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Some vexing questions about Zach Parise, Ryan Suter signing with Minnesota (Trending Topics)

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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

Our long international nightmare is over, and the offseason's two biggest free agents have decided to make their homes in The State of Hockey.

The pursuit, dogged and endless, of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter on the part of as many as 10 million NHL teams ended with the two players laughing side by side, hockey bags assumedly stuffed with wads of hundred dollar bills.

Both, somehow, signed with the Minnesota Wild.

But for me, their decision left me with a lot more questions than answers, many of which have gone largely unaddressed in the days following hockey's answer to The Decision, in which the entire hockey media played Jim Gray's role.

Why Minnesota?

We knew the offers were going to be massive and that, at the end of the day, they'd all be for similar values, and so the real question became what peripheral considerations would they take into account? Would they sign with the Red Wings and chase history with the greatest franchise of the last 20 years? Would they choose to play alongside Sid Crosby and Kris Letang for the remainder of their careers and chase Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh? Would they value their time served with the teams that drafted them, valuing loyalty above all else?

As it turned out, the most important consideration after sifting through multiple hundred-million-dollar offers was the ability to go home.

Even beyond that, both apparently took the time to closely examine the Wild's prospects for the future. They liked what they saw from Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Matt Dumba, Jarrod Spurgeon, and so forth and think this is a team set up to be competitive for some time.

But couldn't they have succeeded for a long time just as easily, if not moreso, with, say Pittsburgh, which has a deep well of stars and seems poised to be very good for some time?

Perhaps it's an issue of them wanting to be able to step into a team where they can be The Guys, and they're doing so essentially for the first time in their careers. Parise was New Jersey's captain but it's arguable that he was ever really it's biggest star — that would be possible best-goalie-ever Marty Brodeur — and Ryan Suter always seemed to play second fiddle to perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber for the terribly obvious reason that he's not as good as his long-time defensive partner.

And now they step into a room where they're… well, they're not the captain. That's Mikko Koivu, who has been told he'll stay in that role.

So, family then? That's never a draw for Ontario-born players. It just seems very strange.

Have we collectively just stopped caring about cap circumvention?

These are nearly $98 million, 13-year deals that pay out roughly one-third of their money in the first three years of the contract.

If these deals had been signed, I don't know, two years ago, the stink raised by whoever over it would have dwarfed the international laughingstock kicked up by the Kovalchuk-to-New Jersey deal. Two 13-year deals for the same money to Parise and Suter, who will be 28 in July and January, respectively? Didn't people used to have a big old problem with burn-off years that guys are extraordinarily unlikely to play?

I totally get Greg's argument that cap-circumventing deals are essential to the league if we're to have parity (just as I think Craig Leipold is full of it when it comes to crying poor over player salaries, since he'll be giving Parise and Suter an amount of money greater than the entire team's salary cap the season after the lockout in less than a calendar year). But the lack of outrage that once existed is baffling.

Maybe it's burnout. So many cap-circumventing long-term deals that intentionally drop to absurd, miniscule amounts in the final three to five years of the contract that stretches for a decade or more. At some point, you can't really be mad about it, in much the same way that a dog who poops on the floor every day despite all your yelling and scolding must, at some point, just be accepted as a known floor-pooper.

These deals are a fact of life under the current CBA; as long as they're allowed, teams will exploit them, and unless they're the New Jersey Devils, they'll be allowed to get away with it. The reason this kind of thing will almost certainly be addressed in the next CBA later this year is that they are inherently not in anyone's interest over the long haul.

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How much better does this make the Wild?

You'll recall that the Minnesota Wild missed the playoffs by a whopping 14 points last year. That's no small number. To put it into better context, Toronto only missed the playoffs by 12 points. To put it into even better context, the Wild only had seven more points than Edmonton.

So if the question is whether the Wild are an appreciably better team than they were a few months ago, the answer is, inarguably, yes. But if the question is, "Are the Wild now in a position to be competitive in their division and conference?", the answer is very much still unclear.

To me, chasing down this kind of big game seems very much to be the pie-in-the-sky romanticizing of a team that vastly outperformed its abilities in the first half of last season and surged to the top of the league, only to have the terribly convenient excuse of "Injuries!!!" to lean upon when it went 15-24-8 after Dec. 10.

Statistically, the Wild were appallingly bad in several key categories last year, including goals for (177, 30th) and power play efficiency (15.12, 27th), and decidedly mediocre in goals against (226, tied for 15th) and penalty kill (82.11, 15th). Parise and Suter help in both these areas, but how much?

