The Nashville Predators have lost All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter to a fellow Western Conference team, as the 27-year-old reportedly has agreed to a 13-year, $98-million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune first reported the news, which was confirmed by multiple other outlets. Suter, a native of Wisconsin whose wife is from Minnesota, known for its low-key sensibilities in the so-called “State of Hockey,” reportedly will join former New Jersey left wing and captain Zach Parise in the Twin Cities.
The Wild’s official Twitter address confirmed the news at about 11:40 Central Time. ESPN.com reported that Parise and Suter agreed to the identical deals, which will carry $7.5 million cap hits each.
Predators general manager David Poile said in a conference call that he learned the news from Suter.
Poile said he told Suter, “I don’t know why you’re not re-signing with us and he told us it was for family reasons. That’s where the disappointing part comes in. … I can’t fight that or I can’t argue with that. The disappointing part was that that was not what we talked about all year long. It’s very, very disappointing.”
The players were the two biggest prizes on the free-agent market and Minnesota got them both. The Tennessean reported, citing an anonymous source, that the Preds’ top offer was 13 years and $90 million — a staggering sum for a player who is coming off a career season in which he ranked third in the NHL in average time on ice and finished eighth in the balloting for the Norris Trophy, which is given to the NHL’s top defenseman. Last season was Suter’s first as an All-Star.
By comparison, Predators captain Shea Weber, a restricted free agent whose agent has said he wanted to wait for Suter to sign first before negotiating with the Predators, has finished as the runner-up for the Norris each of the last two seasons. Last season Weber played under a one-year contract worth $7.5 million.
The Predators now have a major hole to fill on their top defense pair but have numerous options and plenty of cap room. Suter, drafted No. 7 overall in 2007 at the NHL Draft in Nashville, earned $3.5 million each of the last four seasons.
The Wild are owned by the man who once ushered the Predators into the NHL in 1998, Craig Leipold.
In a conference call with reporters, Suter, Parise and Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher – under whose father Cliff Fletcher Poile once worked as assistant general manager of the Atlanta/Calgary Flames – Suter explained his decision, emphasizing that his wife was from Bloomington, Minn., and that he wanted to play with Parise. Parise was taken 10 spots after Suter in the ’03 draft and the two were teammates on U.S. national teams for international tournaments. He said the two kept texting each other the last few days.
“We were in contact, texting each other about different places, situations where we could both work,” Suter said. “Last night into this morning it kind of became realistic.”
Suter said Nashville was not out of the process until early Wednesday morning. He complimented the Preds and Poile and coach Barry Trotz and talked about the difficulty of informing Poile of his choice.
“Obviously, I talked to David this morning, it was the toughest phone call that I’ve ever had to make in my life,” Suter said. “It was so hard to make to David. David’s done so much for me and that’s a first-class operation in Nashville and that starts with David Poile.”
Suter said that after he spoke to Poile, he phoned his longtime partner on defense, Weber.
“I talked with Shea after I talked to David and told him I had decided to move on from Nashville,” Suter said. “And he was happy for me. He understood. He said you have to do what’s best for you and he wished me nothing but the best of luck.”
Weber could soon find himself in a similar situation.