The Minnesota Wild got a gift on the Fourth of July in form of the biggest offensive and defensive prizes of the 2012 free agent pool. Coveted stars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter decided to return to their home state and play for the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild, who finished in fourth place in the Northwest Division and 12th place in the Western Conference with 81 points last season, certainly improved offensively and defensively today, but how much better do these signings really make them?
Current Wild players will certainly benefit from their new additions. Sniper Dany Heatley and captain Mikko Koivu will enjoy having Parise on their side, and Suter will certainly strengthen their blue line and support goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
Should the Colorado Avalanche be worried? Not really,
Unlike the NBA, NHL teams cannot just sign a couple of superstars and expect championships to follow like we just saw in Miami with LeBron James and the Heat.
Yes, these moves do make the Wild a more competitive team, and the Avs and the rest of the league should expect the Wild to finish higher than 12th in the West this year.
However, the Avs do not need to hurry and make a panic move or anything like that. The current young core of Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, Johnson and Varlamov are solid and will develop and help the Avs grow and evolve as a team.
Sherman has already addressed a need by adding a gritty and talented winger in P.A. Parenteau to presumably play alongside Matt Duchene. When word came out that Peter Mueller would not be tendered a qualifying offer, I was a bit surprised, but Parenteau's addition makes sense.
Mueller's time in Colorado was unfortunately plagued by his concussions, and we will never know what could have been.
He is certainly a gifted and talented offensive player, but the line of him, Duchene and Hejduk was grossly exposed as being too soft. Parenteau will provide grit and hopefully open things up for the Duchene's speed and Hejduk's hands.
If the season started today, I would guess the lines might look something like this:
Kobasew and Connolly also in the mix
Despite the fact that O'Reilly and Landeskog established great chemistry throughout all of last season, it's not unreasonable to swap Landeskog for Hejduk on the above lines. Landeskog would get a well-deserved shot to be on a true top line, and he and Parenteau could prove to be great wingers for Duchene.
Hejduk could benefit as well from having a solid two-way center like O'Reilly along with Downie's grit.
The Avs' top six defensemen are a bit more of a complicated question. Currently, the Avs have 10 defensemen who could realistically crack the roster—Johnson, O'Byrne, O'Brien, Hejda, Wilson, Zanon, Hunwick, Elliott, Barrie and Gaunce. First round draft pick Duncan Siemens is probably still a year or two from being NHL-ready as well.
What should Greg Sherman's next move be?
With the logjam of blue liners, prospects Elliott, Barrie and Gaunce could certainly see more time in Lake Erie to hone their games while getting more playing time than they might see with the Avs.
Now the million dollar question is what the Shermantor has up his sleeve. There are still big-name free agents out there like Alex Semin, Shane Doan and Matt Carle.
Semin would certainly be appealing due to his offensive talent, and he is friends with fellow Russian and former Capitals teammate Semyon Varlamov, but his price tag will be very high, which is not what Sherman's M.O. has been.
Doan's leadership, talent and grit would also be welcome, but he wants to stay a Coyote. If their ownership situation gets sorted out, he almost certainly will.
If the Avs sign another free agent, Carle is probably the best bet to come here. The former University of Denver Hobey Baker Award winner certainly has experienced success here in Denver, winning an NCAA title alongside Paul Stastny.
Carle would be a welcome addition to play alongside Edge, but would crowd the Avs' blue line even more.
A trade is most certainly a possibility as well. One could speculate all day long, but going back to the days with Pierre Lacroix at the helm, the Avs have shown a knack for making the unexpected trades.
Greg Sherman has shown a talent for this as well with his surprising acquisitions of guys like Johnson and Varlamov.