3. Minnesota Wild
In the summer of 2012 Wild GM, Chuck Fletcher, made a huge splash in free agency with the much-anticipated dual signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. He signed both players to identical 13-year $98M contracts. Parise has 94 points in 115 games with the Wild, and Suter has 75 points in 130 games with the Wild. Parise also led the team in playoff scoring with 14 points in 13 games.
Well, that plan manifested itself into immediate success and results. The Wild made the playoffs in 2013 where they lost to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks in five games. This past season, they made the playoffs and defeated the Colorado Avalanche in a thrilling seven-game series, and then lost to Chicago again in six.
The addition of Jason Pominville was a huge step in the right direction for the Wild. Although it feels like he’s been in the league for decades, he’s still only 31. Perhaps it’s because he rarely misses a game — he has played full 82-game schedules in 6 of 8 seasons, excluding the lockout-shortened season. He has 69 points in 92 games since joining the Wild, and scored 30 goals last season. He also had 9 points in 13 games in the playoffs. He is part of a leadership group that includes Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Kyle Brodziak.
Of course, they also signed Thomas Vanek a week ago. He should fit in nicely under head coach Mike Yeo’s high-octane style of coaching.
Goaltending has been a bit iffy in recent years, with Niklas Backstrom‘s health and play slowly declining, and the uncertainty of Josh Harding‘s ability to take over the starting role — despite his incredibly strong play. But 24 year-old Darcy Kuemper was fantastic in the playoffs as relief. His numbers say otherwise, but he was a huge backbone in the Wild’s defeat of the Avalanche. It’s not a stretch to peg him as their next starting goaltender.
This team plays fast and plays hard; they are nothing but fun to watch. Plus, the great hockey fans in Minnesota are starting to garner the attention they deserve.