On July 4th, The Minnesota Wild pulled off the unthinkable; signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, two perennial All-Star caliber players in their primes, to matching 13 year, 98 Million dollar contracts, effectively keeping those two, both with local ties, in a Wild sweater until they decide to hang up the blades and the ax. The colossal signing sent shockwaves throughout the NHL landscape, signaling that Owner Craig Leipold and General Manager Chuck Fletcher intend this team to be a fixture when the Stanley Cup Playoffs year after year. Arguably the biggest foray into free agency in the history of Minnesota sports, the signings put the local fanbase into a tizzy, myself and the First Round Bust staff included.
This monumental occasion, however, is symbolic of what is currently going on right now- and if you check the boxscores from last night's NHL games, you'll see there weren't any played. Because yes kids, we're in the midst of another lockout.
You see, our owner- one who has shown the requisite desire to put forth a contending team, unlike some in the local market- made a logical business decision. The Wild have lost money the last few years, and the return on the investment (i.e. Parise and Suter) would be worth the expense. Merchandise, a revitalized box office output, advertising, a possible Winter Classic, etc.; these things would remedy what was a sagging bottom line, no doubt.
However its indicative of why we are watching a negotiations stalemate devolving into a battle of PR and spin. The owners are asking to be saved from themselves.
That, to me, is the single most annoying facet of this whole issue; the goddamn owners put a salary cap in place to curb spending, yet in the arms race that is the market for players, they've managed to screw everything up again. Massive, front loaded, double digit year contracts ripe with bonuses. Eschewing the "second contract" for players just out of their entry level deal, throwing away some semblance of fiscal sensability for the sake of buying out the arbitration years and free agency.
I get it- they want to win the Cup. There's nothing wrong with that, but they've broken the system they asked to be put into place, and now they want more guidelines in place to prohibit them from doing it again. Two year ELC's, eight years until unrestricted free agency, etc. They want to legislate against stupidity, idiot-proof against the idiots. If I were a player, I'd be understandably pissed too; the owners got what they wanted in 2004, and now want more.
(Not that the Players Association isn't at fault here- they've dragged their feet during the whole process, and have stubbornly clung to the 57% number for too long. And if you ask me, Agents haven't gotten their fair share of blame either, considering they play the two sides against each other.)
What irritates me most is that Craig Leipold is essentially the figure head for this- blowing roughly 200 million on two players, after crying poor about player salaries. You see him, smile as wide as can be at the introductory Parise/Suter press conference, then you see him along side Commissioner Gary Bettman in New York City, as a member of his "Doom Patrol", shortly before they denounce the NHLPA's latest offers in expedient fashion, in a display of despair-driven histrionics.
Again, here we are, the fans, left twisting in the wind as the hourglass is rapidly showing that time is running out on the 2012-13 season.