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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Martin column: Wild need to add depth at blue line rather than Vanek

  • It's been more than a month since the Minnesota Wild were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the conference semifinals by the Chicago Blackhawks, but I still have the fever.
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  • It's been more than a month since the Minnesota Wild were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the conference semifinals by the Chicago Blackhawks, but I still have the fever.
    I can't wait for next season to start. And, thankfully hockey fans don't have to wait long with the preseason starting Sept. 22.
    This past playoff run was a great first step after the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on July 4, 2012. Young scorers Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula showed they can be key pieces to the Wild's future.
    Do the Wild need another big-time scorer to get them over the hump? Or should money be spent to add depth at the blue line? Those are important questions, but everyone can agree they can't go through the same situation at goalie again.
    The Wild got extremely lucky piecing together their goaltending situation last season with Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov all being tabbed as the No. 1 goal at one point of the season.
    Can any of those guys be the type of goalie that wins a game seven 1-0? Kuemper maybe, but the rest have not really shown it to this point.
    I believe adding depth at the blue line is the most important offseason move the Wild could make. Suter logs minutes like it's his job. Well, it is his job, but you can't expect him to be on the ice as much as he has and expect him to make it through the season injury free.
    Forget Thomas Vanek rumblings, forget Paul Stastny or Ryan Callahan coming in to put up 60 points next season.
    Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who is an unrestricted free agent, is the guy the Wild need. The Virginia, Minn. native is 27 years old and scored a career high 10 goals in 81 games this past season. He put up 36 assists and his 33 plus/minus rating was the highest among defensemen in the league.
    Some NHL writers have said the Wild should go after Montreal Canadiens exciting defenseman P.K. Subban, who was the league's top defensemen last season, winning the Norris Trophy. He is great to watch on the offensive end but his defense isn't as good as Niskanen, plus Subban had just a -4 plus/minus rating.
    The knocks on Niskanen are that he is a little inconsistent, but going from a team like the Penguins, who are loaded with top defensemen, to the Wild, where he would have more responsibility, would help him become even better.
    Even more, bringing in a top defensemen like Niskanen would allow Minnesota's younger blue liners more time to develop. Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon emerged this past season. And Minnesota have Matt Dumba, Christian Folin and Gustav Olofsson as high-potential defensemen in waiting.
    Page 2 of 2 - But telling the Wild to sign Matt Niskanen is easier said than done. The Wild are in a great position to land a top free agent with a bright future. However, making the financial part fit is the biggest thing. Deciding who to keep and who to let go are tough decisions. Plus, you have to consider who will be free agents next season and how you can re-sign those pieces. Defensemen Clayton Stoner is the key free agent for the Wild this season. And let's be honest, a name like that belongs with the Colorado Avalanche.

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