Reading between the lines can be a skill that can be both a blessing and a curse. It can make someone be extra perceptive, almost like a lesser version of Spider Man’s ‘spider-sense’ that allows a person to see beyond the obvious and an anticipate future events or find the underlying motive of an action. Or it can make someone immensely paranoid and neurotic where they read far too much into even the slightest moves that causes them to look foolish. If you’re good at reading between the lines you’re considered to be very perceptive, a trait people usually look upon favorably, but if you’re not as good as it you’re pushed into a group of conspiracy theorists and wackjobs. I don’t mind a good conspiracy theory every now and then, as its often a fresh look at the facts but there is a fine line between a plausible motive and ones that are truly out there and bizarre. Perspectives are what the blogging universe and the rest of the journalist world are all about. Through our own lens of what we believe and do not, we tune out certain writers while others we take a lot of stock in their opinions and perceptions since they often match our own ‘gut’ feelings. So the news the Wild signed defenseman Clayton Stoner to a 2-year contract that will pay him $1.05 million per season, what underlying message should that give fans across the State of Hockey?
What would Johnny Carson’s ‘Carnac’ say about Stoner’s contract extension?
Maybe we could use a little help from a medium to know what to expect from this. I am going to date myself a bit, but I remember watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and by far my favorite portion was his attempt to predict the contents of an envelope as Carnac the Magnificent. Carson’s ability to deadpan as well as his quick mind made the skit hilarious even if sometimes it didn’t always make a lot of sense. So without having to read the tea leaves or check my horoscope how should Wild fans read into Clayton Stoner’s 2-year extension?
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The Wild obviously value him a lot. With the trades of Nick Schultz, Marek Zidlicky (the extra 3rd round pick in 2013 makes that deal a little sweeter doesn’t it?) and Greg Zanon as well as the addition of Tom Gilbert the Wild have given themselves a big opportunity to overhaul the blueline. However instead of waiting until the summer and the opening of free agency the Wild have chosen to be active in the latter edges of the 2011-12 season by signing Nate Prosser and now Stoner to contract extensions. The Wild have decided to make the moves now, and barring another trade the team now has six defenseman under contract for next season. The tough, stay at home blueliner is coming off a bit of an injury plagued season where he managed 1 goal, 5 points, 62 penalty minutes in just 51 games. While Stoner has plenty of snarl to his game as he’s ready and willing to drop the gloves to stand up for his teammates, but staying healthy has been a challenge throughout his entire professional career. With a defenseman that hasn’t managed to stay healthier than 57 games in his two full NHL seasons was it wise of the Wild to sign Stoner to a 2-year deal? If you ask Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo the question isn’t about whether the organization should have signed him, but rather if they could afford not to.
I believe there is some validity to that line of thinking. Apart from Stoner, the Wild’s blueline is pretty soft and stocked primarily with finesse defensemen. Stoner is arguably the Wild’s most active fighter unless the team chooses to dress heavyweight enforcer Matt Kassian. The Port McNeill, British Columbia-native has shown a willingness to drop the gloves and has been fairly effective in that capasity, much more so than Marco Scandella or Prosser who may push and shove a bit but would be at a distinctive disadvantage as pugilists. At 6’3″, 225lbs, Stoner also brings another big body to a defense that has lots of smallish players. Does this mean the Wild are done making changes to its blueline? Let’s check out their current situation on its defense.
Cost of Wild’s Blueline for 2012-13 season (as of May 11th, 2012): $8,096,000 committed to 6 players
Under contract for next season are Tom Glibert who represents around 50% of the cost of the Wild’s defense with his $4 million a season salary. Stoner seems pretty affordable at just over a million per season while the rest of the defense (Jared Spurgeon, Steven Kampfer, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser) makes under a million per year. This gives the Minnesota Wild one of the cheapest defesive cores in the NHL, making this part of the team due for a major free agent signing. That is why many believe the Wild will be in the hunt for Nashville’s defenseman Ryan Suter. Suter, the Madison, Wisconsin-native was a former college teammate of Tom Gilbert’s and if he was signed they’d very likely be put together as the team’s top pairing. The Predators would love to have Suter back, but with superstar blueliner Shea Weber still left to be signed to a long-term deal I think Nashville would rather risk losing Suter than risk letting such a potent two-way force as Weber is, walk. After compelling Weber to seek arbitration as the Predators made a low-ball offer that some believe insulted the perennial NHL All Star the Predators will have to throw down some serious money if they expect to keep him donning a Nashville sweater.
