Do you remember where you were on July 4th, 2012? I certainly do. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of those moments in Wild history. It was a hot and humid day. Muggy, as we Minnesotans like to call it. I was headed through St. Paul to a friend’s house, because they had better A/C. Suddenly, the news came through. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were signed by the Minnesota Wild. I instantly called my brother and yelled “WE GOT ‘EM!" I was shaking from excitement. At that moment, I thought the future of the Wild was bright.
The moment the news came through that the Wild signed, what was perceived as the top two free agents on the market, the franchise rose from the ashes. Well, not really. They weren’t a complete dumpster fire, they basically had just existed in the NHL. Not good, not horrible. They had not made the playoffs the previous 4 seasons and fans were getting restless. Actually, even more passive aggressive, if that’s possible. A spark was certainly needed, and owner Craig Leipold was not going to stand around and miss out on this opportunity. The fans clamored for it. I’m sure some rubes out there believed from day one it was a mistake. Even deep down, they had to be semi-excited though. It was difficult to not be. The Wild decided to make some noise and move the meter, they absolutely did. Naturally, there were a few dozen 4th July firework puns for headlines. After all was said and done, they were back on the NHL map and that’s all that mattered.
As a Minnesota sports fan, those signings were crazy. No franchise in this state ever goes out and lands the big free agent in the offseason, let alone two. It was exciting. Suter and Parise were coming to town, and there was a whole slew of prospects ready to make the jump. The Wild were setting out to be a dynasty. I’m talking, Montreal Canadians, Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wing like dynasties. Perhaps, we jumped the gun on that though. All we have are 6 early round playoff exits, and, of course, no Stanley Cup. Not even a sniff. I guess, one could call it a dynasty of disappointment. Only in Minnesota, right? The heartache continues...
Fast forward to present day and those two are smack dab in the middle of those monster contracts. I believe that the consensus among Wild fans, the signings have not lived up to the expectation. As a matter of fact, it’s probably setting this franchise back a few years. Like the Haula and Tuch trade, hindsight is 20/20. That seems to be a cliché kicked around a lot when it comes to the Wild and trades, and that’s sad.
Have these two lived up to the hype, excitement, and the massive money they were given? No, not to this point. However, we can’t say it was a complete mishap and it was not the worst thing the Wild have done. I believe the firing of Chuck Fletcher was the worst thing... I’m kidding. Did I get the heart racing?
The deal with Suter is his play on the ice is overshadowed by his prima donna attitude off the ice. We all know he’s a workhorse on the blue line for the Wild. Since coming over from Nashville, his on ice average per game is at 28:04, with it being damn near 30 minutes a game the first few years. Unlike his signing buddy, Suter has been relatively healthy, despite his monster minutes. It’s likely that his on ice play makes him worthy of that contract. He’s not an offensive threat like some of the higher paid D-men out there, but he’s not a turnover machine either. He’s steady and calming. In his 6 seasons with the Wild, Suter has only ended the season as a minus rating just one time. That rating came this last season and it was only a -1. Again, impressive for someone that plays half the game. His defense has been solid and he and Jared Spurgeon have made a formidable duo. Every year his name is thrown out as a potential Norris Trophy candidate. He hasn’t won the award and maybe won’t ever win, but he’s a top defenseman in this league and there’s no getting around that.
It might sound like I’m gushing over the former Badger, but I’m only stating the facts about his on-ice play. Off the ice, I think he’s been awful for this team and organization, just my opinion. Majority of the fans want the “C” removed from Mikko, but maybe they need to rip the “A” from “Sute’s” sweater. There are no signs of leadership coming from him. He grumbles when he’s not playing with the right player and I’m pretty sure he's (just my own conjecture) the reason for the divide in the locker room amongst veterans and youngsters. It’s his way or the highway. Do the Wild put up with it because of his on-ice abilities? Well, they must, he’s worth $98 million and he isn’t moving.
Chuck Fletcher may have dug his own grave, but Suter at the very least, purchased the shovel from a local hardware store and wrapped it up nicely and gave it to him, at the grave site. My theory is, Suter was the ultimate demise of Fletch. Maybe in the eyes of the Wild fan base, that makes Suter a folk hero. I guess he’s a 100% worthy of the contract.
Some may call him the Joe Mauer of the Wild and it’s probably fitting. Snagged the big contract from the hometown team and still leaves Minnesota title-less. Parise, much like Mauer, has been riddled with injury since coming to Minnesota. It's a big reason he hasn’t lived up to the hype. We can’t fault him for that as it’s the nature of the beast. Ironically, he's got the heart to play through those injuries, which elongates the healing process. His iron man attitude is actually making things worse for him and the time he misses from the ice.
The reality is, the Wild had to sign Zach when they had their chance. He was everything they were looking for - Minnesota kid, son of a former North Star, gritty scorer, and one Sidney Crosby goal away from being an Olympic hero. He was an offensive threat, something they lost with the departure of glass groin (Marian Gaborik). It was also how he scored his goals. He was gritty, he went to the net and he was all about garbage goals. Again, something this franchise desperately needed. Despite Koivu being the captain, Parise would be the face of the franchise and more importantly, the face of the State of Hockey.
It’s not as if Parise was already on the downswing of his career when the signing happened. He was still much in his prime and showed no signs of slowing down. The man had literally just come off a season in which he carried the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. Makes sense why his back is wearing down. Thanks, New Jersey, you continue to offer nothing to this great country.
Since coming to Minnesota, Zach hasn’t played a full season, and no, the shortened lockout season doesn’t count. He did play all 48 games then. It’s obvious his style of play has been a big contributor to his body starting to break down and it’s easy to say he needs to change that style of play. I don’t believe that’s in his DNA. He will always be the tenacious player around the puck. He was even that way in the Squirt level when he dismantled my squad 7-0 in a tournament in Fargo, ND. Jokes on him, though.
I got myself a sweet Bloomington Jefferson pin that’s probably worth millions out of the deal. Maybe not quite $98 million, but close.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I was happy with the signings. I’m sure Fletcher would still make that choice again. One would maybe hope that it was for a much less term and that’s where the problem is starting rear it’s ugly head. Nothing like 7 more years to go, right? Perhaps I could jump in my DeLorean, have a creepy old scientist as my sidekick, juice up the flux capacitor and punch that thing to 88 mph. That might allow me to alter the deals a bit, because of course, Fletcher would listen to another Wild fan telling him what to do. Seems like too much work. I’ll just listen to some “Power of Love” and call it a day. Us Wild fans just need to live with what we have. Perhaps, new GM, Paul Fenton will be creative and work around these two boat anchors and “tweak” the roster (Sick of hearing that term yet? I am) .
It’s a few days into another off season free agent signing period and the Wild don’t have much money to work with. They’ve picked up a few bottom of the roster players, but no splash. It was obvious they couldn’t. I’m kind of getting sick of the “up against the cap” talk, but it’s the reality of the franchise right now and it all goes back to Suter and Parise. Yes, there are a few other contracts on the books that are hurting, but none more than those two. Six years ago, the future looked bright and visions of a Stanley Cup were dancing in our minds. Now, the thought is, do we blow it up or continue to “tweak." I have to believe the song that’s playing through Craig Leipold’s mind is “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads and simply repeating the lyrics, “How did I get here?”