Parise is now the lone hope of a team offense that saw just two players score 20 goals last year (Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak), though Devin Setoguchi would have joined that group if he'd played the full 82, as he finished with 19 in 69. He looks as though he'll form a lethal two-thirds of a top lline with Mikko Koivu, with Heatley likely filling out the right side for lack of anywhere better to put him.

Meanwhile, let's not forget that Suter anchors a largely-anonymous defensive corps, with his top-pairing partner being Tom Gilbert. Gilbert is a pretty alright defenseman, and I'm still not sure why Edmonton dumped him, but one thing he definitely is not is any sane person's idea of a Shea Weber substitute. It will be terribly interesting to see how Suter does without an All-World defenseman on the other side of the ice. As for who plays the other 30 minutes? Michael Russo, who just went the journalistic equivalent of 5-for-5 with five grand slams cover this circus, projects the second pairing will be Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, combined age: 45.

Parise and Suter alone probably don't make up 14 points in the standings, and certainly don't bridge the gap between the Wild's 81 points (remember: this was in 82 games), and division-leading Vancouver's 111.

Given improvements in Colorado and Dallas, and regression among Detroit, Phoenix and Nashville, it seems very probable that there is at least a six-team streetfight for the final three playoff spots in the West, and I'm not sure the Wild have the goods to win it unless their kids prove exceedingly precocious.

I'm not sure that's the kind of performance that justifies these contracts. As of Thursday night, the Wild had the second-largest cap number in the league. Yikes.

Is this a sound investment?

Granted, the above argument only this upcoming season and these are 13-year deals, but the excitement for the team, now that it has improbably wrested these players from larger and more attractive suitors (the Wild say they sold about 700 full season tickets in about five hours), is palpable.

The deals, in that regard, are starting to pay off. But lest we forget, Parise and Suter are both in their late 20s, when production can't be counted upon to increase.

As it stands now, Minnesota will enter the season with a 34 year old who hasn't played more than 60 games in three campaigns. It's also paying a well-past-it Heatley $7.5 million against the cap for the next two seasons.

So is this a sound investment for this team over the next baker's dozen-seasons? To put it bluntly, the answer almost certainly seems to be "no."

At least for right now. The Wild have often brought up that they have a number of high-quality prospects around the ages of 20 or 21 ready to go pro this season, and some will likely even stick in the NHL in their first go-round.

Again, we're told this was part of the reason Parise and Suter signed.

But whether they're going to be ready as legitimately good players, rather than raw rookies learning the ropes of professional hockey, remains to be seen. Unless something extraordinary happens in the development paths of even half of their kids, both Suter and Parise will be on the wrong side of 30 when they are, and who knows how those contracts will look then?

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Where does this leave Nashville and New Jersey?

Not that this is strictly about the Wild, so much as the void left by the two fellows they signed, but this is a serious point of concern.

People are already trying to figure out the best way to pull off a high-quality hesit not seen since The League of Gentlemen to get Shea Weber the hell out of Nashville.  And apart from wandering around his house in a yellowed wedding dress, clocks stopped at the minute the Suter news broke, there seems to be little he's done to actually improve his team.

Granted, he had to operate under a holding pattern since he was set to invest so much of his team's money and future for a player who wasn't interested, but now he's left to pick up the pieces with a seemingly discontented tent-pole in Weber. Oh, and also a defensive corps that got killed by the competition all season. It was oft said that Weber and Suter were the perfect complements to each other, the latter being the stalwart that allowed Weber to pursue offense freely, the former helping Suter pad his point totals.

The person who has to feel dumbest in all this, especially if Weber skips town via trade or offer sheet, or simply does one more year of hard time alongside whoever they get to replace Suter (Hal Gill maybe?), is Pekka Rinne.

You'll remember the goaltender signed through 2019 for big money. Sucks to be him.

And of course, Nashville's depth at forward makes the local community pool look like the Marianas Trench these days. Their top-six forwards are arguably Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, David Legwand, Paul Gaustad, Patrik Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsyn, who by the way has yet to re-sign. Looks like someone's primed to take Minnesota's spot at the bottom of the goals-for rankings.

And as for the Devils, well, they've taken the time to sign no one of note this summer apart from a 36-year-old defenseman and two million-year-old goaltenders. And Travis Zajac is an unrestricted free agent next summer.

For two teams who finished with more than 100 points last season, these kinds of issues don't get resolved on the open market, and probably can't be handled via trade either, and that's going to have major implications for their respective conferences at large.

Perhaps those implications will end up being as important to every team in the league as one bad team signing two good players.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on hype: "Haven't read enough tweets about Parise and Suter the last couple of days. Anyone know what they had for dinner?"

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.

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