Zach Parise wanted to resume his NHL career at home. Ryan Suter made a decision that he deemed was best for his family.
The most celebrated unrestricted free agents in the 2012 NHL class shocked the hockey world on Wednesday by together choosing the Minnesota Wild with identical 13-year, $98-million contracts.
They rejected perennial contenders and big-market clubs like the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins - teams that either have won a Stanley Cup in the past four years or been the final.
They shunned their previous addresses in New Jersey (Parise) and Nashville (Suter) for a team that has made the playoffs only three time in its 11 NHL seasons and hasn't played in a postseason game since 2008.
The decision, while not quite as big nor as hyped when NBAers LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces with the Miami Heat a couple summers ago, this was a massive turn of events in the hockey world.
It has been heralded as a victory for a small market team. But should the Wild be considered a small-market team? The Twin Cities metropolitan area of St. Paul and Minneapolis has a population of 2.85 million, according to a 2010 census. But what it lacks in people it makes up in passion for hockey.
The Wild had an average attendance of 17,772 this past season. That was good for 16th in the 30-team NHL and ahead for Nashville (20th) and New Jersey (24th).
The land of 10,000 lakes likes its hockey at the high school and collegiate levels and has wildly supported its NHL Wild despite its losing ways of late. The season the Wild surprised everyone and advanced all the way to the 2002-03 West final, it checked in with the seventh best average attendance in the league.
The biggest positive the Wild had going for them in its pursuit of Parise and Suter was that Parise was born and raised in the Twin Cities. His Dad played for the old Minnesota North Stars and Zach is extremely close to father.
The younger Parise built a house in his home state last year and spends each summer in Minnesota. He simply wanted to spend 12 months a year.
"Every kid who's grown up in Minnesota would love to play for the Wild," Parise said. "That's the way it is."
It was up Parise, a forward, to convince Suter, a defenceman, that the Wild was the right team for him, too. Make no mistake Suter and Parise were in cahoots in this decision. They admitted they had kept in touch over the past year and discussed their next destination numerous times this week.
"Ryan and I had talked throughout the year, at the time you always say to each other, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a chance play with each other on the same team?'" Parise said.
Suter is from the Midwest, too. He hails from Madison, Wisconsin. The 27 year olds were teammates on the United States world junior team in 2003 and 2004, the 2005 and 2007 U.S. world championship teams and the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. They also played against each other at the U.S. collegiate, AHL and NHL levels.
"Zach had a big part in my decision, and my family," Suter said.
"When the season ends and you start thinking what's next, big thing is my family, obviously. They were an option right away, Minnesota, and I always thought about Minnesota, it just never seemed realistic, but for me, right after the season, you think about places you could potentially go to, and the situation that is best for you and your family."
Suter's wife also is from Minneapolis and that helped.
Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher engineered the coup with help from his owner Craig Leipold and some of current players like Matt Cullen, who like Parise was raised in Minnesota, and Dany Heatley, who preceded Suter at the University of Wisconsin.
The long-term deals have a salary cap hit of $7.54-million. Here is the breakdown of the front-loaded contract.
2012-13 - $12 million 2017-18 - $9-million 2021-22 - $6-million
2013-14 - $12-million 2018-19 - $9-million 2022-23 - $2-million
2014-15 - $11-million 2019-20 - $9-million 2023-24 - $1-million
2015-16 - $9-million 2020-21 - $8-million 2024-25 - $1-million
2016-17 - $9-million
The writing was on the wall that the Wild was going to sign both Suter and Parise when Fletcher signed depth player Jake Dowell early on Wednesday. It was a brilliant move. Suter and Dowell are close friends. They're both from Wisconsin. They played together on the U.S. under-18 development team in Ann Arbor, Mich. and for the hometown University of Wisconsin Badgers.
You have to feel bad for the Devils and Predators. It was no consolation for the Devils that Parise said his decision came down to New Jersey and Minnesota.
This wasn't the first free agent to bolt the Devils. Parise is the latest to follow the likes of Bobby Holik, Scott Gomez, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin and John Madden out of New Jersey through free agency.
But even though they managed to advance to the Stanley Cup final this past season, the Devils' have a muddled immediate future, having suffered through a through some ownership tumult.
Meanwhile, Suter phoned Nashville general manager David Poile to tell him that he was moving on. The defenceman said it was one of the most difficult phone calls he's had to make. What added to the frustration for Poile and Nashville was that Leipold used to own the Predators.
Leipold stated that the Wild simply were lucky that both Parise and Suter wanted to continue their careers with the Wild.
Of course, all this comes with the backdrop of another potential lockout this fall. The NHL and NHLPA have only begun negotiations on a new CBA. But it's difficult to ignore that a passionate hockey market was able to afford players like Parise and Suter. How bad could the game really be with its current CBA?
Now it will be interesting to see what sort of impact the two will have with the on-ice product. Fletcher has amassed a solid nucleus with Parise, Suter, Heatley, Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (if healthy), Devon Setoguchi, Tom Gilbert, prospect Mikael Granlund and goalie Niklas Backstrom.
But does this group finish ahead of Nashville? That's the fun part about this time of the year. You can debate how much the decisions made in early July will help or hinder NHL teams, but you never really know until springtime. Just ask the Devils and the Los Angeles Kings.
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