Justin Bourne of The Score's Backhand Shelf blog ranked the attractiveness of each NHL franchise for free agents Tuesday. Minnesota was in the middle, placing 13th, a year after getting the top two free agents on the market.
While that could be seen as a slight by Bourne, I'm okay with where the Twin Cities ranked in his opinion piece. Although my bias would have them a couple spots higher, it should be around the 8-14 range. Minnesota has a rabid hockey fanbase, but not rabid enough where the team is the only thing in town. The area is beautiful. Even in winter (okay maybe that's a stretch). There are a lot of things someone in their 20s and 30s can do in the Twin Cities. Your money doesn't go as far as other places - especially compared to places with no state tax - yet isn't insanely expensive. Same is true with city size.
Most importantly, things are currently looking up for the Wild. That is appealing.
Despite all of that I'd be lying if I said Minnesota was the most desirable place for a free agent to sign. The Xcel Energy Center normally isn't the first place that comes to mind when the NHL gets discussed and that's okay.
There is, however, one exception that moves the Twin Cities near the top to the list involving people who grew up in Minnesota or played in what was formerly WCHA country. In that case, the certain charm of the area doesn't need to be sold. The players already know it and gives the Wild a leg up on the other 29 teams.
So do the locals. At the rate July has gone, it's going to be a long year with Vanek Watch after not learning anything from 2011.
Is that a problem? Honestly, it's hard to tell sometimes.
Minnesotans wanting players native to Minnesota on a Minnesota-based team is nothing new. Provincial at the core, the "local kid making good with the hometown team" is a feel-good story that becomes independent of whether or not the player produces points or defense. Familiarity breeds liking. There is something special, almost powerful about being part of a community.
Still, there isn't a local bonus production-wise (although that hasn't stopped opposing fanbases to include Minnesotans as a bonus in trades often enough it has become a running joke). Hockey players don't start becoming 30 goal scorers just because they are playing in the same area code they grew up. Toronto would be celebrating more Stanley Cups if that was the case.
(Or two years ago when seven players from Minnesota playing for the Wild was a selling point in a lost season would have gone better.)
So seeing news last Tuesday - the same day Bourne's free agent list was published - that Cloquet, MN native and unrestricted free agent Jamie Langenbrunner wants to continue his NHL career with the Minnesota Wild feels both predictable and new at the same time. From the article:
“I’ve been pushing my (agent) to do some talking (to the Wild) for me,” said Langenbrunner, who has been staying at his lakehome in Moose Lake since mid-June. “That would, obviously, be the ideal situation from a family standpoint. I understand what they are trying to do (with recent personnel moves) and who knows what their choice will be, but I would welcome an opportunity to play there.”The 37 year-old right winger, who has 243 goals and 420 assists in his 18 year NHL career, is coming off a season with the St. Louis Blues where he lasted all of four games before a torn labrum ended things before they started. Prior to that, Langenbrunner scored 24 points (6 G-18 A) in 70 games for the Blues. That is a far cry from the days of scoring 50-60 points on a line with Zach Parise in New Jersey just a few years ago.
Besides family, being able to play again with Parise is one selling point for the 2010 USA Olympics Captain wanting to come back to his home state.
Wanting being the key word.
If anything, the Minnesotans wanting a Minnesota-born player on the Wild feels like it has been one-sided. In this case it's the player making overtures. Even with a local bump, being desired first by a free agent feels great.
But it also raises a conundrum. Does Minnesota need to sign a local player just because there is interest?
Two years ago, making a quick local deal would have made perfect sense before Langenbrunner signed with the Blues. The Wild did not have a majority of its present top-six (of which 35% of the team's salary is tied). The 37 year-old wouldn't be taking the job of a younger and cheaper player. Now Langenbrunner's words sound like they are coming from a player trying to hold onto his NHL career. They sound like a player looking to be desired one last time.
Maybe he's okay with taking a smaller two-way contract or an AHL PTO and trying to earn a job in camp despite playing 1100+ NHL games. Maybe Langenbrunner is not. It's something Minnesota can do for a local player that doesn't fit in with the depth chart at the end of his career, but there was a reason why the Duluth Heritage Sports Center believed he was retiring.
Opening night will be eight months since Langenbrunner underwent surgery. While there is some value, the last two years reiterate the point that time catches up to us all. Sooner or later your body can't out-run Father Time. He's undefeated.
Follow First Round Bust on Twitter @FRBHockey. You can also follow Nate @gopherstate for more Minnesota hockey updates and analysis on the great Cloquet Lumberjacks logo.