Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Top 13 Stories of '13

Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images
Since we are winding down 2013 today, it makes sense to take a look back at the best stories from 2013. So to commemorate the year 2013, we will take a look back at the 13 best stories for the Wild.

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13. Wild's talented prospects make NHL debut: Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, and Erik Haula all saw their NHL debuts come in 2013. The first three saw their debuts come during the 2012-13 season. Charlie Coyle played a good portion of the year on the top line alongside Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, and Jonas Brodin got in his time alongside Ryan Suter. Granlund did spend more time in Iowa in 2012-13, but improved tremendously in the offseason to the point to where he is locked in as the team's second line center now. Dumba and Haula got to play with the big club this fall, but both are no longer with the team at the moment (Dumba is with Canada at the WJC and Haula is back in Iowa).

12. Tom Gilbert is amnestied: Under the new CBA, teams were allowed two compliance buyouts that could be used either in the summer of 2013 or the summer of 2014. Dany Heatley's $7.5 million cap hit in 2013-14 was targeted by just about everyone to get bought out. But due to injury, Heatley was unable to get amnestied. Next candidate on the list: Tom Gilbert. Gilbert had a downright awful 2012-13 season and was entering the final year on his contract, which gave him a cap hit of $4 million. The Wild, who had to cut payroll for the $64 million salary cap in 2013-14, easily made Gilbert a compliance buyout. One question headed into 2014: Will the team use the other?

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11. Niklas Backstrom stays: Backstrom carried the Wild to the playoffs in 2013. He started 27 of the team's final 28 games and made 29 saves in the Wild's 3-1 win at Colorado on the last game of the season, clinching a playoff berth. He injured himself during warmups of Game 1 in the playoffs, and was never seen again. He went into the offseason holding most team records for goaltenders. He was also a free agent. But on June 24th, Backstrom decided to not test free agency and re-signed with the team on a cap friendly three year deal.

10. Jonas Brodin, the defensive machine: A broken clavicle kept Brodin from making the Wild's opening night roster coming out of the lockout. But on January 25th, Brodin return from his injury and busted on to the NHL scene and the thought of him being sent back to Houston (RIP) never entered anyone's mind again. Brodin ended up going to the top defensive pairing with Ryan Suter and the pair was thought of as one of the best in the league. Brodin notched 11 points in his rookie season, and should have been a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

9. New road uniforms: After 12 seasons, the Wild's original jersey model was finally retired. In early September, the team unveiled new road uniforms at the Minnesota State Fair. The jerseys were met with good remarks and made their debut on October 8th at Nashville.

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8. Cal Clutterbuck traded: After six seasons in a Wild sweater, the team shipped fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederreiter. Clutterbuck was a restricted free agent and was looking for a contract that the team simply could not afford with the decreasing salary cap. Clutterbuck totaled 116 points in his six seasons here. He also holds the franchise records for most hits in a season with 356 in 2008-09.

7. Angry Mikko: To cap off the best winning streak of the Wild's 2012-13 season (seven games), and one of the best in team history, it was team captain Mikko Koivu doing the dirty work in overtime with a game winning goal over Phoenix to send the win streak to seven. It was the more angry look on Koivu's face after the goal that earned him the nickname "Angry Mikko".

6. Ryan Suter: Norris Trophy Finalist: After signing that mega contract in the summer of 2012, Ryan Suter made Chuck Fletcher and Craig Leipold look like geniuses in the 2012-13 season. He ranked second among defenseman with assists (28) and third in points (28), all of which coming after a dreadful first 10 games with the club in a 48 game season. He averaged over 27 minutes of ice time last year, and is on pace for over 30 minutes this year. Suter missed out on the Norris Trophy, as he finished second to PK Subban of Montreal.

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5. Realignment: After nearly getting realigned for the 2012-13 season (but was voted down by the NHLPA), the board of governors and NHLPA finally came to an agreement on realigning the league for the 2013-14 season. The Wild moved into the more time friendly Central Division (or Conference III as some call it), with Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, and Winnipeg. The move is expected to rekindle old North Stars rivalries with Chicago and St. Louis, while starting new ones with Nashville and Winnipeg.

4. Wild acquire Jason Pominville: April 2nd was trade deadline for the 2012-13 season, due to the shortened schedule. And just prior to the deadline, the Wild made a huge splash by acquiring Jason Pominville and a 2014 fourth round pick from Buffalo in exchange for G Matt Hackett, F Johan Larsson, a 2013 1st round pick, and a 2014 2nd round pick. Pominville played 10 games with the Wild before missing the remainder of the season and the first three playoff games after suffering a concussion. The Wild rewarded him just prior to the 2013-14 season opener with a five year contract extension that will run him through the 2019-20 season. In 51 games, Pominville has scored 21 goals and added 16 assists with the Wild.

3. Wild sign Matt Cooke: The most discussed move of the Wild's offseason came on July 5th when they inked Matt Cooke to a three year deal. Cook had a notorious history with dirty plays and suspensions, but came clean following his suspension of the entire 2010-11 playoffs. Cooke has cleaned up his game, and has yet to be suspended in the three seasons since. 41 games into his Wild tenure, Cooke has notched five goals and nine assists.

2. Wild return to the playoffs: It was a long and dreadful run for the Wild, missing out on the playoffs in four consecutive seasons. They nearly made it five, as they nearly crumbled in late April, but a win in the final game of the regular season sent sent the Wild to the postseason for the first time since the 2007-08 season. They made it in as the eighth seed and got a matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks hammered the Wild in five games and went on to win the Stanley Cup in June.

1. Josh Harding: Harding might be the best story in the entire NHL in 2013. He was diagnosed with MS late in 2012, and still went on with his NHL career. He missed a significant chunk of time in the 2012-13 season, but his dedication to return to the ice won him the Masterton Trophy. Now in the 2013-14 season, Harding has solidified his status with the Wild while putting up Vezina worthy numbers in the first half of the season. It would appear moving forward that Harding is now the team's number one goaltender as he continues to play incredible hockey between the pipes.
Photo: Michael Martin/Getty Images

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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