x
Breaking News
More () »

Minneapolis St. Paul News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | Minneapolis, Minnesota | kare11.com

Plenty of change for the Wild when they open season on Thursday

Playing in a new division with a new starting goalie and a new captain, Minnesota will look a little different this season.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2020, file photo, Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit. The Minnesota Wild, who have not won a playoff series in six years, seek to capitalize on the spark created by Russian rookie Kirill Kaprizov and lean on stalwarts like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon to make strides in this abbreviated season.(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

ST PAUL, Minn. — New goalie. New division. New captain.

When the puck drops on a new Minnesota Wild season late Thursday night in Los Angeles, it will sum up just about everything new with the team this season.

For the first time since 2008, someone other than Mikko Koivu will be wearing a "C" on their Minnesota sweater.

Koivu's 15-year run with the Wild ended this offseason when he signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Koivu, who was drafted sixth overall by Minnesota in the 2001 NHL Draft, is all over the team's record book. He's the franchise-leader in games played (1,028), total points (709) and assists (504). He's also the second-highest scorer in Wild history with 205 goals – trailing only Marian Gaborik, who netted 219 goals during his time in Minnesota.

Koivu was an offseason casualty for a team needing an injection of youth. With veterans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed for five more years, Koivu's expiring contract was the quickest way for the team to save some money and add some younger talent to an already veteran-laden roster.

RELATED: Longtime Wild captain Mikko Koivu won't return

Now, Jared Spurgeon will be the team's new captain as Parise and Suter remain the alternate captains.

"It's a big deal. Jared's a guy that everybody in our locker room respects," said Wild GB Bill Guerin earlier this month. "We know we can count on him. He's a person that everyone in our organization gravitate towards."

Koivu won't be the only familiar face absent when the Wild step onto the ice on Thursday, as there will also be a new goalie between the pipes. Cam Talbot joined the Wild as a free agent as is slated to be the team's starting goaltender, taking over for Devan Dubnyk, who is currently with the San Jose Sharks, and Minnesota-native Alex Stalock. Stalock remains on the team but will start the season as an injured non-roster player with what could be a long-term injury.

This will also be the NHL debut for Kirill Kaprizov, the young forward out of Russia who had been turning heads in the KHL. Kaprizov brings a goal-scoring prowess the Wild have been lacking since Gaborik, and while there might be some growing pains along the way, the 23-year-old Russian is expected to be high-caliber talent.

The personnel won't be the only change the Wild are going through this season as they've also shifted to playing to a new division. Minnesota will be part of the West Division, which includes Arizona, Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles and Vegas. As a result, get ready for plenty of late games on the West Coast, beginning Thursday with a 9 p.m. start.

"There's a lot of excitement around here," said Wild forward Marcus Foligno during training camp. "The new guys that have come in have been great people and some (they're) some good players."

The realignment was made for geographic purposes to limit travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the top four teams from each division qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. And if that's not enough shuffling around for you for one season, the schedule has also been cut down to 56 games.

So in a season that will certainly look quite different from previous ones, the Wild are hoping their post-season fortunes are different as well. Minnesota hasn't made it out of the first round of the playoffs in five years, including one year they missed the postseason altogether.

"With everything that's going on, if we've learned anything it's that nothing is going to be set in a stone on a given day," Wild coach Dean Evason said earlier this month.

In a season littered change and uncertainty, the Wild will have a chance to perhaps shake up the current power structure within the league and become a more serious contender once the Stanley Cup playoffs come around.

Thursday could be an early indicator of where this team is headed.