ST. PAUL. Minn. -- In one of the most monumental days in Minnesota hockey history -- and indisputably Wild history -- the hometown team shook the foundation of the NHL Wednesday by landing the league's hottest two free agents: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The two were pursued by every heavyweight team in the league and chose a Wild franchise that has missed the playoffs the past four seasons. It's a package deal in which each player received an identical $98-million, 13-year contract.
"They drove this bus, and we're just lucky they drove it to Minnesota," an elated owner Craig Leipold said.
Within five hours of the signings, Wild officials said the team had sold about 700 new season tickets. It remains to be seen whether the NHL will have a full season, as the threat of a lockout looms with the expiry of the league's collective bargaining agreement Sept. 15.
But that was a distant concern Wednesday as the state's hockey community celebrated the arrival of the coveted free agents, both with local ties.Parise, who attended local Fairbault's Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school, is a forward whose father, J.P. Parise, was an NHL All-Star and assistant coach with the Minnesota North Stars. Suter, a defenceman, is a former University of Wisconsin star who is married to a Minnesota native.
Both have played for only one NHL team -- Parise with the New Jersey Devils, Suter with Nashville Predators.
Why the move to the Wild? Family, belief in the Wild's future and the desire to play together.
"Ryan and I had talked throughout the year," said Parise, the type of homegrown star this hockey market has long craved.
"You always say to each other, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a chance to play with each other and to play on the same team?'
For two years, Leipold and general manager Chuck Fletcher have eyed this summer with the hopes that Parise and Suter would become free agents. What helped was the fact Parise and Suter are great friends from wearing the USA's red, white and blue in international competitions, including the 2010 Olympics.
As free agency began Sunday, the 27-year-old, 2003 first-round draft picks began texting each other behind the scenes with the objective of making the reunion happen.
The Wild began working on Parise on Sunday. Parise was sold by Monday on the Wild's future and the impact he could have, but Suter had yet to meet with the team. That occurred Tuesday when Leipold,
Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo flew to Madison, Wis., with Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy. Leipold and Suter have a relationship from when Leipold owned the Predators.
On Tuesday night, Parise and Suter had a phone conversation. "(Tuesday) night into (Wednesday) morning, it became realistic," Suter said.
Leipold, who wrote $10 million signing bonuses to each player Wednesday, was ecstatic.
"These guys could go to any team. They were offered more money -- we know it -- by a number of teams," Leipold said. "These guys decided this was the team."
It was Parise and Suter who came up with the idea of identical contracts with reasonable $7.5 million salary cap hits so the Wild can have flexibility to get players in future years.
-- Star Tribune (Minneapolis)