NEW PLAYERS 6
NEW RULES HURT
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
Genesis would have been a very dull tale if Doug Risebrough, rather than Adam and Eve, had been in the Garden of Eden. While other small-market teams leaped at the chance to add marquee free agents and score p.r. points in the off-season, Minnesota's G.M. treated big-ticket players as though they were forbidden fruit. The new labor deal be damned, Risebrough would continue to follow the build-through-the-draft blueprint devised when the Wild made its debut in 2000. "I've always been a guy who believes you stick with people and see the plan to the end," he says, "no matter how tempting [it is to change]."
Minnesotans are devoted to the Wild; there are 16,500 season-ticket holders and another 6,500 on the waiting list. They're also impatient, and Risebrough's plan, which didn't account for the rising expectations engendered by a trip to the conference finals in '03, won't bring home the 2006 Stanley Cup. The biggest free-agent additions this summer--center Todd White, and defensemen Scott Ferguson and Daniel Tjarnqvist--provide depth and little else.
Risebrough also caught flak for rebuffing former North Stars center Mike Modano, who had expressed interest in coming home before re-signing with Dallas. Fans will, however, get their first look at top-line center Brian Rolston, a versatile playmaker who signed a three-year, $9.4 million free-agent contract before the lockout. "But for every one of those things I do," bristles Risebrough, "I keep hearing about how we're not there."
As always, the Wild will be speedier, more disciplined defensively and, under Jacques Lemaire, better coached than most opponents. The team will also have a game-breaking scoring threat if winger Marian Gaborik, 23, who had a nightmarish '03-04, reverts to his All-Star form. But with Risebrough sticking to his plan, Minnesotans will have to be patient about reaching the promised land. --S.C.
The Wild has a lot of speed; watch to see whether conservative coach Jacques Lemaire takes advantage of it.
• ALL CAPS denotes new player