Fresh Minnesota Wild faces still looking to gel
Parise, Suter ... and Konopka ... have given Northwest Division rivals a facelift
Zenon Konopka surveys the dressing-room scene after the morning skate.
Zach Parise is surrounded by reporters. Ryan Suter, it is announced, will be doing a large media scrum in the corridor of the Scotiabank Saddledome.
And Konopka? Largely unpestered.
“Well, usually they call it The Big Three,” groused the Minnesota Wild toughie, who, even by hockey standards, owns a carved-up mug. “I don’t know what’s going on here in Calgary. But everywhere else, we call it The Big Three.”
Konopka, of course, is joshing.
The Wild hit the free-agent jackpot July 4, signing Parise and Suter to matching 13-year contracts worth $98 million.
Konopka — who, days earlier, jumped on a two-year pact that pays him a salary of $925,000 — doesn’t begrudge the stars their loot. From what the surly centreman has seen, they’re worth it.
“Total professionals, on and off the ice,” said Konopka. “They carry themselves extremely well . . . they bring in kind of a calmness. They’re always doing the right thing.”
Even if reviews, based on a small sample, have been mixed.
Suter, a two-way whiz, has been saddled with a wince-worthy minus-seven. Only seven skaters in the league are worse.
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo isn’t fretting.
“Plus-minus is a funny stat,” said Yeo, “that’s why we keep our own version . . . because he’s been snake-bit as far as being on the ice and pucks going into the net that he had nothing to do with. As far as what he’s added to our team, it’s hard to describe. We spend less time in our own zone. We spend more time in the offensive zone. But his execution — he’s going to make four or five great plays every night.
“A huge addition to our team.”
Suter, though, acknowledges the weight of that rating. He’d been plus-15 and plus-20 the past two winters in Nashville.
“Things were tough at first, but it’s definitely starting to come around,” said the defenceman. “This year it’s been weird. You feel you have a half-decent game and you look at the stats and you’re minus-two. I mean, that stuff happens. Plus-minus is a good stat when you’re plus. It’s not so great when you’re minus.”
In a related matter, the Wild isn’t scoring much — and neither is Parise, with only one point in the six dates prior to Monday’s joust in Calgary.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle lately,” said Parise, a left-winger who, with 10 points, tops the Wild. “Teams go through that during a season. It’s not matter of opportunities — we’ve had some great opportunities. It just hasn’t gone in. But we’re doing a better job of creating than we were five games ago.
“It’ll go in — we all know that. It’s just a matter of being patient when they’re not.”
Tim Jackman, for one, can vouch for Parise’s ability.
The Flames winger, during the extra-long off-season, skated in Minneapolis with a gang that included Parise.
It was hard not to take notice of the stocky forward.
“Very impressive,” said Jackman. “His work ethic, throughout the lockout, was very impressive. The details — for scoring goals, for shooting the puck — he loves it. He loves the game. He loves working hard and doing all the little things out there to score. And I was impressed by how hard he worked on the defensive end as well. That’s what makes him such a great player.
“He is one of the best players in the league.”
While Adrian Peterson, star of the Minnesota Vikings, does his share of headline-hogging in the Twin Cities, the Wild’s pursuit — and eventual bagging — of Parise and Suter rang bells all summer long.
“I didn’t see it coming — I thought maybe they’d go somewhere else,” said Jackman. “Basically, I remember talking to all my friends. Even the people who don’t follow a lot of hockey were talking about it. It was a big deal. Even people in North Dakota were talking about it.
“It was pretty special for the state of Minnesota, for all the people that follow the Wild, to get those two guys.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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