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Nashville Predators

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter can go home again

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...

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Late Night With the NHL

If you watch as much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as I do, you have to be prepared for some late nights. After all, the postseason, with its potential for games that theoretically can never end is often full of overtime epics that stretch into the early morning hours, and this season’s rendition has been no exception. In fact, the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs had a record 16 overtime games, with the piece de resistence being between Chicago and Phoenix, a series that saw overtime in the first five games.

So, of course, it’s only fitting that the last game of the round, last night’s Game 7 thriller between New Jersey and Florida, which didn’t start until 8:30 p.m. despite being on the east coast so as not to coincide with the end of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, needed more than 60 minutes to be decided. After all, Game 6, too needed more than 60 minutes to be figured out, resulting in Ilya Kovalchuk’s beautiful backhand feed after noticing he had lured in both defenders on a 2-on-2, which Travis Zajac took in front of the net and deposited between the legs of Scott Clemmensen to save New Jersey’s season.

But what was surprising about Game 7 between New Jersey and Florida was not that it needed more than 60 minutes to be decided, but that it needed more than 80. Double overtime isn’t something particularly unheard of, but overtimes have ended surprisingly early this postseason. Only three of the 16 overtime games this season reached a second extra period in the first round and the vast majority of games were done within about 10 minutes. This seems to run contrary to the typical postseason overtime trend of “try to end it quickly and if you can’t settle in and lock down the neutral zone and wait for a break,” not because games aren’t ending fast on the whole but because they aren’t ending immediately and still aren’t running on forever.

No need to worry, though. The Devils and Panthers solved that problem for everyone Thursday night by keeping the sportswriters, TV watchers and schedule-makers up deep into the evening in a holding pattern until somebody scored. As someone who is, shall we say, emotionally connected to one of these teams, it was an experience that was euphoric at its end but excrutiating for the rest of the duration. After all, playoff overtime is a precarious tight-rope walk where every slight shift in weight or brief mental mistake — and those are inevitable — could mean the end of a game or a season. The playoffs are stressful. Game 7 doubly so. Game 7 in overtime triply so. A Game 7 in double overtime? You get the idea. And despite nibbling on my fingers for most of the late evening, it was an immediate and explosive relief when Adam Henrique did this.

The game wouldn’t have gone that far, however, were it not for the absolutely stellar play of Martin Brodeur. As we’ve noted here earlier, Marty has struggled for stretches of this season and started to look his age — an age that will reach 40 next weekend — and while the Panthers did manage a furious third-period rally that tied the game with less than four minutes left, both of those goals were the result of an unbelievable amount of pressure and maybe a little too much contact with Brodeur put on by Florida. After all, people will forget that a third Florida goal early in the third period was waived off as a result of goalie interference, but they may not forget that the Panthers peppered Brodeur with an almost absurd 19 shots in the third … Read more...