You could see it in the snippets of interviews and video clips from the first day of Minnesota Wild training camp on Thursday—Wild players, coaches, fans and even media members are absolutely stoked to have Kirill Kaprizov back in the fold after the superstar forward signed his five-year, $45-million contract extension earlier this week.
And while some across Minnesota and elsewhere in the Wild fan universe might feel a little disdain for the Russian forward due to an emotional and sometimes angst-filled contract negotiation, the Wild have their best player back in the fold, and that’s a fantastic development for everyone involved.
“The whole process was hard,” Kaprizov told The Athletic’s Michael Russo. “Coming out of last season, I thought things would get done a little bit quicker. But these things take time. I completely understand. I’m really happy that I’m here now and I can just focus on hockey. Obviously extremely happy to be a part of the Minnesota Wild.”
‘Extremely happy’ is a good way to describe most fans of Minnesota after the signing, as Kaprizov is easily the Wild’s best player.
The winger led Minnesota in both goals (27) and points (51) in 55 games last season on his way to winning the Calder Trophy, given to the league’s best rookie.
He became the first player in Minnesota Wild organization history to win the award, and the first Minnesota NHL player to take the award since Bobby Smith won it with the North Stars in 1979.
Kaprizov skated by himself on Thursday while the rest of his teammates participated in group skates, but Kaprizov could join his Group A teammates on the ice as soon as Friday, coach Dean Evason told NHL.com after practice.
The Wild will be better as a result. The term is shorter than most Wild fans probably hoped, and the dollar amount might be a bit too high, but the signing is a tremendous step toward the Wild truly becoming a competitor for Lord Stanley.
This is a team that likely misses the playoffs without Kaprizov, and the idea of Victor Rask possibly sneaking up to take his spot on the top line with Joel Eriksson Ek and Mats Zuccarello for an extended period of time is nightmare fuel.
Wild GM Bill Guerin believes the player will live up to the deal.
“I think he’s just one of those guys, he’s gonna play the same whether he makes his entry-level salary or $9 million a year,” Guerin told Russo. “He’s just gonna play. There’s an inner confidence with him that not everybody has. I think he just really believes in himself and he’ll go and perform.”
As Russo explains it (Note: Russo might be the best NHL beat reporter there is, you should support his work.), Guerin got a text from Kaprizov’s agent on Monday, the two had dinner Monday night and breakfast Tuesday morning. They met again on Tuesday afternoon to finalize the deal.
Over the last few weeks in the heart of all the Kaprizov mess, I found myself thinking back to the summer of 2012 when the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. I was a high school student who had been a passive NHL fan and was too young to remember the 30-goal seasons of Marian Gaborik.
I bring up that summer because it was the first time I can remember that the Minnesota Wild—the closest thing to a hometown NHL team a Wisconsin boy can have—had true superstar players. I remember all the craziness that followed and the Stanley Cup predictions, too.
It didn’t work out as the team hoped after the 2012 deals, but the Wild have another chance now with Kaprizov. It’s one with a younger player who is just entering the best years of his young NHL career.
Both the player and the team think the best is ahead, and they are happy to do it together. With the contract out of the way, Kaprizov has his focus on building on his first season in the NHL.
“Now I just want to play,” Kaprizov says in Russo’s article. “You know, it’s like, ‘Whew.’ It’s hockey.”
It’s time for that to happen, and for Wild fans to enjoy every step of the way.