The Minnesota Wild may have just changed the base of power in the Western Conference.
The Wild landed the two top free agents available in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on Wednesday, giving the 27-year-old friends identical 13-year contracts worth $98-million apiece in one of the biggest package deals in NHL history.
Parise and Suter had been hotly pursued by many of the top teams in the NHL – including the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers – but ultimately signed close to home with the Wild, who finished seventh last in the league last season.
The pair – who hail from Minneapolis and nearby Madison, Wis. – reportedly began discussing going to the Wild together shortly after the opening of July 1, something that will give a huge shot in the arm to a franchise that has missed the playoffs the past four years.
"This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild," GM Chuck Fletcher said. "We view this as a rare opportunity for us to transform our franchise by adding two marquee players, who are both in the prime of their careers, at the same time."
"They drove this bus and we're just lucky they drove it to Minnesota," team owner Craig Leipold told The Star Tribune. "They want to be part of something special."
For Parise, in particular, the move is a homecoming, as his father, Jean-Paul, played and coached for the North Stars franchise and ultimately settled and raised his family in the area.
Suter, meanwhile, told teams he turned down that he made the decision for family reasons. Madison is roughly 400 kilometres southeast of St. Paul, and Suter's wife, Becky, is from Bloomington, Minn.
"I felt like we had a secret weapon working in our favor during these negotiations… the spirit and dedication of you fans of the State of Hockey," Craig Leipold wrote in a letter to fans released soon after the signings were announced.
"It's no secret that both Zach and Ryan have strong ties to this area. They've had first-hand experience with the extraordinary pride and unrelenting passion of our fans. Ultimately, I firmly believe that you fans were the deciding factor in their decision and so my final thank you is reserved for you."
The contracts make them the seventh and eighth highest paid players on an annual value in the league next season, with cap hits of $7.54-million until 2024-25 when they'll both be 40 years old.
The deals are also the type of heavily front-loaded, long-term contracts the NHL will look to eliminate in its new collective bargaining agreement.
Both include extensive signing bonuses – $10-million in 2012 and 2013 and another $5-million in 2014 – and 30 per cent of the total cash being handed over in the next 24 months.
How the Parise/Suter deals are structured
The first three years of the 13-year, $98-million contracts will pay out $25-million in signing bonuses as part of $35-million in salary
The losses of the two star players are big ones for their former teams, the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators.
Parise was the Devils captain and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup finals this past season. Suter, meanwhile, was an anchor on the Preds blueline for years alongside Shea Weber, who may now be on the way out.
"There's no question we're disappointed," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "It's a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature who comes through the ranks and a decision is made to go elsewhere. There's nothing we can do about that. We'll just go forward.
"Our offer was competitive and we did not at any time have a phone call that we needed to change it or it needed to go up. The decision, based on what Zach told me, was he was going home and playing with a player he played with growing up."
"Not only disappointed but very surprised," Preds GM David Poile said. "Over the last year I've had literally 20, 30, 40 conversations with Ryan and his representative about our desire to sign him to a long-term deal and the importance to the Predators."
Even with the two newcomers, the Wild's roster isn't likely that of a contender, as they have one of the more no-name defences in the league. Fletcher, however, has certainly improved his team more than any other in free agency.
Minnesota also has the benefit of several top young players about to break into the NHL, with Finnish forward Mikael Granlund – the organization's top pick (ninth overall) in 2010 – set to make the roster in a top-six role next season.
Also potentially ready to contribute in the near future are Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker.
"Those players represent the bright future of our franchise," Leipold said, "and it's been proven time and time again that drafting and developing young talent is the most reliable path to sustained playoff success.
"Having said that, when the season ended in April, I found myself wondering... how long that process might take and how we could accelerate it."
In adding two young stars to their lineup and still remaining under the salary cap, mission accomplished on that front.
Minnesota Wild depth chart:
Parise - Koivu - Granlund
Heatley - Cullen - Setoguchi
Mitchell - Brodziak - Bouchard
Powe - Konopka - Clutterbuck
Suter - Spurgeon
Scandella - Gilbert
Stoner - Prosser
The 10 biggest contracts in the NHL
Free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed the fourth and fifth largest deals in the league on Wednesday with the Minnesota Wild