After four straight seasons of failing to even qualify for the postseason, Minnesota could make no such claims. Good thing for the Wild they landed the top two free agents on the market on Wednesday.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter each agreed to terms with the Wild, signing for identical 13-year, $98 million deals to come to the State of Hockey.
Neither is a stranger to Minnesota. Parise is a Minneapolis native whose father, J.P. Parise was a player and assistant coach with the North Stars. Suter hails from Madison, Wisc., but his wife, Becky, is from Bloomington, Minn.
Those ties, plus the desire to play together, actually kept the cost of the deals down a bit — and yes, it's easy to see why some are worried about the upcoming negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement when making $7.538 million a year for the next 13 seasons can be considered a bargain. But that ties Parise and Suter for just the seventh-highest cap hits in the league, and either could have cashed in for even more had they gone to separate teams.
But a chance at a homecoming of sorts and a reunion of two friends who have enjoyed plenty of success together in Team USA sweaters will make it a little easier for them to scrape by on just $7.538 million a year.
Good things have happened when Parise and Suter have played together in the past. They helped lead the U.S. to gold at the 2004 World Juniors, with Parise putting up 5-6-11 totals in six games and Suter adding eight points. They won silver together in Vancouver in the 2010 Olympics, with Parise's goal with 24 seconds left in regulation tying the gold medal game before Sidney Crosby won it in overtime for Canada.
Now Parise and Suter will be setting their sights on a bigger silver prize. The Wild haven't won a playoff series since making a surprising run to the Western Conference Final in 2003, but now can at least begin to think about playing deep into the spring.
The signings evoke Boston's big splash back in 2006 when the Bruins signed both Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard on July 1. Those moves laid the foundation for Boston's steady rise from back-to-back last-place finishes in the Northeast Division to eventually ending its 39-year Stanley Cup drought in 2011. As bold as those moves were a half dozen years ago, the numbers still pale in comparison. Chara was signed for $37.5 million over five years and Savard $20 million over four, a combined investment of $57.5 million that's only a little more than a quarter of the $196 million the Wild committed on Wednesday.
The Bruins needed to make many more moves in the years after those signings before winning the Cup, and likewise Suter and Parise alone won't turn Minnesota immediately into a contender. But they'll go a long way toward making them competitive.
The Wild were dead last in the league last year in scoring, averaging just 2.02 goals a game. Dany Heatley led the team with 24 goals and 53 points, the latter tying him for just 80th in the league. Only two other Wild players even topped 40 points, and Kyle Brodziak was the only other 20-goal scorer.
Parise, who doesn't turn 28 until July 28, brings a resume that includes five 30-goal seasons, including a career-best 45 in 2008-09 and a 31-38-69 line last season as he showed no lingering effects of a knee injury that limited him to 13 games the previous season. Parise added another eight goals and 15 points in the playoffs as the New Jersey captain led the Devils to the Cup Final.
Suter, 27, will help in both ends of the rink. The smooth-skating blueliner had 46 points last year with the Predators, with 25 of those coming on the power play. That's welcome news to a Minnesota man-advantage that was 27th in the league last year, converting just 15.1 percent of its opportunities. Suter is far from one-dimensional though, as he'll improve the Wild defense as well after finishing a plus-15 with 116 blocked shots last season.
There are other pieces in place for the Wild as well. Heatley is a proven scorer who could be rejuvenated by Parise's addition to the lineup, while Mikko Koivu is a top-notch two-way center and the goaltending is sound with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding forming one of the league's better tandems. The Wild also upgraded the grit on their bottom two lines this week by signing Torrey Mitchell, Zenon Konopka and Jake Dowell.
Minnesota doesn't have much room to add anything else as the Wild now sit at $67.3 million worth of cap hits for the upcoming season. That could be a problem if the new CBA drops the ceiling from its current $70.2 million. But those are concerns for another day.
On this day, the State of Hockey is in a state of bliss, and rightfully so after connecting on arguably the biggest 1-2 punch in NHL free agency history.