On July 4th, 2012, I was fishing on Rainy Lake in Ontario when my wife, called down from the porch of our cabin to tell me that the Minnesota Wild had signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to twin 13-year contracts worth $98 million each. I think the first words out of my mouth were, “Really? How much?” My wife repeated the total value and I think I said, “wow, that’s a lot of money and a lot of term.” I was at the dock packing up some things to take back up to the cabin and my dad asked me why I wasn’t super excited at the news, and I told him I wasn’t sure what to think at this point. I wouldn’t say it was an emotional moment for me, rather a sigh of slight disbelief and wondering whether this was going to be good thing or a bad thing followed by a feeling of obligation to write about it.
Fast forward to today, and I was sitting in a McDonald’s parking lot in Bloomer, Wisconsin on may to Lutsen for vacation, munching on some french fries when my wife told me she received a notification on her phone that the team had bought out both players. Strangely enough, I feel much the same way I did back in July of 2012. Kind of indifferent, wondering if this was a good decision or a bad one but I certainly knew this was a pivotal moment for the franchise.
So how did we get to this point?
Most Wild fans were ecstatic over the news of signing Parise and Suter back in 2012; two of the most coveted unrestricted free agents of that summer and to think we got both was a huge shot in the arm for a franchise where things had gotten a little stale. Trading Martin Havlat for Dany Heatley didn’t exactly light the world on fire and it was clear something more drastic was needed to try to transform this franchise into a contender. Many saw it as a sign the team was serious about winning and willing to make a major commitment to bring in top quality talent to the club. We hoped it would help encourage other free agents to consider wanting to join Parise and Suter to help turn Minnesota into a legit Stanley Cup contender.
The organization hoped (and was banking on) long, deep runs into the post-season were going to become a regular occurrence as we not only had the top two available free agents we had one of the more promising prospect pools in the league as Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin were about to give the team a youthful infusion of talent that would propel us to being an ‘elite‘ team. Granlund was said to be the most talented player not currently playing in the NHL at the time according to the Hockey News, and hopes were so high on him people started to refer to him as ‘Finnish Baby Jesus’ and organization even had Parise & Suter bringing up the club’s ‘bright future’ as a reason they chose Minnesota. Parise had just led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals, he had the experience to lead Minnesota to the pinnacle of the league. Get that Stanley Cup parade route ready, right?!?!
Not so fast…the arrival of Parise and Suter helped the team become a perennial playoff qualifier, but getting past the 1st round (er Chicago) was another story. The team seemed to be spinning its wheels and despite attempts to add more help via trades (Matt Moulson, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville) the organization seemed to be spinning its wheels.
Things started to unravel around 2016. After Zach Parise and Ryan Suter began to consult Adam Oates for power play advice back in 2016, it was a sign to some that the two players were running the locker room. Then Wild head coach Mike Yeo was fired on February 13th of that year. Some fans like myself began to think Parise and Suter were a part of a ‘country club’ mentality that permeated the organization as veteran players were given preferential treatment regardless of their on-ice performance. Yeo’s replacement, interim head coach John Torchetti butted heads with Suter during the team’s short-lived playoff run that season.
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher, the man who signed the two to the 13-year pacts was fired in 2018. Some felt Parise and Suter were a major reason Fletcher was fired. When asked for his reaction to Fletcher’s firing a grinning Suter could only manage, “He was a nice guy.” The thoughts of a ‘country club’ did not go away with Bruce Boudreau as bench boss, and many felt he deferred to them on the power play and especially in overtime where both players were guilty of extending shifts which often led to giving up the game winning goal.
Boudreau was eventually fired in February of 2020 by Wild General Manager Bill Guerin and then assistant coach Dean Evason was made interim Head Coach. Guerin began to talk about a need to change the culture of the team. He started by parting ways with long-time goaltender coach Bob Mason and not re-signing team captain Mikko Koivu. Later that fall he traded veterans Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Donato to the San Jose Sharks and Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Johansson and also dealt young Luke Kunin for veteran center Nick Bonino. Fans were quick to recognize the players Guerin got back in his transactions were mostly players in the last year of their current contracts with the hope it would make for a more motivated team. The team also chose to make Jared Spurgeon its captain instead of giving that mantle to Zach Parise even though he would stay as alternate captain. As Guerin said,
“This is a great place to play, it’s a great place to live and I know players love it here. So if you want to stay here, here’s your opportunity. If not, we’ll find something else that works.” ~ Wild GM Bill Guerin
It is somewhat ironic the tendency of extending shifts was the reason Evason had for making Zach Parise a healthy scratch in March. According to Parise, he extended a shift in the 3rd period against the Vegas Golden Knights with the hope of helping teammate Marcus Foligno get his first NHL hat trick. Instead, because he was tired the team ended up giving up the game-tying goal and then shortly thereafter the Wild were scored on again to lose the game. After the game, Parise was unapologetic about his decision and felt he was doing the right thing by trying to help give a teammate a special moment. Evason scratched Parise the next game.