Will the Wild be able to land prized defenseman Ryan Suter this summer?
And that’s no slight to Suter, but he simply isn’t the dominant two-way force the Nashville captain is. Suter is a very capable and worthy 1st pair defenseman. He would be a solid anchoring presence to the top pairing in a way the Wild have never really had in its franchise history. Jared Spurgeon has been very good, but he’s not a true 1st pairing NHL defenseman and would be better suited to playing more of a supporting role, much the same can be said of Marco Scandella who at times looked great and others looked like the NHL rookie that he was. It is extremely unlikely that the Wild will re-sign any of its other free agent defenseman like the oft-injured Mike Lundin, Kurtis Foster or even the franchise-grown Justin Falk. Falk might be retained as a minor league call up, but otherwise I don’t see him being asked to stick around. Chay Genoway was solid for the Aeros and I think he’ll again be signed to a minor league type deal, as will be Kris Fredheim. The question then remains, with Stoner’s extension making it six defensemen signed for next season who gets bumped if they can add Ryan Suter? The team has typically carried 7 defensemen but who do you leave out of the lineup? Kampfer? Prosser? Or is there some other plan at work here?
Could it be the opening for Jonas Brodin to show what he can do at the NHL level? Brodin has already shown himself to be a player mature beyond his years as he currently competes with Team Sweden at the World Championships as well as member of Farjestads BK of the Swedish Eliteserien. The fact he made Team Sweden, which has a bunch of NHL veterans like Loui Eriksson, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Erik Karlsson is a huge endorsement to both poise but also leads one to believe he may be closer to being NHL-ready than perhaps previously thought. Brodin’s entry level deal would certainly be much cheaper than Ryan Suter’s contract, but perhaps the Wild wish to save money so they can take a different approach altogether.
Could Stoner’s signing signal that Zach Parise is the Wild’s target?
As of right now (May 11th, 2012) the Wild have committed $30,953,000 to 9 forwards for 2012-13 season. So could an effort to save money on the defense be used to try to land the biggest free agent prize amongs forwards in this fairly small (in terms of quality FA’s available) free agent class in Zach Parise? The Minnesota media certainly has been lobbying hard to sign the Minneapolis-native who has been having a terrific post season for the New Jersey Devils this spring. Wild fans have been watching (and salivating) Parise’s tremendous effort and knack for scoring goals in the high traffic areas on the ice, and wondering and discussing on message boards about the possibility of luring him into a long-term deal.
One thing is for certain, Zach Parise is going to have lots of bidders; some of them in even better salary cap and financial position than the Wild. If Minnesota is going to make a serious play at Parise, it will have to be offering just as much if not more if it wants to have a chance. Maybe the signing of Stoner to round out the team’s blueline with 6 signed players give the Wild that understanding of just how much money they have to offer Parise’s way. Even after the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, who combined for 43 goals this season the Wild still finished dead last in offense with a paltry 177 goals to its credit. Only one other team in the league had under 200 goals for the season, and that is current Western Conference finalist Los Angeles with 194. So you can succeed with a modicum of offense, but its pretty obvious the Wild could use another scorer. Could Stoner’s signing mean the team is going to be shopping big time for some scoring, or will they stay frugal and just try to find scoring from within as their crop of prospects gets closer to being ready for primetime? As we approach the middle of May, Wild fans will find out in about a month and half what this organization’s true spots look like for the 2012-13 season.