Last Year & Next Year

As I sit here at the end of a relaxing 4 day weekend, trying to figure out exactly what to write, there is a lot to touch upon. Both the NHL Draft and free agency just happened. Wild Development camp is this week. Andy Murray became the first British player to win the gentlemen's singles championship at Wimbledon in 77 years. Anderson Silva, the #1 pound for pound fighter in MMA, shockingly lost for the first time in 17 UFC fights when Chris Weidman knocked him the F out to become the UFC Middleweight Champion.

Plenty has changed with the Minnesota Wild, which is normally the case in the hockey world around July 4th weekend. While America celebrates its independence, players, agents and management celebrate theirs with million dollar contracts.

It's a richness that I'll be wishing still exists in 2 weeks when the dead part of the off-season begins. There is so much to talk about right now.

So let's talk about last year.

Despite players coming and going, the end of an era in Wild history, Matt Cooke blowing up Twitter and even multiple sunny days that make living through Minnesota winter worth it, this weekend still reflects July 4th, 2012. The Coup. The Daily Double. The end of #parisewatch and #suterwatch being this.
Yes, that happened. In a market that has notoriously been eschewed by free agents, the norm has been to look but don't touch. The cream of the crop wants to play elsewhere. Even if it's a hometown player like Elk River, MN native Paul Martin in 2010, something - bright lights, higher profile, better team - draws them away.

But not this time.

This time the Minnesota Wild picked up not one but both high-profile players on the market. They picked up a hometown player in Zach Parise. He was technically preceded by Ryan Suter, but it didn't really matter. The message was clear by getting both.

For the first time in the modern era, the Twin Cities was a major player in the free agent game.

The day Minnesota signed a top-ten forward and defenseman saw congratulations from 26 other teams and sent Wild fans everywhere running around the block in 100 degree weather (or at least I did). July 4, 2012 was a great day, however, that's last year. It shouldn't have a bearing on the 2013-14 season yet I'd be lying if I said it doesn't.

Both of the twin signings show up often - I feel like I've repeated the phrase "who signed a 13 year, $98 million contract last July,"at least fifty times over the last year - and will for the next dozen years (buyout or retiring pending). Although both Parise and Suter lived up to their dollar figures in Year 1, helping lead a Minnesota team that threatened the lottery in 2011-12 to its first postseason berth in five years, even now we still go back to that day.

That's especially true as Independence Day 2013 came and went. The first anniversary of signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter saw a reaction out of a TV clip show. The St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote something. Hockey Wilderness wrote something. Team of 18,001 wrote something.

Even the ball guys who suddenly became NHL Draft experts in July threw in their two cents.

It's funny because I'm adding to the anniversary overkill with a feature about just that. Sure, all the talk and retrospectives to an event that is too fresh to be legend can get a little annoying. In some ways it is like a crazy night out on the town. At first it can be exciting to tell the stories from that fateful evening. You can't believe the adventure and need to tell everyone.

Then as time goes on, the stories slow down and eventually stop. New ones take their place. The best of the best still get told, but those are few and far in between.

Like Silva finally tasting defeat as his showboating and arrogance, which normally have shown the 38 year-old to have ninja-like skills, ended with a loss of consciousness Saturday night. Or Murray ending decades of torture for British fans with his straight set win over Novak Djokavic. When he saw Djokavic's final shot hit the net, realizing the dreams of multiple generations who sought to see a Briton victorious at Wimbledon since Fred Perry last won in 1936, that was a moment worth reliving.

And it will. The time between British men's championships has made Murray's first Wimbledon title the stuff of legend. Same with Silva's first loss since 2006 in a sport where one wrong move is all it takes. If anything, they are closer to last year's July 4th moves - the first major free agent signings - than compared with any of Minnesota's in 2013.

Sorry Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cooke. Uproar or not, I doubt anyone will have the year one retrospective. Heck in Setoguchi (and Dany Heatley's case), the year two retrospective faded faster than a t-shirt washed too many times.