News of Parise being scratched was a big deal, the alternate captain who had been a face of the franchise since his arrival in 2012 was humbled. The days of the ‘country club’ were over as coach and general manager were asserting their dominance. Parise’s role had been reduced to playing on the 4th line, and now he was being scratched.
Late in the season, the team opted to make him a healthy scratch through the last few games to try to give other players rest. Later in the playoffs, Evason and the Wild scratched him for the first 3 games in their series against Vegas. Only as the team struggled and needing a spark did they bring him back and he responded by scoring a goal.
Parise was predictably asked how it felt scoring a goal after having been scratched the previous playoff games. To his credit, he didn’t take the opportunity to bash the organization, or Wild coaches, saying he wanted to do whatever he could to help the team. He did admit he had a conversation with the coaching staff about his role on the club, but didn’t elaborate how that conversation went.
After the Wild were eliminated by Vegas in the 1st round, the media tried talking with Parise who felt he needed time to reflect and talk with the team. Many felt it was going to lead to some sort of settlement where the player and the club decided to part ways. So when news broke this morning that the team bought out Parise and Suter it was received with a healthy dose of shock from the fanbase let alone the rest of the league.
In the 9 years since the club signed them to twin 13-year deals, the team has only been beyond the 1st round of the playoffs twice and never farther than that in that same span. The club has changed general managers 3 times and had 4 different head coaches run the bench. Brodin is the only player left from that ‘youthful infusion’ that seemed so promising back in 2012.
However, both had plenty of productive years with the Wild. The Madison, Wisconsin-native had 55 goals, 365 points in 656 games with the Wild, while Parise had 199 goals, 399 points in 558 games. Suter appeared in 3 All Star Games and finished runner up for the Norris Trophy in his first season with the club. Parise never represented the Wild in an All Star Game despite being its leading scorer (or close to it) throughout most of those years with the team. Both served as alternate captains throughout their time in Minnesota, whether that was a good thing or not depends on who you ask. In fact, read the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s Jim Souhan‘s column on the buyout to get an idea of the character and / or leadership revelation from this move.
As the two players have aged, their games have declined more noticeably this last season both statistically and just in keeping up with the pace of play. Suter had just 3 goals and 19 points in 56 regular season games and just a single assist in the playoffs, Parise had 7 goals, 18 points in 45 games and had 2 goals and 3 points in 4 playoff games. Both were starting to show signs that the durability of their youth was start to fade as Suter suffered a near career-ending talus bone fracture and Zach Parise’s back was turned into hamburger from sustaining all of those crosschecks he endured near the opposing crease.
Still, the remaining years on their contracts have appeared to be more of a barrier to the things the Minnesota Wild want to do in order to be that Stanley Cup contender they had hoped they’d be back in 2012. So as they arrived together, they now leave the organization at the same time. They now can attempt to be a part of Stanley Cup contender in their twilight of their NHL careers, but where they’ll end up is anyone’s guess.
So where do we go from here?
Well like the contracts themselves it was a choice between bad and possibly worse. Because each player had 4 more years left on their contract the team will have a cap hit for the next 8 seasons ending in 2029. Here’s how it breaks down by year for each player (total in parentheses) according to CapFriendly.com.
2021-22 ~ $2,371,794 ($4,743,588)
2022-23 ~ $6,371,794 ($12,743,588)
2023-24 ~ $7,371,794 ($14,743,588)
2024-25 ~ $7,371,794 ($14,743,588)
2025-26 ~ $833,333 ($1,666,666)
2026-27 ~ $833,333 ($1,666,666)
2027-28 ~ $833,333 ($1,666,666)
2028-29 ~ $833,333 ($1,666,666)
Yes, after next season, its going to be a pretty rough next 3 seasons for the Wild salary cap-wise as a sizable chunk will be taken up by the two buyouts. The salary cap is likely to stay frozen at least for the next two seasons and that probably played a part in Guerin’s decision to pull the trigger now. The savings created by the buyout is small but Wild GM Bill Guerin feels its an opportunity for younger (i.e. cheaper) players moving forward. However, the risk was retirement and facing the arguably even more punitive cap recapture penalties.
