Minnesota Wild off to a nice start
If Saturday night felt weird for you don't worry, you're not alone. Seeing NHL hockey return to the ice had a surreal like feeling. After the months and months of negotiations I'm sure many fans were still taking an "I'll believe it when I see it approach." Now that the game has returned, however, we have the good fortune of focusing our attention on actual hockey related matters. Although the opportunity to make jokes at Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr's expense will be sorely missed, that's only a small price to pay.
With the NHL being in full swing that means that fantasy hockey can once again consume our lives. I'm sure productivity in the workplace skyrocketed during its absence, but now that the average employee will probably be trying to figure out whether or not they should pick up Jiri Tlusty off waivers instead of getting their work done, expect things to return to normal rather quickly. You are just now getting an opportunity to see what your squad is made of, and with the 48-game season there will no doubt be a few surprises.
The last real significant hockey news-worthy story before the lockout should have a profound effect on this year's fantasy season in many ways. The signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter by the Minnesota Wild for 13 years and $98M each may have been confusing to fans as it came at the same time that owners were crying poor, but the moves were impactful nonetheless.
The Wild have failed to reach the playoffs since the 2007-08 season and the signing of the two American stars certainly improves their chances of rectifying that. It also changes Minnesota's outlook from a fantasy perspective immensely. The Wild finished the 2011-12 campaign dead last in goals per game, but Parise should improve that and make their offensive a little more explosive. Each player also brings a unique set of skills that should help out their team-mates in many ways as well.
While the Wild's defense is anything but deep, or even well known for that matter, the addition of Suter obviously helps them defensively. Not only that, but it could help return Niklas Backstrom to one of the league's elite goaltenders. Suter now gives the Wild’s defense four players that posted over 100 blocked shots last year. This could help Backstrom drop that goals against average and raise his shutouts.
It's hard to gauge just yet who Suter will be paired with for the majority of the time in 2013, but whoever has the luxury of playing beside him will surely benefit. One guy to keep an eye on is Tom Gilbert. Suter recorded 23 power play points last year and considering Gilbert's past success with the man advantage in Edmonton, it would make sense for the two to be paired up in those situations at some point. Suter was also a plus-15 so he should be able to help out Gilbert in that area as well.
If you currently own Suter you may want to expect a slight drop off in points. He is used to playing with Shea Weber which helped him out greatly in that area over the years. In fact, in 2011-12 Suter set a career high in points with 46, playing with Weber nearly 70% of the time in even strength situations. No one in Minnesota is even in the same league as Weber, so if Suter can hit 20 points in this shortened campaign consider that a victory.
While Suter should help the Minnesota defense, it will be Parise’s job to rejuvenate the offense. The Wild can now boast a top line of Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Dany Heatley, which should give Western Conference defenses quite a scare. Parise should do wonders for both Koivu and Heatley, but in different ways.
Koivu has become quite the setup man over the past few years. In 2011-12 he had 32 assists in an injury shortened 55 game campaign, and in the three seasons prior to that he recorded at least 45 helpers. Parise has topped 40 goals just once in his career, but with Koivu feeding him the puck that could occur more regularly in the future. In a 48-game season it’s not crazy to think he could hit the 20-goal mark, with Koivu finishing with between 25 and 30 assists.
Now Koivu did have a sniper alongside of him last year, but Heatley posted his lowest goal total since the 2003-04 season. Having a second weapon in Parise helps both Koivu and Heatley. Opposing team’s best checkers will now not be able to focus solely on stopping Heatley, and will certainly need to keep an eye on Parise as well. Heatley has always had his best success with another scorer on the opposite wing. In Ottawa it was Daniel Alfredsson on the other side while Jason Spezza centered the two, and during his time in San Jose it was Patrick Marleau with Joe Thornton in-between.
You can really see a decline in Heatley’s stats when he loses that threat on the other wing. In 2009-10 he played 33% of his even strength shifts with Marleau and posted 39 goals and 82 points. The next year in 2010-11 his time with Marleau dropped to just 18% and his numbers fell to 26 goals and 54 points. Last year with the Wild he managed just 24 goals and 53 points. Heatley seems to be enjoying the new arrangement so far in 2013 as he had two goals on opening night.
Another player that Parise may impact indirectly is Devin Setoguchi. Last year Setoguchi occupied the spot that Parise will be taking over, but only managed 19 goals, which was his lowest total since his rookie season. While playing with Heatley and Koivu the majority of the time in 2011-12 had its benefits, it also meant Setoguchi had to face the competitions top defensive pair and checking line on a nightly basis. Perhaps dropping down a line in 2013 and potentially getting the opportunity to play with Mikael Granlund may help him fly under the radar and regain his scoring touch. After all, things can’t get too much worse for Setoguchi than this.
The Wild’s gain is ultimately the Predators and Devils loss. The ramifications of the two signings are also felt by the teams they departed from. Will Ilya Kovalchuk’s production be substantially hurt by the loss of Parise? How will Weber do without his trusted partner Suter? These, however, are not Minnesota’s concerns and after a quick 2-0 start, the organization’s main focus will be keeping up their strong play and returning to the playoffs. When you sign players to the kind of money Parise and Suter received, it comes with expectations. Just ask Wade Redden and Scott Gomez. Not only will they be required to perform at a high level, but great players make their team-mates better as well.
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