Does Parise and Suter mean playoffs for the State of Hockey?

Zach Parise opted to return home to Minnesota after seven seasons and one Stanley Cup final appearance in New Jersey. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Tim Kolupanowich: Whatever happens the rest of the summer, I believe it’s safe to say the Minnesota Wild are the big winners in the free agency pool this year. They landed both stud free agents, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, giving the team a completely different feel. They now have dependable superstars to build around and be the anchors the Wild have been looking for. They finished 12th in the Western Conference with 81 points despite leading the league in mid December, so a major drop-off should not be expected. With some other solid pieces including center Mikko Koivu and goalie Niklas Backstrom, it looks like Minnesota is in good shape to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08. Jeff, what do you make of these signings and how to you see them affecting the Wild and the rest of the Western Conference?

Jeff Blay:  There’s no doubt these signings are the biggest of the summer, save for the Rick Nash deal, whenever it gets done. For Minnesota, it means a complete turnaround. You’re adding two world class players to your roster without having to move any of the core players like Koivu and Backstrom, as you said. Parise should thrive with the Wild and it will certainly be interesting to see who will play on a line with him. Suter will become the Wild’s No. 1 defender on a decent d-core, and will definitely be a good role model for the youngsters coming up such as Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk. I would definitely say the Wild are the biggest free agency winners for landing both Parise and Suter, not to mention depth players Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell, who will certainly help solidify the bottom six.

TK: One thing I’m looking forward to seeing is if Parise can help Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi bounce back from sub-par seasons. Those two wingers came over from San Jose last summer to provide some offensive punch, but that didn’t quite work as planned. Setoguchi missed time with injury and the former 50-goal scorer Heatley set career lows (in a full season) with 24-29-53 and both seemed disappointed to have been moved from the contending Sharks. With these new players, Minnesota is as much of a contendor as they have ever been. And Parise, with his bull-like approach to the game, will be sure to light a fire under those two stars. If all three play hard and to their best capabilities, the Wild could have three 35-goal scorers next season which will help their 30th-ranked offense. Lack of scoring was a big reason they faded the second half of the season. And as you mentioned too, their bottom six is pretty good as well. The Western Conference is tough though, do you think they make the playoffs?

Ryan Suter (#20) and Zach Parise both played on the 2010 US Olympic teams and signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts to anchor the Minnesota Wild. (bridgetds/Flickr)

JB: It’s hard to say as it may take some time for that chemistry to be built among those players, but having the various additions made this summer will certainly not hurt their cause. The Western Conference is indeed very tough, but the Wild will definitely have a chance to crack the postseason this year. Of all the Western Conference teams, as it stands right now, Minnesota could very well be the most improved team this summer – on paper that is. With a deeper core and the addition of some highly skilled players both up front and on defense, it could also allow goalie Nik Backstrom to really come out of his shell and emerge and a top goaltender in 2012-13. While other teams still have plenty of time to make some moves and improve as well, the Wild will definitely be one of the more exciting teams to follow next season.

TK: Don’t forget, Backstrom was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2008-09 and has a career .918 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average, so you know he’s a solid goalies when playing behind a strong team. Parise and Suter will certainly be missed by their former teams, but they can’t be faulted. Suter wanted to prove he can be the number one blueliner and Parise opted to go home and play. He’s from Minneapolis, just 20 minutes from St. Paul where the Wild play and he attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School in Faribault, an hour south of the Twin Cities. It’s one of the top hockey schools in North America and alumni include Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Malone and a number of other NHL and CHL stars. In just 125 games over two seasons there, Parise totaled 146-194-240. The Wild may not be an elite team yet, but in my book, they make the playoffs this year.

Do you think Minnesota is now a true playoff contendor? Let us know in the comments or reach us on Twitter or Facebook.


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