Hockey does not have “bringing my talents to South Beach” free agent bonanzas. Yes, there are teams that win championships as a result of being heavily stocked with talent and depth that rolls them to a Stanley Cup, but often those teams are built as a result of deftly scouted drafts with the occasional smart free agent signing sprinkled in here or there. Look no further than the 2009 Penguins or the 2010 Blackhawks for evidence. While free agency is a large part of hockey, the tendency, often, is for teams to lock up their prized young assets early on, or at least attempt to do so, with a massive contract that gets them paid, but keeps them in the fold through their formative years. Many stars stay with the same organization for the vast majority of their careers and few championship teams are built almost exclusively on big-name free agents. The closest team in recent memory that might fill that description is 2002 Detroit Red Wings, an astonishingly old team which had four Hall-of-Famers (Steve Yzerman, Igor Larianov, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille), six more players that are certain to be inducted at some point (Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek), two more that just might join them (Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom) and two players that had already scored overtime Cup-clinchers for other teams in the previous six years (Hull and Uwe Krupp).
They were an immortal squad built on the backs of veteran acquisition and free agency in a way that is a dramatic outlier from how the NHL, generally speaking, has done business. Even that team, however, was no situation of LeBron James and Chris Bosh signing contracts as the top two free agents with the same team. Seeing the top two names on the market go to the same place is rare. Seeing them go to a small market is rarer still. And yet, on July 4, 2012, while most of us in the U.S. were prepping for our barbecues or traveling to to someone else’s, the Minnesota Wild, they of the one division title in their history, three playoff appearances all time and none since George W. Bush was still in the White House, managed to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year $98-million contracts that will carry them both from the age of 27 to their post-retirement fishing days near the Superior Hiking Trail.
The Minnesota Wild are not a good team. Despite a surprising first half before a tumbling second in 2011-12, they are an unbalanced mixed of unfulfilled promise (Dany Heatley), inconsistent offense (Devin Setoguchi) and a whole lot of youth. And yet, somehow, some way, they took the two prizes of free agency in this offseason, Suter, the top defenseman on the market, and Parise, the top forward available and given his combination of youth, leadership, offensive production and defensive dedication arguably the most desired free agent in the history of the NHL. While the idea of the Wild attempting to lure Suter and Parise to Minnesota as a package deal had been floated for months due to the fact that both are friends, Parise is a Minnesota native and Suter is from neighboring Wisconsin, the notion had been met by most hockey insiders and fans alike with scoffing and amusement.
As a lifelong Devils fan, I personally felt as if of all the teams in the hunt for Parise, Minnesota was probably the least likely destination. Rumors that the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers, Blackhawks and Red Wings would all be hot on his trail seemed a far more likely result to anyone paying attention, and despite the rampant assumption that Parise would simp… Read more...