It's impossible to place a monetary value on having the experience of winning multiple Stanley Cups. But for the Minnesota Wild to snag 37-year-old John Madden from the free-agent market this summer for a mere $1 million, GM Chuck Fletcher had to feel like he was getting himself a bargain.
"We were thrilled he came," said Fletcher, who signed Madden on Aug. 6. "It came down to two things -- last year we struggled defensively and we also had so many injuries that we felt it would probably be very important if we could convince John Madden to come play for us. You can never have enough centerman, and clearly to find a player with that kind of experience and talent, we just felt it was a very logical addition for our club at that point in the summer."
Martin Brodeur, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Osgood, Brian Rafalski, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby) with at least three Stanley Cup rings. Madden won his most-recent championship with the Chicago Blackhawks last season while playing the same defensive-minded, penalty-killing role he did when he won his other two Cups with the New Jersey Devils, in 2000 and 2003.
There's not much offense to Madden's game at this point in his career, although he scored 20 goals as recently as 2007-08 with the Devils. He does the little things that go unnoticed, like winning 53.0-percent of his faceoffs and logging the most shorthanded ice time among Blackhawks forwards last season. It's impossible to give one person all the credit for the improvement of the team, but it's not a coincidence the Blackhawks went from 18th in the League in penalty-killing (80.6 percent) to fourth (85.3) after Madden's arrival.
"I wasn't there, but I'm assuming he was a big part of their success. He always has been," Fletcher said of the Blackhawks' turnaround on the penalty kill. "In New Jersey for many, many years, he was one of the best penalty killers in the League. He's a smart hockey player and he has terrific tenacity as well, so when you combine that intelligence with the determination he shows, you come up with a pretty good penalty killer. He's a player that will clearly be a big part of our penalty-kill unit and a big part of our team.
"We're set up where we have two lines that are more offensive in nature and two lines that are going to be expected to be strong checking lines yet hopefully still contribute offensively. John's still a very smart hockey player who can make plays with the puck."
Now in the twilight of his career, Madden is hoping his hard-working philosophy rubs off on the Wild's younger players.
"(Defense) was something instilled in me early by my dad. You're not always going to have it every night, in terms of offense," Madden told the team's Web site, "but when you're a good defensive team, you'll always be in games. I'm hoping some of that will rub off on the younger guys."
"You watch him practice, you watch him play and he's a professional in every sense of the word," Fletcher said. "He comes to the rink focused and ready to compete that day whether it's a game or a practice. He knows how to do all the little things you'd like your young players to learn how to do. Certainly he's somebody that our young players can look up to and emulate and learn from. There's no question when you bring in a player like that, that's part of the equation."
This season will feature Madden in some uncharted waters -- for the first time in his career, he will play for a team that missed the playoffs the previous season. The Wild finished 13th in the Western Conference last season with 84 points, 11 points behind the eighth-place Colorado Avalanche. There aren't many predicting the Wild will make the playoffs this season, but that's something that's not going to bother the unflappable Madden.
"There were years in New Jersey where we were predicted to finish seventh, eighth or even ninth and we finished first, second or third," said Madden, who has yet to miss the playoffs during his 10 full seasons in the League. "The team that plays most like a team, where their role players play their role, will do very well."
"I'm assuming he spoke to other clubs," Fletcher said, "and the fact he came with us, in some ways it's a vote of confidence where a player like that, who has won often in his career and has that fire to win, and the fact he chose to come here is certainly a vote of confidence for our program. It's a terrific addition for our team."
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