Zach Parise, Ryan Suter: 4 Reasons Signing with Minnesota Wild Was a Surprise
NHL free agency 2012 has reached its crescendo because the two best available players have now signed identical contracts with the same team on the same day.
As of July 1, the 2012 NHL free agency market was shaping up like the 2012 NFL Draft. Just like how NFL teams looked at the draft as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, then everyone else, NHL teams looked at the available free agents.
It was clear that Parise and Suter were grand prizes No. 1 and No. 1-A, with everyone else on a lower tier.
Parise and Suter were teammates during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for Team USA and, if they both honor their identical 13-year, $98 million contracts, they will be teammates for many years to come in St. Paul.
"It took a lot of courage and commitment for all of us to go after these players," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said, via NHL.com.
He and owner Craig Leipold certainly exhibited those qualities by committing nearly $200 million to two players on a single day. That's more than even Pacman Jones could spend.
While Americans celebrated their independence by sleeping late, eating plentifully and enjoying a hot summer day, the Minnesota Wild were working hard to ensure they can compete for a Stanley Cup—and compete immediately.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of American freedom and an homage to the American dream. While everyone else was complaining about the economy from their beach chairs, two young, hardworking Americans signed contracts that will pay them $7.538 million per year.
The American dream is alive and well.
Minnesota Finished 24th in the NHL Last Season
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter both participated in deep 2012 playoff runs. Suter and the Predators were eliminated in the second round by the Coyotes, while Parise led the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Given their recent playoff success—Parise, moreso—it's surprising that both are signing with a team that was 14 points away from even qualifying for the playoffs.
Last season, Minnesota finished 12th in the Western Conference and had only one player record more than 50 points—Dany Heatley. Heatley was also only one of two on the team to score 20-plus goals.
Parise and Suter both have playoff experience and, if you've watched either play, you know they care deeply about winning.
It's surprising that two uber-talented, uber-competitive all-stars would sign with such a low-ranking team that has only existed since the year 2000 and hasn't won a playoff series since 2003.
All Eyes on Them
Neither Zach Parise nor Ryan Suter led their team in any offensive category this past season.
They will be expected to be the best on the Wild in 2012-13.
Parise, especially, will be expected to be the team's top goal-scorer and playmaker, which also means he will be priority No. 1 for opposing teams. Parise faced plenty of opposition as the captain of the Devils, but Ilya Kovalchuk drew most of the attention on the ice.
Parise will not be surrounded by the same caliber of talent. He's put himself in a high-pressure situation where he will be expected to equal or surpass his 2012 production
All while adjusting to new teammates, new game plans and the weight of a $98 million contract.
Ryan Suter should expect to spend a lot of time on the ice for the Wild, which shouldn't be an issue because Suter averaged 26:53 minutes per game last season—third most in the NHL.
Ranking fifth on that list is Suter's former teammate, Shea Weber. Many believed Suter and Weber were the best defensive pairing in the NHL and both will suffer without the other.
Suter will be asked to play in all situations and he will have to adjust quickly to his new teammates. Without someone of Weber's quality by his side, that may be a difficult adjustment.
Regardless of the adjustments to be made, Parise and Suter can and will make the Wild's power play infinitely better than the 15.12 percent success rate they had last season.
Egos & Expectations
Isn't is it weird that they signed the exact same 13-year, $98 million contract?
Both players have publicly stated that they chose Minnesota for reasons other than money. Of course, any pro athlete who signs a big contract says they didn't do it for money because they don't want to come off as greedy or driven only by a paycheck.
It is just speculation that either player could have gotten more from other clubs, but it seems pretty certain that Nashville would have at least matched the offer for Suter—given what general manager David Poile told reporters.
"Ryan has told me in every conversation that money was the not the most important criteria. He told me today that our offer was substantial. He told me it was not about the money when it came to the final decision," Poile said, via NHL.com
Suter admitted it was gut-wrenching to call Poile to let him know of his decision and it was very late in the process when he and Parise realized they could sign with the same club.
The money is substantial and few, if any, other NHL teams had the cap space to make twin offers like the Wild did. Still, it's very surprising that both players would leave organizations that were on the cusp of a Stanley Cup and were willing to pay them market value this summer.
Obviously, with Parise and Suter, the Wild have recalibrated expectations, but they are not as close to their goal as the Preds or Devils would be if they had kept their respective stars.
Seems Parise and Suter would rather have their egos stroked in a small market where they will be the unquestioned stars than face the challenges and expectations of a team accustomed to playing deep in the spring.
Family Before Winning?
Both Suter and Parise have stated that a major reason they signed with the Wild is because of family.
Neither has said they are heading to St. Paul because it is their best chance to win a Stanley Cup.
Of course, it is their ambition to win a Stanley Cup, but both are now further away from that goal than they were in July 2011. The Wild just got better—a lot better—but there were many teams vying for Parise and Suter that have been consistent playoff teams or teams that truly seemed one move away from a championship.
It's feels unwarranted to criticize a guy for wanting to build a long-term career close to where he grew up, especially when he is just 27—as both Parise and Suter are.
But, fans want athletes to care about winning first, and everything else second.
Wild fans will argue that this move is exactly for winning, and they'd be correct because their management did more than anyone expected. The Wild will be better next year and for years to come.
But the choices that Parise and Suter made do not resonate as the decisions of future champions. Champions put themselves in the best position to win now and win often. Home is where they recover from road trips.
What distinguishes the NHL from other sports is its unpredictability. The LA Kings proved that any team can win the Stanley Cup.
The Minnesota Wild have proven that any team can sign any player—or players.