Has there ever been a bigger free agency splash by a Minnesota pro sports team than the one that occurred yesterday?
That’s what Grand Forks Herald reporter Brad Schlossman asked in this column that he penned for today’s editions.
The Minnesota Wild signed arguably the top two free agents available in the NHL this offseason, adding forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to 13-year, $98 million deals for each. Minnesota hasn’t made the playoffs for four straight years, but everyone including Moorhead’s own Matt Cullen acknowledges that the bar has now been raised.
It’s a pretty crazy scenario, really. Besides money and an extremely loyal fan base, it just doesn’t seem to me like the Wild have a whole lot to sell to free agents. It didn’t hurt that Parise is a Minnesota native and Suter’s wife has family in the state. And the Wild have the money to allow both players to play alongside each other.
It’s been a pretty forgettable decade-plus of existence, with one incredible playoff run in 2002-03 surrounded by years of flops. And during that time, at least until now, there’s been very few marquee players developed or signed by the team.
But that all changed on Wednesday. Parise and Suter are two of the best American-born players in the game. Parise is a good-scoring winger who once finished third in the NHL in goals scored in a season. Suter is an outstanding all-around defenseman who frequently is among the league leaders in assists at his position.
A lot of credit needs to be given to the Wild front office. By many of the accounts I’ve come across today, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher and Co. did a tremendous job selling the franchise’s future to Parise and Suter.
I heard one man call into a Twin Cities radio show and draw the inevitable comparison to LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh. They took their talents to South Beach, and Parise/Suter are taking their talents to the south beach of Lake Minnetonka, he said.
It’s a funny line. But hockey is not basketball, and two players can’t on their own elevate a franchise to the sport’s elite on the ice the way it can on the court. Minnesota will need other players to develop.
But having said that, the Wild should be a playoff team next season. And as the Los Angeles Kings showed as the No. 8 seed last season, all you need is to get into the playoff field.