Is it all about money or your name on the Stanley Cup?

Marc Elliott

Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in 2012
Ryan Suter and Zach Parise in 2012

SILVER CLIFF… Ever since the Minnesota Wild signed their dynamic duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to long term mega-contracts in the summer of 2012, there has been a plethora of fan commentary, both positive and negative. At first of course, it was mostly positive. In the four seasons before their acquisition the club had not made the playoffs. The team had a few pieces but lacked depth and the team’s future prospects weren’t bright at that point either. The team’s current owner, Craig Leipold had bought the franchise from the teams Founder, Bob Naegele in January of 2008 but the fortunes of the Wild were not on the incline under his first couple of years of ownership. It would be a fair statement to say that, even though many hockey fans in The State of Hockey are somewhat impatient for a Champion team here, that with four straight seasons of no playoff hockey, the natives were getting “restless”. 

Leipold had brought in former GM Chuck Fletcher after the 2008-09 season to breathe some new life and direction into the team and at least before the arrival of Parise and Suter, the results weren’t there. But from what I knew of Leipold, he was an upper level successful businessman. He is a competitive type with resources to make things happen. I could also tell he was itching to get his new investment moving upward. In off-season hockey strategy meetings one of the rituals performed is to assess the upcoming Free Agent availabilities and who might be attractive to your club and who may not be a fit. I believe that early on in Fletchers Wild tenure they identified Parise and Suter as their top two targets and since they would both become UFA’s after the 2011-12 season, immediately moved both to the top of the teams Free Agents list and that from that point forward Leipold was a major driver in making this deal eventually happen. 

Leipold already had a relationship with Suter from his days as an owner of the Nashville Predators and was aware of Parise and what he could bring to a club as well as of his friendship with Suter via their USA Hockey participations. July 1st of 2012 was nearing and the intensity of the vibe in the Twin Cities hockey community and throughout the State was palpable. Even so there was interest from other clubs. It wasn’t a lock that both would end up in St. Paul. But Leipold stepped up with the resources and commitment needed to get the deals done and both players signed on. 

From that time forward, until this past season, the team achieved six straight playoff appearances. On the challenging side they only made it into the second round two times and lost both of those series. I feel that it would be easy and honest to say that in that six-season run that the team was likely one of the top 12 teams and organizations in the NHL. Not many teams go on playoff appearance runs like that. But then, there were those pesky expectations. You could make the argument that the team should have done better in at least a couple of those playoff seasons. You could also say that there was some lousy timing involved what with the Cup Champion coming out of your division in two of those years. But in pro sports the only thing that counts is winning, and that stubborn old Minnesotan hockey pride IS a thing after all. 

For the past couple of decades with the most prevalent electronic media forms not only giving the days stories but also allowing readers to comment on them and their subjects as well, fan indifference began to pile up. When the team wasn’t performing to fan wants and needs, Parise and Suter were easy targets for fan angst. And a fair amount of that almost always included mention of their large contracts. Some items are self-evident though. There’s an excellent chance that Leo overpaid to obtain the services of both. Based on the 13-year length of the deals you could argue that both players abilities will be substantially diminished by the time they are played out. You wouldn’t be wrong. Many of the mad fans say that they aren’t/weren’t worth it. Well, I’m not so sure about that. Both players elevated the clubs performance level and I’m more then certain that Leo’s accountants extrapolated every single way in which the two players would be worth it to the club long term, (tickets, merchandise, team value etc.) and I can all but guarantee you that Leo has already got that back. 

But now a new campaign is two months from faceoff. The team will have a different lineup on the ice come October. Some familiar faces are gone, and the new ones may or may not be able to duplicate what the old ones brought to the table. So, the one to five-year outlook for the team is rather unsettled. I for one would be surprised to see the team make it into the playoffs this year. In fact, I find it hard to state when I think the team might reappear in the Cup tourney. One point many fans make when reeling about the Parise and Suter contracts is that the team is going to be stuck in hockey no-mans land until those contracts expire. Both players have no-move clauses and don’t seem to desire to play elsewhere at this time. But what if the players see the writing on the wall here and want a crack at a Cup before their day comes? 

Parise has made it to one Cup Final (lost in 12’ Final to LAK) and Suter hasn’t been close. With both players into mid-thirties territory would they be open to a move to a true and real contender? There are rumblings across the hockey Metro that at least Parise has given it some thought. No word on Suters thoughts on the topic. Both have families with young kids. For quality of life overall, the Twin Cities are hard to compete with. When you have already made significant amounts of money in your career, still have a high skill and compete level, and the age window is slowly closing on you, what are your priorities? How do they change when you are in their shoes? I have never heard one guy good enough to get a paycheck from playing hockey choose that paycheck over having their name on the Stanley Cup. Not one. 

If you are one of them do you make that move sooner rather then later? And then there are all the dynamics of making a deal. At the end of the day both players could “win” and depending on assets/picks coming back, so could the Wild, and all the fans dogging them on social media could take a break… PEACE

 

TEAM USA with Head Coach Scott Sandelin play in World JR Summer Showcase action WED vs Sweden, FRI vs Finland & SAT vs Canada.

WILD FLASH; GM Paul Fenton fired after one season. More next week...

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