"We were born with a stick and a pair of blades, on the ice we cut our teeth,
We took our knocks in the penalty box, our mother was the referee.
This sport was here before we came, it will be here when were gone,
The game’s in our blood and our blood’s in the game,
Lay us down under a frozen pond.
We will fight to the end, we will stand and defend our flag flying high and free,
We were born a child of the strong and Wild, in the state, the state of hockey!”
Such words are the opening two stanzas of the popular anthem of the Minnesota Wild, and the words ring no truer than when coveted free agent Zach Parise—a Minnesota native and Shattuck-St. Mary's graduate and former player at the Faribault, Minn. private prep hockey school—proved his loyalty and came home amidst the calls of 20 other suitors.
The first person we ought to thank would be former Minnesota North Stars general manager Lou Nanne for making the wise decision to acquire J.P. Parise from the Toronto Maple Leafs nearly 35 years ago which, in doing so, allowed his son, Zach, to be born in Minnesota. Had this not been the case, we never would have had a chance to land him, nor the packaged deal of him and Ryan Suter together.
I was telling friends prior to free agency starting and the first few days of Parise's indecision that followed that I had a good feeling about this kid. I thought he was different in the sense that he was loyal to the state of his birth and if we ever had a chance to bring a superstar home, this was it. He was our LeBron James, minus the pompous attitude and sense of entitlement that the latter displays.
I was banking my optimism on the fact that despite J.P. retiring so many years ago, he never relocated from the state that showed him so much affection. I saw that as a good sign. Factor in that it was known Zach spent his summers living there anyway, and many fans besides myself figured that meant something, even though Parise himself denied that would influence his decision.
The conversation likely went, “Zach, you could go to Detroit and be just another Red Wing legend, or you could go to Minnesota and be immortal. You know better than anyone that the fans here deserve this and they adore you.”
Wild management found the perfect guy to take this mindset to heart and found someone willing to come home. Despite early reports from the Star Tribune that the bidding could have reached roughly $9 or 10 million a year, the fact Parise took “just” $7.5 million (aka “Dany Heatley money,” as I’ve been calling it) is outstanding, and a true test of his loyalty. This was obviously done in order to save room to bring Suter on board.
Next, by Suter signing hours before Parise last week, a situation similar to the day the Los Angeles Angels signed both Albert Pujols and then C.J. Wilson was avoided by letting Suter sign first, knowing full well if the order was reversed, Suter would've received absolutely no coverage, and so even a few hours created him some free buzz. Finally, signing Parise brought elation, but it also brought up concerns of “Now what? Who are we going to get to play with him so he’s not alone?”
What I find most satisfying and intriguing isn’t just the fact these aren’t just two really good hockey players—they are Olympians, and no matter how many goals they score or Stanley Cups they win, for the rest of their careers, it will either happen or it won’t in the State of Hockey while wearing the green and white of the Wild.
If, for example, Parise goes on to score 500 NHL goals and both he and Suter are inducted into the Hall of Fame, as they are certainly on pace to do, they will be inducted as members of the Minnesota Wild, as weird as that sounds. It was clear that both superstars wanted to win a Cup and play in a place where that could be done, and being a fan of Minnesota sports my entire life, let me tell you this is not that place, but these players vowed to chance that losing culture.
As I wrote in my last article, I think Suter has more untapped potential given his defensive presence; but that isn’t to suggest that you can’t have one player without the other, or that one must choose between the two. We’ve seen what they can do apart; now let's see what they are capable of together.
Parise and Suter Bide Time for the Younger Prospects
Prior to these two monster signings, all the hype was about Finnish center Mikael Granlund, the team’s 2010 first-round draft pick, and punishing forward Charlie Coyle, who is tearing up the QMJHL and whom the team acquired the summer before from San Jose in the Brett Burns deal.
Now, these two, who will likely make the team and vie for Calder nominations, won’t be asked to do as much as quickly. Meanwhile, they'll continue to learn from the best. General manager Chuck Fletcher managed to do all of this while not having to forfeit any of our top prospects—Johan Larsson, Jason Zucker, Zach Phillips, Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Brett Bulmer, Johan Gustafsson—and allow them to simply ease into their starting roles over the next few years as they find their niche in the NHL.
This fact demonstrates both the long- and short-term impacts of the signings, but none of it happens without a character athlete like Parise, who decided “Why not here, why not now?”
And just like that, the Minnesota Wild were finally put on the map as perhaps the new Detroit Red Wings. What they do with their expectations is anyone’s guess.
Parise's act of kindness isn't the first time an athlete has gone home. Most of them do that at the end of their careers as a way to say thanks and to wrap everything up in front of friends and family who saw them get there. It is difficult to fathom such an unprecedented step for a star in the prime of his career to take on a mediocre team, in an untapped, untested mid-size market such as this.
Information from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and "Russo's Rants" (Michael Russo's blog), ESPN.com (statistics) Wikipedia, and YouTube contributed to the content of this article.