Nhl Free Agent Frenzy Begins! The Wild Are Going Fishin’!

Marc Elliott

ST. PAUL…. Usually in the middle of summer, there is not a lot shaking at the corner of West 7th Street and St. Peter in downtown St. Paul. Especially on a Sunday afternoon. And today is no different. Looks pretty much the same as always. Except if you were to go into the offices of the Minnesota Wild, there just might be a plethora of activity and buzz going on. The annual free agency period began this morning, and the Wild have been front and center, making a couple of strong offers for the top two available free agents in forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Can they land either of them?

Parise is a native Minnesotan, and his parents (his father is former NorthStar idol JP Parise) live here. ZP is another high quality Shattuck-St. Mary’s alum, a former North Dakota star, and has been a mainstay for the New Jersey Devils for the past 7 seasons. He is highly regarded by all around the NHL. With that said, the Wild have decided to attempt a couple of huge free-agent signings this off season in landing Parise and Suter. One or both would be definite game changers for this team. The Wild officially made an offer to Parise and his agent in the first hour.

It has been rumored that the offer would pay out a whopping $12mil signing bonus plus $2mil in salary, with another $12mil in signing bonus due at the end of the first season. This would keep the team within the boundaries of the current CBA. I have not been able to ascertain what dollars and term would be after that, but rumors have it that Parise is seeking at least 10 years in term. But $26mil in the first 12 months of a new deal? Wow! If it is all about the money (I don’t believe that it is), I would have to think the Wild would be the front runners.

For Suter, a native of Cheeseland, negotiations with his Nashville Predators have been ongoing, with seemingly little progress. That has led some media to speculate that he doesn’t want to re-up with them and that the frontrunners for his services, should he not stay in the Music City, would be Detroit. For the most part, Suter and his agent Neil Sheehy (I-Falls, MN) have kept everything close to the vest. I honestly cannot find anything relative to what has or hasn’t been offered to Suter (and I’ve been looking pretty hard). He and Sheehy are tighter than the White House.

Let’s surmise, though, that an offer to Suter would be similar or close to the Parise offer. While I understand that these two guys are young and could be the cornerstone of any   franchise for perhaps the next ten seasons, should they both sign with the same team, man, that’s a lot of dough to tie up into just two players.

So, where do I ultimately stand on these guys? Both of these players are excellent in all phases of the game. They are in the prime years of their careers. If you use the six degrees of separation from Fern Rivard theory, both have some ties to the area and/or  people affiliated with the team. But if I were in their shoes, here would be my checklist. Team history/culture: this team hasn’t been around long enough to develop a long-term W/L record and as such is still in the process of creating the history and thus culture of the team. If you want to be part of building a club, this is it. If you want a club more established, it’s not. Staff: the Wild have a relatively young head coach but a talented and experienced roster of assistants. Mike Yeo is entering his second year as head coach. If I’m ZP or RS, do I want a guy with a proven track record of winning, playoff entries, etc., or a guy building that record? The clock’s ticking. Yeo seems to be proficient, but he’s not Jacques Lemaire or Scotty Bowman. (Ok, few are.)

What kind of a roster am I joining? What’s in the pipeline? How stable is the ownership group? Fan base? What is the hockey culture/background of the area I’m looking at? Folks, the money and the term are important. For certain they are. But they are not on the top of the list.

What was the club’s risk/reward analysis? Because if they don’t land one or both of these players, they are going to look like the teenager at the dance that got turned down by the best girl. On the one hand, I am glad to know I have an owner willing to make that kind of commitment to make the club better, but do they look foolish for not setting more realistic goals? What if they built the club up to a level first that made it a wanted destination for free agents, then went after the big fish?

My feeling is that both players wanted to gauge what kind of offers they were going to get, then give their clubs a chance to respond. If something was not going to happen with those teams, then ferret out the offers from the other suitors and make a deal. NJ may be in some sort of financial indifference right now, and Nashville is more stable than them. The Wild might be in better condition than both. So boys, what to do? Either way, both of these guys are going to be enjoying one giant happy meal sometime in the next few days. I hope it’s the Wild that will be serving it…. PEACE

Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.