Over six months after making a giant splash in free agency, the Minnesota Wild are finally set to debut their new high-priced duo as they open the season on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Wild held the best record in the league in mid-December of last season, but injuries took their toll as the club struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs for a fourth straight year.
Minnesota then opened its checkbook to shake things up, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4. Suter swiftly becomes the club's top defender, while Parise will play on the top line with captain Mikko Koivu and winger Dany Heatley.
The Wild scored just 166 goals a season ago so adding Parise was key. The former New Jersey Devil and Minnesota native has tallied 30 or more goals in five of his last six seasons.
Suter, meanwhile, formed one of the league's top defensive pairings with Shea Weber in Nashville and will likely open this season alongside 23-year old Jared Spurgeon. Suter logged 238 points in 542 games during seven seasons with the Preds, including 99 points on the power play.
The Wild hope that the two new additions, a healthy Koivu, an improvement by Heatley and Devin Setoguchi and solid goaltending from Niklas Backstrom will get the club back to the playoffs.
"It's really exciting right now," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "It's exciting because it's been a long time. It's exciting because of the promise. It's exciting because of the week that we've had. We feel very ready for this."
Opening at home could help Minnesota get off to a quick start. It has won 10 straight home openers at Xcel Energy Center.
Though not as flashy, the Avalanche hope they made a key addition in signing former New York Islanders forward P.A. Parenteau to a four-year deal after he logged a career-best 67 points in 80 games a season ago.
"I see a lot of energy," Avs coach Joe Sacco said of Parenteau. "He's a guy that likes to talk on the ice and he's a guy that has good energy. He's going to be one of our top-six forwards. He has ability to make plays in tight areas and he has a bit of an edge to his game, which is something that I like."
Colorado has a bunch of talent in that top six, including reigning Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog, who notched 22 goals and 30 assists as a rookie and was named the fourth captain in team history since relocating to Denver. Landeskog became the youngest captain in NHL history when he was given the "C" on Sept. 4 at the age of 19 years, 286 days.
He is part of a young core that includes Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson and Ryan Wilson, though O'Reilly is currently unsigned as a restricted free agent.
Duchene, meanwhile, scored 51 goals over his first two NHL seasons, but had just 14 and 28 points in 58 games during the 2011-12 campaign.
Sacco feels that Duchene benefited by playing during the lockout and said his young center has a lot of jump right now.
"He looks like he has a lot of energy," the coach added. "And just from talking to him, I think the offseason, his commitment to fitness and all the things that we talk about with our young players, he certainly took full advantage of that. I have no doubt that he'll have a fine season for us this year."
That would be key for the Avs, who did see an 11-win, 20-point improvement last season but still missed the playoffs for a second straight year and for the fourth time in six seasons.
The Avs have lost six of their last nine to the Wild, but starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov is 4-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .962 save percentage in four career starts versus Minnesota.
Backstrom is 20-5-2 with a 2.16 GAA and four shutouts in his career against the Avalanche.