However, that's also kind of the point.

I also hope remembering the year Minnesota bucked the free agent trend to sign Ryan Suter and Zach Parise doesn't become an annual trend. If there aren't new stories or anything to build upon, annually writing about the same one gets depressing. A bright moment dulls with age. Whether or not everyone enjoyed July 4, 2012, there needs to be another legend to take its place down the line.

But for now, it's the beginning of year two with Parise and Suter. Let's hope that at this time next year that there isn't as much looking back to last year and beyond.

If it ever gets to the point where generations of Wild fans are waiting for their own Andy Murray, then watch out.


  1. Bruins fan visiting. The Suter/Parise signing reminds me very much of the day when new GM Peter Chiarelli landed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. I heard the news while on vacation in Maine through a nap on the couch and literally ran shouting with my arms raised high. Finally, Jeremy Jacobs was willing to pay players. Finally, players viewed Boston as a desirable place to sign. Gone were the days of Alexei Zhamnov - we were playing with the big boys now!

    However, the years that immediately followed were not kind. While those two players gave the Bruins a shred of dignity, the Dave Lewis Mistake landed the Bruins the #8 spot in the draft (Zach Hamill, First Round Bust). The 2006-07 Bruins managed to squeak in to the playoffs and hang around just long enough for Montreal to break our hearts.

    Things didn't really turn around for Boston until 2008-2009. That year, the Bruins finally got significant contributions from Phil Kessel, David Krejci, rookie Blake Wheeler, and the suddenly offensively-gifted Milan Lucic. If you look at the stats for that year, though, you'll realize something. Aside form Savard and Chara, most of the players who made an impact on that roster were acquired either by trade or development. The only guys acquired as UFAs who were central to their success were Michael Ryder and Tim Thomas, neither of whom were highly sought-after UFAs (especially Thomas, who had been in their system for some time). Technically, Blake Wheeler was a UFA but if you saw him play his final 40 some odd games that year, you'd know he was horrible.

    What's the point here? The point is this: free agents can put you over the top but you can't build a team through free agency. When the Bruins signed Savard and Chara, they were big names that brought a lot of attention. However, the moves that the team made a few weeks prior to their signing laid the foundation for those two guys to lead the team to contention a few years down the road. Those moves were to acquire Tuukka Rask, draft Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand in one of the best draft hauls of recent memory, bring in a competent GM, and sign Krejci to an NHL contract.

    The names and steps that followed the Chara/Savard signings were horrendous (Dave Lewis, Petr Tenkrat, Wacey Rabbit, Jason York, Stanislav Chistov). But some guys actually worked out and stuck around or turned in to valuable assets (Ference, Kobasew, Sturm, Wideman, Ward, McQuaid). There was a LOT of slinging **** at the wall for a couple of years as they found their way, but a combination of some stuff sticking to the wall and the emergence of young, homegrown players is what eventually turned a lottery team with two big name UFAs in to Stanley Cup champs.

    Fortunately for Minnesota and fans of what the Wild bring to the NHL, the scouting staff has done a fantastic job of priming the pump for future success. Mikael Granlund is a stud in waiting, Charlie Coyle is a player 29 GMs covet, Nino desperately needed a change of scenery, Dumba and Brodin are worth getting excited over, and there are a handful of forward prospects who have role player/secondary scoring upside. Add to this that the Wild have 10-11 picks in the 2014 draft.

    With strong leadership, patience, and effective coaching, I think we're going to see Minnesota emerge as a contender in the next 2-3 years.

  2. Yes, and look at the team that just beat both of your teams this year. The Blackhawks, aside from Hossa, haven't gone in for big free agent signings over the last four years--and they have two Cups to show for it. That's not to say they didn't try--some believe they were close on Suter and Parise, for example.

  3. the Wild haven't sucked enough to get back to back top-three draft picks upon which to build their franchise, unfortunately.