The Minnesota Wild were a starless team in need of a big-time jolt to get the franchise back to the point of being worthy of playing in “the State of Hockey.”
The jolts don’t come any bigger than this.
The Wild landed not one but both of the NHL’s top prizes in free agency, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on Wednesday. Each deal is for 13 years and $98 million, according to three people familiar with the contracts who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release details.
“WE GOT ‘EM!” the Wild announced on their Twitter account early Wednesday afternoon, sending shockwaves across the league and through a devoted fan base that was starting to show signs of apathy after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.
Parise, the former New Jersey Devils playmaker, and Suter, who paired with Shea Weber on the Nashville blue line, were regarded the cream of what was a thin free agent crop, and each had spent the past four days poring over numerous offers from several teams before making a decision.
“This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild,” GM Chuck Fletcher said in a conference call.
Maybe THE greatest. The Wild have had a relatively non-descript existence aside from one stirring run to the Western Conference finals in their second season.
Parise knows the history well, having grown up in the Twin Cities. So he recruited his friend Suter to come help out the hometown team.
“We kept in touch throughout this whole thing and we decided that we thought for both of us that the best fit would be Minnesota,” Parise said in a conference call. “We’re excited that it worked out and we get a chance to play with each other.”
One person said that even the breakdown of the contracts is exactly the same, with both players getting $12 million in each of the first two years. The deals then go down in value, with each player making $1 million in both 2023-24 and 2024-25.
“My parents were so excited when they knew that I was considering coming back home,” Parise said. “When I made the decision they were real excited as well. That played a big part. I grew up here, I love coming back here in the summers and I thought ‘We enjoy it here so much it would be great to be here year round.’”
And it’s a relative homecoming for Suter, who is from Wisconsin, as well.
“It came down to where I felt my family would like to live,” Suter said. “My wife’s from Bloomington, Minnesota. That had a lot to do with it. . Minnesota has a lot of good young players that I think will help make this team successful.”
With one fell swoop, the Wild have been transformed from a relatively young franchise with very little history of success since being re-established in Minnesota, to an immediate contender.
The Wild got off to a tremendous start to last season before injuries and inexperience caught up to them in the second half. Minnesota endured a dreadful 11-28-7 stretch and finished 12th in the Western Conference.
“We felt if we could add either a top defenseman or a top forward it would really help our team,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think you ever go in assuming you’re going to land both of them. We shot for the moon, and we tried our best.”
For a team that has struggled to put the puck in the net, this was one monster score.
“These signings will resonate well with our fans, with our players and with everybody associated with the team,” said Fletcher, who added that they still have cap flexibility. “Our goal in signing them was certainly not to make a splash, it was to make our team better. We feel we are a better team, but our work is just starting.”
Parise was the best forward on the market. He scored 31 goals and 69 points last season in his first year as the Devils’ captain. He also chipped in with 15 points in helping the team’s surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals, which ended in a six-game series loss to Los Angeles.
Drafted 17th overall by New Jersey in 2003, the 27-year old has 194 goals and 216 assists in 503 career games. He scored 30-plus goals five times.
Suter, also 27, was the top defenseman available this summer. He spent all seven of his seasons in the NHL with the Predators after being selected with the seventh pick in the 2005 draft. The All-Star defenseman had career highs in points last year, with 7 goals and 39 assists.
Parise tried to explain why he needed more than a few days to announce his intentions, saying he was evaluating each team and city that was trying to sign him.
While the Wild celebrated, the players’ former teams were left with big holes to fill.
“There’s no question we’re disappointed,” Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “It’s a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that comes right through the ranks and, at this given time a decision is made to go elsewhere. But right now there’s nothing we can do about that and our plans are going forward.”
Lamoriello said he met with Parise and his representatives in Toronto on Saturday, and made what he called a competitive offer. In later discussions with Parise, Lamoriello said, the player made clear he wanted an opportunity to play in his home state.
“Zach told me that if it wasn’t going home to Minnesota, it would be coming to New Jersey,” Lamoriello said. “I respect that.”
The Devils cupboard isn’t entirely bare as the team still features Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and NHL rookie of the year finalist Adam Henrique. New Jersey also re-signed veteran goalie Martin Brodeur to a two-year contract earlier this week.
The Predators had a similar reaction to Suter’s departure.
“It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time,” team GM David Poile said. “Actually, not disappointed, but very surprised.”
Poile had held out hope that Suter would consider re-signing with the Predators even after becoming a free agent.
Now the Predators need to turn their attention to re-signing their other star defenseman, captain Shea Weber, who is a restricted free agent.
Second-tier free agents such as defenseman Matt Carle and forward Alexander Semin seemed to be waiting for Suter and Praise to reach agreements so that they could offer their talents to teams that didn’t get a top target.
The Detroit Red Wings were among the teams to take a run at both players, and were most interested in Suter as a player who could fill in after captain Nicklas Lidstrom retired.
“We feel good about our offer to Suter and Parise on July 1, and with our chance to adjust our offer to Suter on July 2,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said by phone.
Holland said team owner Mike Ilitch and coach Mike Babcock joined him in making a presentation to Suter. He said they didn’t have an opportunity to make a similar presentation to Parise.
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit, and Tom Canavan, in Newark, N.J., and freelance writer Mike Cook in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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