Wild Gone Wild
LONDON--The economics of the NHL have sure been put through a blender over the last year or so.
And we're not even talking about the Phoenix Coyotes for a change.
Last summer, it was the Buffalo Sabres spending their brains out, becoming for a time the NHL team with the highest payroll. Last weekend, Justin Schultz picked the Edmonton Oilers over as many as two dozen teams, with the Oilers giving the former second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks the kind of money reserved for first overall selections, which is what all the other teams were planning to give Schultz as well.
On Sunday, Jiri Hudler and P.A. Parenteau became $4 million players. Brandon Prust received a contract worth $10 million.
Then came today. For $196 million, the Minnesota Wild injected themselves back into the mainstream NHL conversation after gradually losing relevance since shocking the league by making the conference final in 2003.
For that combined salary spread over 13 years, the Wild lured both defenceman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise to St. Paul, bringing the two biggest names of the NHL free agent season to the State of Hockey.
These are two very good players, if not superstars. Both are 27. Neither player has ever won a major NHL award, neither made the first or second all-star team last season.
Every NHL team, of course, would love to have one or both on their roster. The question, of course, is at what financial cost?
Parise captained the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup final last month and is a solid scorer and energetic influence on any team. Suter has been a bluelline mainstay alongside Shea Weber for the Nashville Predators as that team has risen to prominence, and his decision to walk away could well mean Nashville will be unable to keep Weber, either.
They'll eat up more than $15 million of cap space for the Wild for the next 13 years, which could mean even more if cap, as expected, drops in upcoming CBA discussions. They're also quite probably the last of the crazy, double-digit year, salary back-diving contracts, with the NHL likely to push for term limits (five or six years?) and a CBA adjustment that would force teams to pay the same salary in each year of a multi-year contract.
The trickle down effect of the decisions by Suter and Parise will be intriguing. The bidding for players on the trade market, like Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan, will likely intensify with Parise off the market. Unsigned UFA defenceman could now find dollars available that weren't available before Wednesday.
The contracts make absolutely no sense, even though at least three or four other NHL teams were williing to do exactly the same deals for one or both, and there's strong evidence throughout the NHL that players can't possibly perform at a high enough level to rationalize these deals.
But the Wild apparently don't care, and their fans probably don't either.
The team hasn't made the playoffs for four years, was the NHL's lowest scoring team lst year with only 177 goals scored and is battling for attention in the market with the Timberwolves, Twins and Vikings, as well as the Golden Gophers. They have quality talent coming in youngsters like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, not to mention 2012 first rounder Matt Dumba, a defenceman, but the franchise needed a jolt of publicity and energy.
Getting Parise, a Minnesota native, to come home certainly gives that. It would, for a team like the Leafs, be like Steven Stamkos choosing to come home to Toronto as a UFA. Suter, meanwhile, is a University of Wisconsin product and in that neck of the woods, that's a pedigree that means something.
The Wild have a very good goalie in Nicklas Backstrom, a decent veteran core up front in Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Devon Setoguchi, and earlier signed UFAs Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. It's not a deep roster, but as previously mentioned, some quality youngsters are on the way.
Parise and Suter, even if they maintain their current level of play, which doesn't always happen with players who sign these kinds of massive deals, can't make the Wild a contender next season. Possibly a playoff team, but not a contender. That could happen in 3-5 years, particularly if Granlund, Coyle and Dumba all turn out to be front-liners.
So while the dollars don't make sense, from a competitive point-of-view, we'll find out over the next few years whether the contracts make sense on the ice.
They certainly altered the dynamics of the league a little more. Or a lot.