If you recall, just after the Minnesota Wild signed Parise and Suter to their twin-13 year deals there was a lockout. The lockout ended, but part of the new CBA was a rule banning teams from entering contracts that were longer than 7 years for free agents like Suter and Parise were or for an 8-year max term for players who were drafted by the club like the one the team just gave to Joel Eriksson Ek.
As an added measure of prevention, the league instituted cap recapture penalties against previous contracts that were felt to circumvent the existing salary cap. That meant if a player were to retire far short of their last year of their contract the team was still going to face a nasty cap hit. They didn’t want to wait while either player’s game continued to decline and only by buying it out this season could they give the club any significant savings.
As reported by Michael Russo in the Athletic, Parise was rather relieved at hearing he was being bought out, and unsurprisingly Ryan Suter was blindsided by the news and abruptly hung up on the Minnesota GM. Guerin was understanding in their feeling of pain and frustration as he too had to go through similar experiences when he was player.
“Every decision I make there are a lot of people not happy with me. That’s part of it. There are some people that are happy. I just have to do what I feel is right. I can tell you this I don’t make these decisions lightly. I have been a player. I have been traded. I have been bought out. I have been through a lot, and I know how it affects these guys so I do not take it lightly.” ~ Wild GM Bill Guerin
However, when one door closes another opens. The team now can protect players like Nico Sturm and Matt Dumba without having to ask a veteran player to waive their no movement clause for the expansion draft. Until the buyout, the Wild had more players with NMC’s than any other team in the NHL, a point I brought up on a recent episode of the Sota Pod with Isha Jahromi and State of Hoppy. That would leave the following players unprotected; Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Carson Soucy and Kaapo Kahkonen. Will Guerin make some kind of deal to protect Kahkonen remains to be seen. Teams will submit their protected lists on Saturday. The team now has $26.2 million in cap space with 14 players under contract according to CapFriendly.com. So it is likely we’ll see some internal promotions as well as perhaps a few affordable free agents brought in to fill those vacant spots on the roster.
It also means younger players will have a chance to play in the lineup. So if you’re rooting for Marco Rossi, Matt Boldy and Calen Addison to get a chance it will probably happen sooner rather than later as the club hopes to trim expenses during these next 4 seasons. Parise and Suter are both 36-years old, which means goaltender Cam Talbot at the age of 34 is now (at least right now) is the elder statesman on the team. It also means a lot more leans on the ability of Judd Brackett and the Wild scouting staff to continue to find NHL-quality talent in the draft to keep this team stocked with younger (i.e. cheaper) talent. I would think it would be rather unlikely the team would wish to trade one or both of their 1st round picks in this year’s draft now.
The ‘reckoning’ of these contracts was bound to happen sooner or later. If there was any big ‘a-ha’ moment during Guerin’s post-buyout press conference it was his revelation that this was something he had been planning for the last 6-8 months. So this wasn’t some recent epiphany, he had felt this was necessary for a long time and indicated he had the staff researching this scenario extensively before the move was made.
Fans who have wanted to see a younger (and perhaps faster) team now has their wish and whether that will result in becoming the perennial Stanley Cup contender Guerin mentioned in his press conference remains to be seen.
I am comfortable with this decision to buyout both players. Admittedly, since 2016 I haven’t been real favorable to either player and I do strongly believe they helped create a complacent and entitled culture among the older veteran players that helped mire the team in above average mediocrity. This move finally pushes out the last vestige of that culture change that he started talking about a year ago.
Let’s face it, this is Bill Guerin betting on himself big time with this move. He’s been thinking about this for the better part of a year and now he’ll be tasked with proving his vision, his plan to be the right one to achieve that goal of becoming a Stanley Cup contender and not just a highly paid pretender. It will be up to the coaches, remaining players, scouting staff to make this work and I for one will enjoy seeing how this all plays out.
So to Spurgeon, Eriksson Ek, Brodin, (perhaps Kaprizov and Fiala) its your team now.
Will there be pain, yes. Will their be struggle, sure. But keeping them could invite misery in its own right, but instead being forced the whims of aging players. Change is tough, but all you can do is just keep stepping forward and hoping to get better each day of the process. So with a little levity in mind, I hope you enjoy the meme below.
What do you think of the buyouts? Tell us on Twitter @CreaseAndAssist!