By Allan Muir
July 04, 2012

The Minnesota Wild joined the NHL in 2000. They finally became a team worth watching on Wedneday afternoon.

The Wild became relevant with a stunning coup, outslugging the big boys to sign both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the only free agents who really mattered this summer.

The terms for both were reported to be 13 years, $98 million.

The idea that the two would package themselves had been a topic of speculation for months, but the reality of it is still shocking.

And of all teams it's the Minnesota Wild: beloved in St. Paul, another pair of Tuesday night tickets you can't give away everywhere else.

This was supposed to end so much differently.

Suter, a smart, stay-at-home defender, was seen as a natural fit for the void created by the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom on Detroit's blue line.

Parise, a gritty, crafty winger with tremendous leadership skills, would surely be tempted by visions of multiple Stanley Cup runs and a fast track to the Hall of Fame skating alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh.

Or they could have just stayed where they were. Both had strong ties to teammates and communities after seven years, and both were heavily courted by the former teams.

Instead, the old friends decided to sign with a club that hasn't had a sniff of the playoffs over the past four seasons.

Crazy? Maybe not so much.

Maybe it was the chance to go home that made Minnesota the right choice. Parise was born in Minneapolis while his father, J.P., played for the old North Stars. Suter, a native of Madison who still has a farm there, is as close to home as he can get.

Maybe it was just the chance to play with old friends. Parise and Suter have long been close, with Parise saying it would be a "dream" to play together. The Wild also sweetened the pot, signing Jake Dowell, a buddy of both players, to a deal yesterday afternoon.

No way to view that contract as anything other than a favor. Dowell is a ham-fisted plugger whose time in Dallas was unremarkably spent as an occasional fourth line fill-in, and whose" highlight" moment might have been an early-February no-look backhand pass through the middle that was picked off by Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak and deposited behind Kari Lehtonen about three seconds later. There doesn't appear to be a spot for him on the roster, but the gesture was clear.

Or maybe it was the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of something that has a chance to be special. The Wild is set in net with Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding. They have strength down the middle, and they have an excellent supply of talent in the pipeline including Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin.

The club also added fourth line brawler/faceoff specialist Zenon Kenopka and third-line speedster Torrey Mitchell earlier this week, making the Wild deeper and more balanced than they've ever been.

They're not ready to challenge yet, but as their blistering pre-Christmas pace suggests, they're not that far off, either.

Add in one of the most passionate fan bases in the league and a town that's very livable, and the Wild had to look pretty good to a couple of guys looking to settle in for the rest of their careers.

So yeah, there were easier, more glamorous paths for both players to take. That they didn't makes this a feel-good result.

Of course, it probably doesn't feel that great everywhere around the league.

The Devils had to see this coming. They were in the running for Parise right to the end, but there was an expectation that he would look elsewhere given the team's precarious financial situation. They can't be too surprised.

But in Nashville, there have to be a lot of broken hearts. GM David Poile did everything he could to prevent Suter's departure. He signed Pekka Rinne to a long-term deal. He went all in at the deadline to bolster the team's chances for a deep playoff run. And he certainly showed Suter the money.

Now he's lost one half of the best defensive tandem in the league and he faces the strong possibility of losing the other half as well. Shea Weber is a restricted free agent this summer, and with his partner gone the Norris Trophy finalist has to think long and hard about whether Nashville continues to be a place where he can thrive. That's not his only consideration, either. There's no way of telling how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will address free agency in terms of age eligibility, contract duration and other factors. If he goes for a bridge contract instead of a long-term deal, Poile will have no choice but to put him up for bids. He simply can't afford to lose both players for nothing.

That's just one of the compelling side bars to these signings. With Parise and Suter sewn up, there's sure to be a number of other dormant deals set in motion.

Matt Carle, everyone's free agent Plan B on defense, is going to be a very rich man very soon. The Wings have to be considered the favorite to retain his services, although the Predators will be aggressive in an attempt to back-fill Suter's roster spot. Detroit also is thought to be interested in winger Alex Semin, a player who seems unlikely to truly fit into any other system.

It's also expected that trade talks involving for Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan will heat up. Philadelphia, a team that really needs help on the blue line, is said to be in the running for both. So are the Rangers, Red Wings and possibly, the Bruins.

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