End of an era

And NHL draft extravaganza week is HERE!

Marc Elliott

MONT DU LAC – By the time you pick up this edition of the Worldwide Duluth Reader, this topic will have been analyzed to pieces. I still feel compelled to chip in my one cent worth.

As you likely already know, the Minnesota Wild have bought out the remainder of the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. This business maneuver surprised many fans and observers of the team, and apparently, even Parise and Suter didn’t see it coming.

I even read that when Wild GM Bill Guerin called Suter to inform him of the club’s decision, Suter hung up on him mid-call.


I’m confident that Guerin and staff weighed this out a thousand different ways, and this route made the most sense. I agree with their decision. This decision to obtain the services of these players in 2012, offering identical contracts (13yr/$98mil), was pretty big news at the time. The contracts would eventually alter what was allowed by the league contract-wise, with a subsequent CBA agreement limiting contract term to no more than eight years. These contracts, among a few others, were drivers of that change.

Prior to the signings, the Wild were grinding along in irrelevance. The team hadn’t made the playoffs in 4 consecutive seasons. Any prominent free agents weren’t looking at the club as a destination, and owner Craig Leipold, I believe, was the primary energy behind the deals. He saw a flat-lining investment and decided to take action. After inking the players, the team made the playoffs in eight straight seasons. They were on a pretty short list of teams to do so within the timeframe they did it in.

On the downside, the team only advanced to the second round twice within that run but appeared to be only a handful of players from making headway in that direction. They never got those players, and the team didn’t get into the Stanley Cup tourney after the 2018-19 season, and Leipold knew that change was needed. Leipold dismissed then GM Chuck Fletcher and brought in old acquaintance Paul Fenton.

That didn’t work out for various reasons, leading to his dismissal after just one year, after which Leipold hired current GM Bill Guerin. His player-manager pedigree was vital in him getting the job. He has been within winning organizations and knows what it takes.

He came in and said he would observe for a season and then make some determinations on the team’s future and how to get there. After much deliberation, I’m sure he concluded what I already had; that the team was not getting near a Cup with these two players and their contracts still on board. The decision was made, the buyouts were made public, and it hasn’t been quiet in the State of Hockey since.

I wasn’t surprised by this or shook up. It was necessary.

Both players are nearing careers end, they can still play but aren’t anywhere near their peak abilities, and the team could no longer justify their salaries. With four years left on their deals, these players would take up roster spots that would prevent the club from building toward a Cup with younger, faster, and better players. It’s simply the life cycle of pro athletes taking place in this case.

Many fans complained about the money the team had tied up in these contracts. I always viewed that as a non-issue. Star players get these types of deals. Did Leipold overpay? Perhaps so. But considering the club was facing challenges to attract upper-level free agents, the team did what it had to. The fact that these two had local ties as well was a bonus to me. In addition, whatever Leipold’s return on investment criteria was as a reason for the signings, I’m confident it has been met and then some. From the revenue stream impact that certain players can have to the appreciation of the team as an asset, Parise, and Suter did change the franchise’s fortunes.

Their departures will be every bit as positive for the club as their arrivals were nine years ago. I hope that a clear visioned analysis of their time here will convince even the doubters to embrace them with positive legacies. They deserve that and earned it. How many NHL teams make the playoffs eight seasons in a row? Not very many. Zach and Ryan both had a significant hand in that. Best wishes guys...

THE EXPANSION DRAFT to stock the Seattle Kraken roster will have taken place this Wednesday just past, the 21st. Over the last weekend, all teams except Vegas (which is exempt from this draft) had to finalize their “protected” players list and submit them to the league. The NHL made that info public on Sunday.

Each club listed its non-protected and protected players, and I went through all of them team by team. There were no real surprises. Primarily of interest to me was examining each team’s list and then figuring out their draft strategy. Each team could protect seven forwards, three defense, and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie. Some teams just figured out who their best nine or eleven players were that they could afford and keep.

Another strategy was to expose a veteran player with a big dollar contract to protect another player the team wished to keep, knowing the high-dollar vet was unlikely to get selected by the Kraken. I think that is what Montreal might be thinking with Goaltender Carey Price. He has five years left on a deal at $10.5mil per. He is about to turn 34. We all know how good he has been in the past. Will he be $50mil good over the next five years? It’s a roll of the dice, and Price had to waive his no-movement clause to get on to the non-protected list.

Would Seattle take him anyway? Pricey would be closer to home. Perhaps he is ready to move on, and he would surely put some fannies in the seats there.

The WILD submitted their list and had to leave former UMD star Carson Soucy unprotected. I’m hoping that Seattle does not take him, and I’ll be waiting anxiously to see what transpires Wednesday night!
THE NHL ENTRY DRAFT begins on Friday night, and I’ll be watching that quite closely too. Out of the first 100 picks, the WILD will choose 22nd, 26th, 54th, and 86th. This year’s draft isn’t projected to be a blockbuster by any means after the first few selections. But with four picks in the top 100, the team could make some hay and bolster its roster depth.

The team’s entry draft strategy will likely be impacted by what takes place in the expansion draft. Still, word has it that Bill Guerin’s principal focus is upon strengthening the club at the center position. It has been the team’s Achilles heel for seasons. And it isn’t just the expansion draft that will impact strategy change; there is already some maneuvering amongst teams taking place with player movement ahead of time. By this time next Saturday night, there will be a new NHL landscape to examine. I’m looking forward to it! PEACE