ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The story of the summer in the NHL, before the lockout wiped out almost half of the season, was the free agent market for standouts Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Minnesota was their unexpected choice. The two friends signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts, and the Wild will finally unveil their upgraded lineup Saturday night at home against Colorado.
For the first time in the franchise's 12 seasons, there is national star power here — and legitimate depth at the forward spots.
"We have a lot of talent. Now we just have to put it together," said Suter, the slick-skating, puck-moving defenseman who played the last seven seasons for Nashville and will be asked to help set up Parise and the others for scores. "It's going to be an exciting year."
If there's been one constant for the Wild since they joined the league, it's been a lack of offense. They were last in the NHL last season with 166 goals, the fewest in the league in 10 years. Since entering the NHL in 2000-01 as an expansion team, they've never ranked higher than 17th in the league in scoring. That was in 2007-08, the last of three times in 11 years they've made the playoffs.
That's one of many reasons why owner Craig Leipold and general manager Chuck Fletcher went all out to land Parise and Suter. Minnesota is a hockey-loving state, but the Wild have been lacking in local buzz for some time. Coach Mike Yeo, who watched his team race to an NHL-leading 20-7-3 start last season only to sputter down the stretch with a slew of injuries and finish 35-36-11, described the wait for the lockout to end like having Christmas presents he wasn't allowed to open.
With only one week of training camp and 48 regular-season games, there's not much time for the team to mesh.
"I think there will be a sense of urgency, definitely. ... Guys know we have to be going from day one," Yeo said. "In the past you could get away with having a little slump. But now with the shortened schedule, you're not going to be able to."
One advantage the Wild will have is that the many of their players skated together to stay in shape while negotiators worked on the collective bargaining agreement. So Parise's new teammates already have a strong sense of his ability.
"He's an elite player for a reason, just the way he works and his focus level and his skill level," center Kyle Brodziak said. "He's just an all-around hockey player. He deserves what he gets because he works so hard."