Landscape changing in Northwest Division

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:15 AM ET

CALGARY - In some eyes, the wild west just became the Wilds west.

The Minnesota Wild shocked the hockey world Wednesday, convincing the two biggest names on the free-agent market sniper Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter to sign twin deals in the Twin Cities.

With Parise and Suter each inking 13-year, US$98-million pacts with the Wild, the state of hockey in the State of Hockey suddenly looks pretty darn good.

This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild, boasted Wild GM Chuck Fletcher.

It wasnt necessarily a great day for the rest of the NHLs Northwest Division, or even the other wannabes in the Western Conference.

The Calgary Flames brass would rather not comment on out-of-town transactions, but you can bet your silver dollars GM Jay Feaster and his staff cringed when Parise and Suter spurned perennial Stanley Cup contenders such as the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins to join forces at the Xcel Energy Center.

Judging by reaction around the Twitterverse, fans in Calgary are more than a wee bit worried about the men of Minnesota, a squad they see six times each season.

The Wild have also signed tough-as-nails centre Zenon Konopka and third-liner Torrey Mitchell, and their prospect pool is among the deepest in hockey, headlined by Finnish world-junior star Mikael Granlund.

Thing is, its not just the Wild that Flames fans should be concerned about. You could argue all five entries in what was a watered down Northwest Division have made improvements.

Feaster certainly hasnt been sitting on his hands since the squad missed the playoffs for a third straight spring.

With the addition of offensively-gifted forwards Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler and playmaking point-man Dennis Wideman, the next instalment will undoubtedly be the most skilled crew to skate at the Saddledome in recent memory.

Bob Hartley, who has won championships on two different continents and already owns a Stanley Cup ring, was hired as head coach and will be tasked with squeezing the most out of this team, which finished second in the Northwest Division and ninth in the Western Conference last season.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers also made a change behind the bench and then were winners of the Justin Schultz sweepstakes, persuading the highly-sought blueliner from the University of Wisconsin Badgers to join the youth movement in the provincial capital.

The Vancouver Canucks convinced offensive-minded defender Jason Garrison, formerly of the Florida Panthers, to leave the Sunshine State and accept a sweetheart deal in his home province and still have a trade chip in puck-stopper Roberto Luongo.

The Colorado Avalanche have also been busy, signing former 20-goal man P.A. Parenteau away from the New York Islanders and locking up top defenceman Erik Johnson to a long-term deal.

The Canucks have had a stranglehold on the Northwest Division crown for the past three seasons.

The 2007-08 Wild were the last team outside of B.C. to hang that banner, but only four regulars from that squad captain Mikko Koivu, centre Pierre-Marc Bouchard and goalies Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding are still earning the money in Minny.

There have been a lot of new faces over the past three years, and now theyve added two new faces of the franchise.

Wild sharpshooter Dany Heatley, a product of Calgarys minor-hockey system, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after Wednesdays announcement that hed been swapping text messages with both Parise and Suter in the days before the decision.

Mostly, they just wanted to win, Heatley said.

For the rest of the Northwest Division, that task just got tougher.


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