The 2012 NHL free-agent class has been picked clean of its top two free agents, and on the Fourth of July, the Minnesota Wild became the instant winners of the offseason by picking up New Jersey captain Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter.
Minnesota is hoping that the duo of American Olympians can bring a new attitude and star power to the Wild, who have flown under the radar since the 2002-2003 season, when they reached the Western Conference finals.
Anything but a small-market team, the Wild have lacked real star power since their superstar sniper Marian Gaborik bolted to New York in free agency. The Wild had hoped to build an impressive first line around Captain Mikko Koivu by adding former San Jose Sharks forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, but injuries derailed their most recent campaign, resulting in choosing seventh overall in the recent NHL entry draft.
By adding the two biggest names in free agency, the Wild committed just under $200 million to Parise and Suter through the course of the next 13 years. To justify those contracts and to keep the team afloat after spending the second biggest amount of money in the NHL,the Wild will need to consistently make the playoffs, and eventually win the Stanley Cup.
However, there are a number of factors as to why the Wild just might not be able to compete for Lord Stanley as soon as most people think.
There's something to be said about the man who stood next to Shea Weber for so many years in Nashville.
Ryan Suter's numbers never really reached peak potential in Nashville because Weber, the two-time Norris Trophy finalist, received most of the glory, carrying the majority of the offensive load on his shoulders.
It's also worth noting that Suter played in Nashville's restrictive defense-first system, which might have been responsible for keeping his numbers down.
What is most intriguing is the fact that both factors being used as excuses for Suter's lack of production won't change in Minnesota.
Former Edmonton Oiler Tom Gilbert will most likely be Suter's new defensive partner, a humongous drop-off in talent from what the American blueliner was used to in Nashville.
Take a look at Minnesota's defense after the Suter-Gilbert pairing; the drop-off is rather astonishing.
Twenty-two-year-old Jared Spurgeon, a former Islanders draft pick, was the team's leading scorer on defense last year.
Kurtis Foster will most likely not be retained after being acquired from New Jersey for puck-moving defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
Mike Lundin is gone, and Clayton Stoner is nothing to write home about.
The Wild's defense-first system allows them to have subpar defensemen, but having subpar defensemen will only get you so far. The Wild will either need to sign or trade for an excellent blueliner or two to anchor the second and third defensive pairings.
Minnesota is fortunate enough to have one of the best prospects in the league in Finnish center Mikael Granlund.
The young pivot has already had a huge impact in his home country, bringing home World Championship fold for Finland in 2011. It was a summer Finns will never forget, one where head coach Pasi Nurminen needed to be carried off the plane coming home for being too drunk, and where former New Jersey Devil Anssi Salmela lost his gold medal after a drunken ordeal.
All fun aside, Granlund is a treat to watch and has all the skills to be a future first-line center in the NHL. The unfortunate part is that Minnesota may have him slated to be their opening-day second-line center. A line that would most likely include him playing with Zach Parise or Dany Heatley. That's a lot of pressure for a 20-year-old.
The Washington Capitals tried this a few years ago with Swedish center Marcus Johansson. The Capitals were a "win-now" team and pushed the young center into top-line minutes throughout his two years with the organization. Reality finally set in and George McPhee acquired Dallas Stars forward Mike Riberio to take Johansson's spot.
Granlund is playing the most crucial position in hockey and must be allowed to grow at his own pace. Rushing him into situations he's not prepared for could be devastating.
Right after the lockout, if you didn't have Niklas Backstrom in your top five of best goaltenders in the NHL, you were wrong.
Since his 2008-2009 Vezina Trophy-nominated year, the goalie has had significantly reduced play time due to injuries and personal decline.
While Backstrom still is a very good goalie and most teams would be happy to field him on their roster, he simply cannot be counted on as a soul means to steal games at the incredible rate he used to.
Backstrom's backup, Josh Harding, was re-signed by the Wild before July 1st. It looks like Harding had once again passed up the job to be a starting netminder and will play second fiddle to Backstrom once more.
The Wild have a decent goalie tandem but not exactly what you would prefer heading into the playoffs in an effort to make a championship run.
A major downfall that most teams with Cup aspirations is that they far too often sell their young prospects away to acquire older players who fit a certain need that would be required in a sustained playoff run.
The Wild need to be patient; it's as simple as that. Granlund, who has been previously mentioned, is NHL ready and will assuredly graduate to the pro club next year, but it is the other prospects that Wild fans should be concerned about.
Case in point about trading away young talent, the San Jose Sharks who were directly involved in giving Minnesota their now-top prospect after Granlund.
Last summer, the Sharks were desperate to add a big puck-moving defenseman. They did so by sending Devin Setoguchi and top prospect Charlie Coyle to the Wild. Brent Burns was a big loss for Minnesota, but in that trade they acquired Coyle, who could be a phenomenal center one day. What the Wild need to avoid at all costs is getting to the same mentality the Sharks had and decide to move Coyle for an already established player.
The same goes for their recent 2012 NHL draft pick, Matthew Dumba. Chosen seventh overall in the draft, Dumba has the tools to be a top-pairing defenseman for the Wild for years to come. The former Red Deer Rebel has a knack for putting up points and playing a tight game in his own zone.
It wasn't too long ago that the pipeline in Minneapolis was rather barren. The Wild have gone in the right direction to change that. According to pre-draft rankings from Hockey'sFuture's organizational rankings, the Wild are currently 17th. They are due to jump a few points after adding Dumba.
Great teams more often than not consist of homegrown players who are supplemented by good free-agent signings, not the other way around. Minnesota is on the right course; they need to stay on track and be patient.
Should the Wild decide to add another big name, salary will have to be going back to a team willing to make a trade.
According to CapGeek, the Wild's finances have now been tied up in the core players. Other than Zach Parise and Ryan Suter being the highest-paid players, Dany Heatley has a significant amount of money tied up in him. Heatley is owed $15 million more over the next two seasons. Heatley was Minnesota's best player last year and despite limited production, he will need to bounce back in a huge way to earn his paycheck.
Captain Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom are both making upwards of $6 million per.
If the Wild are going for it all next year, there will have to be significant players on the move, as the Wild are currently left with only $2.8 million left to spend.
The good news is that they have a number of contracts coming off the books next year, including Matt Cullen, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Backstrom.