(We haven't done 'This 'n' That in a while. Just my thoughts on various Minnesota Wild-related stuff. Charge on, dear reader...)
Free Agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter: Face it, Wild fans. This isn't supposed to happen to a Minnesota pro sports franchise. Minnesota isn't supposed to be able to outbid the likes of Philadelphia and the Rangers for players like these. The fact that both former unrestricted free agents are from this part of the world helped, but when you make enough money to live anywhere in the world, this just isn't supposed to happen. I'm still in shock, and I still won't believe it, until I see both in Wild sweaters, on the ice, at Xcel Energy Center.
Yes, it IS a lot of money. But isn't it refreshing, that one organization in this town had the wherewithal to actually use the rules, as they currently agreed to, in order to improve themselves this dramatically? Like a lot of you, my Twitter account was being constantly refreshed on July 3 & 4, as the saga played out online.
Other Wild signings (Zenon Konopka, Torrey Mitchell, Brian Campbell) during free agency: Not a lot of Wild fans see any of these signings as improving the franchise a whole lot. I say: not so! The signing of Mitchell, a first-class frustrator and a favorite of San Jose Sharks fans, will fill a definite need in the penalty kill department, taking some of the load off of the likes of Mikko Koivu and Darroll Powe. Konopka assures that we have four true centers in our top four center slots; also, who wants to take liberties with Mikael Granlund, Parise, Koivu, etc., when you have both Konopka and Matt Kassian available for pugilistic duty?
Campbell, who came over from Calgary, hopefully will have signed up for Delta SkyMiles by the start of the season, as his lot with this team will be on the shuttle between Houston and MSP.
The kids are alright: After attending both scrimmages during prospect camp earlier this month, the future of the Wild organization has never looked this good. The last vestiges of the old Doug Risebrough regime have been totally swept away. The Wild are truly Chuck Fletcher's team now. And, it shows, as the quailty and quantity of talent have been markedly improved, both at the NHL level (and how!) and at the AHL level, as fans of the Houston Aeros can actually think that their team may just stay together long enough, to possibly make a Calder Cup run. Matt Dumba, the Wild's first-round draft choice, is the real deal, as is Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle, Nate Prosser, and all the other young guns that Fletcher & Co., have manged to stockpile thru four gruelling (for fans, at least) non-playoff seasons in St. Paul.
The coaching staff has an invaluable season of NHL experience under their collective belts together: another start like last season, and avoiding the injury plague which disabled the team in mid-December, will go a long way as to where this Wild team will actually wind up. Landing a spot in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs is not a possibility with this team. With the way the Wild has acted this summer, it has become an expectation, for which failure will not be an option.
But, will we even HAVE a 2013 playoffs? Or a 2012-2013 regular season? Will the NHL and the Players Association come together, for the good of the game and the fans, to ensure labor peace? Will Gary Bettman and Don Fehr, two skilled negotiators, come to an agreement to save the start of training camp (Sept. 21 for the Wild), or will the dispute over hockey-related revenues escalate, to the point of the sport's second lockout in less than a decade? With one franchise (Phoenix) on life support, costing both sides (owners AND players) millions of dollars, and several others getting perilously close, what will happen for the League in the next few years financially? Will we have meaningful re-alignment? Franchise stability, or several more Atlanta Thrashers-style post-season moves?
Yes, they are talking. Issues and proposals have been passed across tables in both New York and Toronto. But will it all be done in time to prevent the owners to lock the players (and, fans) out?
The 800-pound gorilla in the room needs attention. And soon. Otherwise, we will have the unfortunate result of Lockout No. 2...much to the dismay of the Wild faithful. Just when we had momentum, will the Wild have lost it going into Fall, 2012?
Only Craig Leipold knows for sure, and he isn't talking ('cuz he'll get fined, substantially, if he does.)