The excitement built with the acquisitions of Heatley and Setoguchi and their scoring capabilities. The team shot out of the gate to a 20-7-3 start to the 2011-12 season, standing on top of the NHL standings. Injuries to Setoguchi, Guillame Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu led to a terrible collapse for a team that failed to make the playoffs, again.
Then, on July 4, 2012, GM Chuck Fletcher and owner Craig Leipold threw $196 million at U.S. Olympians, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
Then, the lockout hit.
The buzz gradually died down.
Today, that buzz is back. It's time to drop the puck... for a scrimmage.
Tonight's scrimmage with the Houston Aeros is 100% free to fans, but the tickets were gone in a flash. The Wild and their team stores, The Hockey Lodge, are offering 50% off almost everything in their team stores today. Lines were packed at their three locations in Burnsville, Maplewood and St. Paul. Fans were tweeting photos, a must see, to Star Tribune's hockey writer Michael Russo (@Russostrib).
I'm guessing a popular purchase today will have a few "No. 11s" on the back of them.
Parise, a Minnesotan, is returning home to play for the Wild. His father wore No. 11 when he played for the Minnesota North Stars; Saturday night should be a special day for the Parise family. Let's call tonight the Bachelor party; Saturday's the wedding, followed by the 13-year marriage. Suter's the best man, Leipold's the bride's father, coach Mike Yeo's the minister, Koivu's the matron of honor and Mikael Granlund is the ring bearer.
Marriages are not all fun and games. Joe Mauer is experiencing the dark side of being the highest paid hometown hero. Why? Because the Twins aren't winning, he's not hitting home runs, and his injury woes continue. It got so bad that Mauer was getting booed at Target Field... during his All-Star season.
What does Parise bring to the Wild other than his contagious smile, baby-holding features on local newscasts and his jersey sales? He brings an all around All-Star performance.
The guy works like a third-liner, kills penalties like a specialist, passes like a playmaker and scores like a superstar. He gives the Wild an elite penalty kill unit, arguably one of the top penalty killing forwards in the league; career-high seven short-handed points last season.
He's tallied at least 30 goals in his last five healthy seasons. He has 37 career game-winning goals, and if it weren't for Sidney Crosby's soft goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, his Gold Medal, game-tying goal would be a ton more legendary, not just a footnote.
Parise is coming off his season as the captain of last year's Stanley Cup runner up New Jersey Devils. He brings leadership, character, speed, physicality and world-class hockey sense. Koivu doesn't have to do it all anymore. The last few years Koivu has had to play every game like Game 7 of the Finals, leading to overuse and injuries.
Parise and Suter will always be tied together, but Parise might have more pressure on him because forwards are judged heavily.
Meanwhile, Suter will have to be the MVP of the Wild.
Minnesota lacks depth on the blueline with the injuries to Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin. Keep in mind, Scandella was sent down last season to the AHL to work on his game and Brodin has never played in the NHL.
Tom Gilbert, Suter's former Wisconsin Badgers teammate, has only been with the Wild for a short time. Spurgeon is small, but was the Wild's most consistent defenseman last season. Then there's the "other three:" Clayton Stoner, Nate Prosser and Justin Falk. These guys have all had their ups and downs with the Wild, but management and the coaching staff appears to have confidence in them... they have no other choice.
This leaves the Wild with exactly six healthy defensemen as they search this week for possibly one more. The obvious choice was supposed to be Steven Kampfer, who has played 61 career games in the NHL with the Boston Bruins and the Wild. However, Kampfer is coming off an injury and has an alarming minus-14 in 17 games played with Houston so far this season.
Matthew Dumba, the Wild's first round pick last summer, was invited to camp this week, but I'm guessing he'll play the maximum of five games allowed to keep his current status before heading back to the WHL's Red Deer Rebels.
Suter is about to take on his biggest challenge as an NHL defenseman and it will all have to be done without former teammate and NHL All-Star Shea Weber.
Currently, Suter sits at 10/1 odds to win the Norris Trophy, according to Bovada. There's no question he'll get the ice time and the opportunities to be in the conversation, especially since he will no longer be in the shadow of Weber. He'll be on the first unit powerplay, first unit penalty kill and all critical minutes in between.
Suter is getting paid the same as Parise and the expectations are high for the Madison native inside the organization. He will have to produce or the Wild are in big trouble.
As of now Suter, has been paired with Spurgeon, but it wouldn't surprise me if he gets minutes with his good friend Gilbert, whom I sure helped bring Suter to Minnesota.
This doesn't even include how important Rookie of the Year hopeful Granlund will be to the Wild's scoring depth and at the center position. This doesn't include the health of Pierre-Marc Bouchard. It doesn't include the acquisitions of Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. And it doesn't include the future prospects within the organization of Coyle, Jason Zucker, Johan Larsson, Matthew Hackett and many more.
The Xcel Energy Center will be packed with No. 11's and No. 20's tonight and all season long. They will both have to be at their best this season for the Wild to live up to their high expectations and the organization's playoff drought.