“We’re not making money and that’s one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we’re spending" - Craig Leipold Wild owner, April 11, 2012
On July 4, 2012 the Minnesota Wild spent $196 million dollars on two hockey players.
That wasn't the only double-talk that came to light this afternoon after the Wild's twin signings of former Devils captain Zach Parise and Predators defenseman Ryan Suter. An orchestrated buddy hookup (pun intended) in Minnesota has led to backlash around the league, specifically from Nashville GM David Poile, who was not only angry that Suter left without giving him a chance to match the Wild's offer but also frustrated that Suter had promised him in November that he would re-sign there. Granted, a promise without a signature as we see all the time isn't worth a lot among most athletes and executives in sports. Still, it's not the kind of thing you should be saying to your employer if there's a chance you will go back on it or never intend to follow through in the first place.
And then there's the double talk of Parise, who's also told his employer GM Lou Lamoriello, the media and the fans that he wanted an extension and accepted the captaincy before the season, all while talking with Suter at different points during the season about linking up on the same team while still employed by the Devils and treated handsomely by them. With the Devils' financial difficulties it was never feasible that it would be in Newark, especially with Suter's desire to remain out West - although tellingly, Lamoriello admitted he inquired about Suter after the season and was told he didn't want to come East. Given Suter's wishes to stay in the Western Conference along with Zach's family and friends pushing him toward coming to Minnesota I guess in some ways this kind of gettogether was inevitable in hindsight. Especially with the Wild desperate to be relevant for the first time in a decade and throwing around Monopoly money at both players.
Yet it was extremely hard to see this coming for a variety of reasons. Mainly because Parise put on a Hamlet-like act time and again about how much he wanted an extension through the media, even going so far as to tell fans who were waiting for the team after Game 6 of the Finals in the rain the next day 'don't worry' when someone begged him to come back. Even his teammates seemed to have no idea his heart was elsewhere, with Martin Brodeur contacting him multiple times in the last few days, not to mention Bryce Salvador talking with the former captain before Salvador himself had officially inked a deal to come back. Both professed optomism about his return. I'm not sure how they felt hearing Parise go on about how much he wanted to play with Suter (a teenage friend), as opposed to them, his friends in the red and white for years. I know how I felt.
I realize there's very little loyalty in sports, especially as the money has only increased year after year. There should be some honor though. Even gasbags like Scott Gomez look better in comparison with the way he left compared to the way Zach left. At least with Gomez, he made no bones about the fact he was testing free agency and you kind of figured he was going to be about the money from the start, as is any player's right. This is an organization (the Devils) where guys like Brodeur and Salvador leave money on the table and give Lou the respect to let him match any offer, where Ryan Carter, Steven Gionta and Steve Bernier all re-upped before July 1 instead of trying to cash in on their playoff success and guys like Andy Greene take less during their one crack at FA to remain here.
I'm not asking everyone to do that, but at least treat those guys with respect too. Even a guy like Ilya Kovalchuk (the true best player on the team) could have taken the money from Atlanta but he didn't, and he played out of position all season to accomodate Zach to boot. I'm not going to attack a player for taking the most money or for playing with a friend, but I don't have to respect it either, especially when you turn your back the first chance you get. Plus hockey players' dreams should be winning the Stanley Cup and Zach has never won one. In Zach's case he had contenders from the Devils to the Wings, Penguins, Blackhawks and Flyers falling all over themselves to try to sign him. Yet in the end he left a team he captained to the Finals and went to the least likely of all those teams to win, all so he could cash in by playing at home with his buddy.
Also the Wild themselves didn't show a lot of honor, floating their intentions and insane contract figures that turned out to be pretty close to what actually got offered in public before July 1, making it even more unlikely that Parise or Suter re-signed with their teams. Whether tampering charges actually get filed it's hard to say but I would do it. Whether it makes us look like sore losers or not. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway though, if this day's events have taught me one thing. It seemed like all that needed to happen was the Wild meeting Suter's highest contract offer (and maybe taking some money off their offer to Zach to do it) for this two-man advantage to happen the likes of which we haven't seen since Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne linked together in Colorado after the 2003 season. Ironically, Kariya also left his team after captaining them to a losing appearance in the Finals although he went on a one-year deal, while Parise and Suter signed the rest of their careers away on a team that's won two playoff series in fifteen years of existence and is now up against the cap.
I had nothing but admiration and respect for Zach during his whole tenure now but that's gone now. Both he and Suter are going to get massive boos from me and likely most of the other fans in attendance in early November when the Wild are scheduled to come into the Rock.