Wild left wing Zach Parise and Canucks defenseman Dan Harnhuis battle for… (Carlos Gonzalez / McClatchy-Tribune )
The small-market Minnesota Wild made the biggest splash in last summer's free-agency market by signing winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98-million contracts. They immediately became symbols of the long, salary-cap-minimizing deals NHL owners freely handed out and then insisted be banished. The new collective bargaining agreement limits contracts to seven years, except for eight years when a team re-signs its free agent.
Were Parise and Suter the last passengers on the free-agency gravy train? Their character is above reproach, but it's tough to say they'll have a $196-million impact. Suter leads the NHL with an average of 27 minutes 25 seconds' ice time and Parise is second on the team in scoring with 15 points, but the Wild is among a cluster of teams jockeying for a top-eight spot in the Western Conference. Still, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said the investment has "absolutely" been worth it.
"Their work ethic is so strong, they're going to earn every penny we pay them. They both just turned 28, so we're pretty comfortable with that," Fletcher said last week during a visit to Anaheim. "They've played well and I think they'll only play better as they continue to acclimate and adjust to their new teammates and coaches and the system we play."
Fletcher said Parise "has the mind-set of a fourth-line player and the skill set of a first-line player," a good description. Suter, though minus-five defensively, has steadied the defense while recording 14 assists. "As a group we're giving up about four fewer shots on goal per game, and a lot of that is because of his defensive contributions and the way he moves the puck out of our zone," Fletcher said.
Fletcher also said a spike in ticket, sponsorship and suite revenue and TV ratings will help offset the cost of the signings. But some of their contributions can't be measured statistically.
"Two guys like that, it just changes the culture immediately," center Matt Cullen said. "They've played in real big situations and expect and demand to win."
Suter, son of 1980 U.S. Olympian Bob Suter and nephew of former NHL defenseman Gary Suter, said he and Parise want to be positive influences.
"We're just trying to do whatever we can and bring what we've learned on our other teams, whether world championships or Olympics, to this team," he said. "There's a lot of young guys and we try to help them. Zach's had some success and I've had some success, so hopefully we can change the attitude and the mind-set."
Suter said he's tired of being measured by dollar signs, but that's inevitable. "It's kind of tough, especially when I haven't scored a goal. I feel guilty," he said. "As long as our team is winning, that's all that matters. It will come."
Slowly, perhaps, for the inconsistent Wild. "We'll get there. I have confidence we'll get there," he said. "It's just frustrating trying to get there."
Up in Flames
The Calgary Flames nearly made a huge gaffe last week when they signed Colorado restricted free-agent center Ryan O'Reilly to a two-year, $10-million offer sheet.
Had the Avalanche not matched the offer, the Flames would have owed Colorado first- and third-round 2013 draft picks as compensation. But as first reported by Sportsnet.ca, O'Reilly — who played two games in Russia after the NHL season began — would have had to clear waivers before he could join a team other than Colorado. Any team would have grabbed O'Reilly, Colorado's top scorer last season with 18 goals and 55 points, and the Flames would have lost the draft picks and a player they hoped to build around.
Flames General Manager Jay Feaster said his hockey operations department concluded there weren't any impediments to securing O'Reilly and added that their interpretation of the applicable waiver rule, Article 13.23, differed from the NHL's interpretation. He said the club was prepared to pursue its argument but since Colorado matched, "it is now an academic point."
Colorado should have negotiated a deal with O'Reilly long ago and now will pay a premium. He gets a $2.5-million signing bonus and a prorated salary of $1 million this season, but his 2013-14 salary of $6.5 million becomes the minimum qualifying offer Colorado must make to retain his rights. It also becomes the benchmark when teammates Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene negotiate new deals. Bad work by Calgary and Colorado on this one.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL's realignment proposal remains under discussion. The NHL Players' Assn. is said to be lukewarm on having 14 teams in the West and 16 in the East and the effect that would have on teams' playoff chances.
So much for fans saying they'd shun the NHL after the lockout. The New York Post reported the league has projected hockey-related revenue to be $2.4 billion for this season of 720 games plus playoffs. Revenue for 2011-12, which consisted of 1,230 games plus playoffs, was $3.3 billion. That would mean the NHL will earn 72.7% of last season's revenue in 58.5% of last season's schedule. Not bad.