ST. PAUL, Minn. — Zach Parise and Ryan Suter had talked about playing together since last season. The two coveted free agents had discussed their potential landing spots as recently as Wednesday morning.
Then the two let the Minnesota Wild know they had won the ultimate free-agent prize by landing both the high-scoring forward Parise and all-around, two-way defenseman Suter.
On a franchise-altering day, Parise and Suter each agreed to terms on 13-year contracts with Minnesota, ending the four-day long wait on the two biggest signings in the NHL this season and dramatically changing the direction of a team that has missed the playoffs for four straight seasons in one package.
“You always say to each other, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have the chance to play with each other and to play on the same team?’ Was it realistic all the time? I don’t know,” Parise said. “I know how great of a player Ryan is. I’ve played with him on several teams, different tournaments. To have an opportunity to play with a guy of that caliber is a great opportunity.
“We kept in touch throughout this process. I think we both knew you have to do what’s best for you. And we kept in touch throughout this whole thing and decided that we thought for both of us the best fit would be Minnesota and we’re excited that worked out and we get the chance to play with each other.”
“We were texting each other back and forth asking about different places and different situations where we could both work,” Suter said. “Probably last night into this morning was when it kind of became realistic.”
Several teams were simultaneously after the two stars, including their former teams. Parise, 27, had played all seven of his NHL seasons for the New Jersey Devils. Suter, 27, had played his entire seven-year career with the Nashville Predators. Parise had also been linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings among other teams. Suter was hearing from several teams as well, but had been recruited heavily by Detroit, which flew to Madison, Wis. on Tuesday to meet with him.
But the Wild reeled in the two “big fish” general manager Chuck Fletcher had been seeking for his young team.
“This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild,” Fletcher said, later adding: “There was an opportunity this summer with our cap space and with a commitment from (owner Craig Leipold) to try to go out and be aggressive in free agency and we did that. A lot of teams did that and we’re fortunate. We’re fortunate that both players wanted to come back to Minnesota here to play.”
Parise, a Minnesota native, is a five-time 30-goal scorer. He was the captain of the New Jersey team that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals this past season and is also an accomplished international player for Team USA hockey. Parise’s dad, J.P., was a player and coach for the Minnesota North Stars.
Suter, a Wisconsin native, was the top defenseman on the market and a two-way defender that had a career-high 46 points last season with a plus-15 rating. Minnesota had already locked up two of Suter’s ex-University of Wisconsin teammates in Tom Gilbert and Jake Dowell. Gilbert was acquired at the trade deadline last season and Dowell was signed to a two-year contract late Tuesday night.
Many had wondered whether the two would end up as a package deal for the right offer as had been rumored, and reports are each signed matching deals for $98 million. The two were teammates on the silver-medal winning USA Olympic team in 2010.
Parise’s connection to Minnesota couldn’t be discounted. After spending the first two days at his agent’s offices in Canada, Parise made his way back to the Twin Cities, where he has a home and wanted to discuss his future with his fiancée and family.
The 17th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Parise was born in Minneapolis and starred during his prep career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. Parise had spoken of his desire to remain with the Devils, who had named him captain this past season. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward capped a 31-goal, 38-assist regular season with eight goals and seven assists in 24 playoffs games.
“I had always thought about Minnesota. It just never seemed realistic,” Parise said. “I always hoped I would have an opportunity to (play in Minnesota). We do have a lot of ties here to Minnesota. At that stage (in high school) you never know. Every kid that’s grown up in Minnesota would love to play for the Wild. I was hoping to have that opportunity. Right now, I’m lucky we’re able to make it happen.”
Suter was taken 10 picks before Parise in 2003 by Nashville and had his best offensive season in 2011 with seven goals and 39 assists, tallying the third-most ice time in the league, averaging 26 minutes, 30 seconds a game. In seven seasons with the Predators, he was a plus-43 while playing on the top defensive pairing against most opponents’ top scoring lines. Suter also had connections other than his former Badgers teammates Gilbert and Dowell. His wife is from the Twin Cities.
“I definitely thought about different teams I would be a good fit with,” Suter said. “It just came down to where my family would like to live. My wife’s from Bloomington, Minn. That had a lot to do with it and the fact that Minnesota has a lot of good young players that I think will help make this thing successful.”
Now Parise and Suter will be together in Minnesota, teaming with Wild captain Mikko Koivu for a team that had led the NHL through mid-December last season before injuries struck and Minnesota tumbled down the standings. But Fletcher knew the Wild had a good core, including Koivu and several highly touted prospects on the verge of making the NHL.
Fletcher had likened Minnesota’s situation to the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who had developed young players, but needed to bring in veteran stars to each put their team over the top and eventually win the Stanley Cup.
After a bit of a wait and media frenzy, Fletcher now has his “big fish.”
“I don’t know if you ever think it’s realistic you can land both of them,” Fletcher said. “Clearly we’re a team that we feel we have a lot of good players. Last year didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but for a certain part of last year we were one of the best teams in the league. We felt if we could add either a top defenseman or a top forward, it would really help our team. I don’t think you ever go into it assuming you’re going to land both of them. But certainly we shot for the moon. We tried our best and, again, fortune smiled upon us and they elected to come to Minnesota and we’re very pleased with that.”