John Shipley: Parise-Suter money was elite; the play was not

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Jul. 14—It was July 4, 2012, and Minnesota sports fans were feeling good about themselves. Finally, a local professional sports team outbid everyone else for some big-time talent.

Finally, Minnesota had a real player on the national sports scene.

That was the primary takeaway when, at the behest of then-general manager Chuck Fletcher, Wild owner Craig Leipold opened the vault and threw crazy and identical 13-year, $98 million contracts at the best available free NHL agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The Twins had somewhat notoriously made Kirby Puckett baseball's first $3 million-a-year player in November, 1989, but the Parise/Suter signing was the most profligate use of personnel resources in Twin Cities sports history. It was a great victory for the bearers of chatroom torches and pitchforks. The days of the cheapskate Minnesota sports team owners, it seemed, were ending.

Parise was a gritty left wing with a knack for scoring at the crease and had just led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Final. Suter was a slick, responsible defenseman who had averaged 36.2 assists in his previous four seasons in Nashville. Despite their big-time track records, they were each still only 27 years old.

Minnesotans could almost taste the delightful metal after tones of cold Grain Belt served in a Stanley Cup.

Well, it didn't work, and we didn't have to wait this long to find out it wouldn't, but it was on Tuesday that Bill Guerin announced he was cutting the cord on Parise and Suter. The Wild GM is buying out the rest of their deals four years early after 19 playoff victories and zero Stanley Cups.

The move comes at a significant cost to the Wild's next several seasons. Because both players had no-trade clauses, Guerin gains two protected slots for the upcoming NHL expansion draft and as cleared about $10 million in 2021-22 salary cap space to help sign Calder Trophy-winner Kirill Kaprizov and young wing Kevin Fiala to long-term deals. But the decision wasn't a no-brainer because it comes at a significant cost.

NHL contract buyouts are prohibitive. The Parise and Suter contracts were guaranteed, so the team is on the hook for $10 million apiece. Further, the Wild will take "dead" cap hits on each player for the next six seasons, including identical hits of $6.3 million, $7.4 million and $7.4 million from 2022-23 to 2024-25.

Yet paying them and saving two roster spots and a little early cap space was more palatable to Guerin than paying Parise and Suter to actually play hockey.

"I didn't just wake up this morning and try to decide to do it," Guerin said Tuesday. "It's been a process, probably about six or eight months."

There are many reasons for this. For one, the expansion draft is much harder on existing teams than the one the Wild and Blue Jackets got in 2000. And the timing on Kaprizov's arrival, and Fiala's contract situation, are important, as well.

Then there's the fact that, in the end, throwing stupid money at Parise and Suter just didn't work and wasn't going to work. Not for the team.

Of course, we've seen some bad deals since, most notably Glen Taylor's decision to throw a max contract at Andrew Wiggins. But no contract will burn as hot, stinky and long as the Kirk Cousins deal, destined to be one of those eternally burning garbage piles, and not just because the Vikings are and always will be the kings of Minnesota pro sports.

When Cousins signed a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract in 2018 it was the biggest in NFL history, and the Vikings really did seem a quarterback away from getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1977.

Surprise! Now Cousins is due to make $21 million this season and $35 million in 2022 with cap hits of $31 million and $45 million. Unless he is belted by a gamma ray this fall and becomes John Elway, that deal will live in infamy as the stupidest of stupid money thrown at a local athlete. But don't sell the Parise/Suter deal short.

In the second Parise/Suter season, the Wild finished with 98 points and won two games against eventual champion Chicago in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

It was a bad matchup draw, but the reality is the Wild never won another second-round game (0-4) and were bounced in the first round in their next five postseasons with Parise and Suter on the roster, if not the ice.

Were they usually among the Wild's best players. Yes.

Were they elite? Well, the money was.