Admittedly, the optics aren't good for Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold. In April, he told the Star Tribune that his team wasn't turning a profit, and put the onus on player salaries:
"We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries."
Three months later, Leipold authorized his general manager to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to contracts totaling $196 million — including $50 million in signing bonuses in the first three years of the contracts.
For two players.
There's been no dispute that bringing in Parise, a former New Jersey Devils captain, and Suter, a standout defenseman for the Nashville Predators, makes the Wild a better hockey team. But that doesn't change the perception that Leipold, one of Gary Bettman's favored sons, was either exaggerating the Wild's plight or acting hypocritical in last week's free-agent coup.
Turns out you have to spend money to make money sometimes. Economics for Dummies.
Michael Russo of the Star Tribune addressed that with Leipold on Monday, who said it was the signings were essential "to keep this team and move this forward." From Russo:
"As a result of this move, it's not going to cause us to be financially stable. I believe it will be within a year or two. This is a move to get us out of the hole that we've been digging. And as I spoke with some other owners in the league as to why I did it, they totally get it. They understand it. At some point you have to make that kind of commitment in order to turn your franchise around. If we didn't, then we would just keep losing more going forward without any plan of changing it."
The Wild have the second-highest payroll in the NHL at the moment against the cap at $68,848,867; behind only the Boston Bruins, who are one year removed from a Stanley Cup.
As the Wild were making franchise history by committing close to $200 million to two players, Leipold was at the bargaining table with Bettman, the NHL and the NHLPA, working on the next CBA.
So how does he spin this glorious moment for the Wild, achieved under a system the owners feel is imperfect? From Russo:
Leipold said the 13-year, $98 million deals for Parise and Suter "shows the system does need to be changed. ... There's a better way to run a business than the way we are experiencing it right now, and that's what we hope to accomplish moving forward."
Don't you see? A system that kept Parise and Suter with the teams that drafted them for several seasons; then allowed them to hit the open market for all teams to have a shot at them; then allowed the Wild to acquire them with contracts unrestricted in term and creative in accounting ... why, it's inadequate.
This is just more "save us from ourselves!" nonsense from the owners, who will always — ALWAYS — find a way around their own rules, standards and proclamations in order to win a championship.
Leipold dances around the issue of a salary rollback, but you can smell what he's cooking; and this was after his team handed Mikko Koivu a 7-year, $47.25 million deal with a final season at $9.18 million in base salary.
The owners will always raise salaries back to their previous levels and beyond. They'll find a way around the cap. They'll find a way to make problem contracts disappear. They'll bend the rules as fast as they can make them.
But as I've written before: Hypocrisy isn't always a bad thing.
Conditions change. Opinions change. The Wild were doomed by player salaries, and then spend $196 million on two players, and Leipold's right: It could mean a better financial picture in the long term.
But what isn't cool is complaining about player salaries, dabbling in the dark arts of long-term contracts that probably won't exist under the next CBA, and then calling the same system deficient. If it is, it's by the owners' own hands.