The Minnesota Wild entered this season amid elevated expectations after signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year-old, $98,000,000 contracts over the summer.
This is also a team that failed to make the playoffs in their previous four campaigns and finished 12th in the Western Conference in 2011-12. The additions of Suter and Parise were huge, but it’s not like they were joining a team on the cusp of greatness.
This is still a growing club and with that in mind, Wild coach Mike Yeo can see the silver lining even after being eliminated in five games by the Chicago Blackhawks.
“This was another important step for us, and even feeling this feeling that we feel right now,” Yeo said, according to the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo. “This is going to help us.”
Minnesota has some decisions to make over the summer. They already have $55,812,201 committed to 17 players, according to Cap Geek, so they’re not in a great position to make another big splash.
All the same, 35-year-old netminder Niklas Backstrom is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, so the Wild need to address that situation. Otherwise they’ll enter the 2013-14 campaign with a tandem of 23-year-old Darcy Kuemper and Josh Harding.
The Wild also have several young players that might take a step forward in 2013-14, but perhaps the most notable is 21-year-old forward Mikael Granlund. The expectations surrounding him were high going into this season, but he wasn’t able to make a seamless transition to the NHL. Perhaps next season, he’ll be a difference-maker for this club.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.
Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.
Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.
Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)
Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.
But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.
They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.
Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.
Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.
Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?
So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.