|The heart and soul of the Minnesota Wild will be back at least one more year. |
The heart and soul of the Minnesota Wild is coming back. After becoming a free agent for a grand total of three days, Wes Walz has re-signed with the team that helped him resurrect his NHL career.
Walz has been a member of the Wild since its inception in 2000. Only Marian Gaborik can make that claim as well. The 37-year-old has played more games (427) than anyone in a Wild uniform, and he ranks second on the all-time franchise scoring charts in goals (81) and points (178). He also has scored 14 shorthanded goals, which leads second place Brian Rolston's six.
But Walz is not returning to the Wild because of his stats. He is the unquestioned leader by example in the locker room, and the epitome of hard work. As a defensive specialist, Walz has been the team's top penalty killer and stopper against opponents' top lines.
His most notable leadership moment came this past January in a road game against Vancouver. Having lost 11 straight road games, the Wild built a three-goal lead against the Canucks before seeing that gap cut to two after two periods. Walz stood up during the second intermission and voiced his displeasure, which sparked the team two two third period goals and a 5-2 win. Minnesota went on to win six of its next seven road contests.
The signing of Walz suddenly bolsters the Wild at the center position. Coming into Tuesday, Mikko Koivu
and Dominic Moore were the only true centers that played with the Wild last season and are under contract. With the signing of Eric Belanger, and now Walz, the Wild appears set at center with players like James Sheppard and recently-signed Steve Kelly pushing for jobs.