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Minnesota Wild Ready for Stanley Cup Push in 2013

After the Minnesota Wild brought in prized free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, many expected them to become overnight Stanley Cup contenders. However, the Wild struggled down the stretch, and ended up being the eighth seed in the Western Conference where they were swept by the eventual-champion Blackhawks. The Wild currently have 33/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup in 2014, putting them at about the middle of the pack in the NHL. Let’s take a look at some of their roster moves this offseason and analyze their impact on the team.

After handing out big contracts last summer, the Wild found themselves somewhat hamstrung by their finances this summer.

“You’ve got to take everything in context with the environment and the salary cap,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “It was a much different type of summer than two summers ago or last summer. Probably a third of the teams in the league had to deal with the smaller cap. We knew we were not going to be able to bring the same team back.”

The fanbase was also up in arms after a controversial trade sent fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders. The move to bring in controversial former Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cooke was also divisive. Still, the team says that Cooke’s veteran experience and Stanley Cup-winning pedigree can help take the team to the next level. However, the team is already looking forward to the $20 million in cap space it will have to use next summer, when the free agent class promises to be much better.

“Last year, I thought the pressure got to us a little, and I’m not sure we handled it as well as needed,” Fletcher said. “We think that experience will make a lot of players better. And any time you add experience (like Cooke’s), it’s just going to help…We’re going to have the ability to make more additions then, and next year looks like a much better free-agent crop. This year wasn’t particularly good. Next year looks better, and we’ll have more space.”

Still, Cooke’s influence on this squad can’t be understated; the Wild have no real playoff experience under their belts, and while Cooke has been construed as a dirty player, he says that his roughest days are behind him and that his grittiness can help the Wild win.

“There’s still times that you can go out and get a hit and get big hits that are clean, and they’re part of the game. It was the other ones that I wanted to get rid of,” Cooke said upon signing. “I still averaged over two hits a game this past season, and that’s something I want to keep in my game.”

“I just think Matt is, to be honest with you, an ideal third-line left winger. For our team right now, we’re in the process of learning how to win, of how to become a better team. Players like Matt bring different dimensions. But he has become a really good two-way hockey player,” Fletcher said.

Even with their attempts to get better, the Wild are likely one to two major moves away from becoming true Stanley Cup contenders. While 33/1 is an intriguing longshot, fans looking to bet on Minnesota should hold off a season to see what kind of splash they make next summer.

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