu and Brian Rolston on an offense that really looked like it had the potential to get somewhere.
However, despite consecutive playoff appearances and a first ever division title in 2007-08, the Wild would experience yet another setback after missing the playoffs in 2008-09. Lemaire would resign as head coach and the team would lose its main superstar in Gaborik to free agency. Ownership made the decision to complete a total overhaul by firing Risebrough as GM.
The new look would see Fletcher announced as GM and Todd Richards introduced as the new head coach, but it brought little immediate success as Lemaire’s genius behind the bench appeared to be missed on a budget team that simply lacked depth. Richards was dismissed after the 2010-11 season and Mike Yeo was hired. Fletcher was able to bring in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi during the course of the summer, but it came at the cost of losing top blue-liner Brent Burns and Martin Havlat. Despite a dominant start to the 2011-12 campaign, Yeo’s team would collapse in the second half missing the postseason for the fourth consecutive season by some margin.
However, eight days ago, when the Wild revealed that they had signed Parise and Suter, it was clear that the franchise had changed. Changed from a small market team to the second biggest spender in the league according to cap geek. A previously defensive minded team now owns some huge name offensive stars including led by Parise, Heatley, Koivu, Devin Setoguchi and new young up and coming offensive star Mikael Granlund.
The debates will rage about whether the signings of Parise and Suter now make Minnesota a Stanley Cup contender, but the changes made during this offseason are not really about whether the Wild will win a Stanley Cup in 2013. After all, the deals that Parise and Suter signed were 13 years apiece, and the team’s top prospects Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zach Phillips and Jonas Brodin will all need a season or two before they can really lead this team.