Free agent madness in my mailbag

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It's NHL mailbag-in-July time, which means a wild potpourri of your most random queries. Hockey is still very much in the news, of course, because the Minnesota Wild inked Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. That was in and of itself surprising, not just because this is what Wild owner Craig Leipold told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune just three months ago:

"We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenuethat we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries."

So Leipold's solution to his team not making any money and fixing his league's system financially was to go out and spend $196 million on two players who have never won a Stanley Cup in a combined 14 seasons of NHL play. Ryan Suter, whose career high for goals in a season is eight, was minus-16 four seasons ago with Nashville. He is now the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL.

Parise, the Minneapolis native who so tugged at the heartstrings with his "it wasn't about the money" statements before signing for nearly $100 million, is an excellent player. But he is the same player who was totally invisible in this season's Stanley Cup Final, producing one point and going minus-5 for the Devils in their six-game loss to Los Angeles.

Hey, give the guy almost $100 million -- he earned it.

The NHL is just as much off its rocker as it was eight years ago, right before the lockout when everyone said spending was out of control and there was no way the league could survive because of it. And so, naturally we have Craig Leipold spending $196 million on TWO PLAYERS.

Hey, more power to Leipold. It's his money. If Suter or Parise tear knee ligaments or suffer concussions next year, he can start to whine again about how owners pay too much in salary and need to be stopped. Until then, enjoy the Parise-Suter honeymoon, and let's move on to what's been piling up in my mailbag during the last few weeks:

Does it feel bad when you pick five key players in your crystal ball free-agent forecast and do not get them right? -- Rich, Glen Rock, N.J.

Yeah. Yeah, it feels a little bit bad. Yup. Honestly, I in no way thought there was any way that Suter or Parise would both escape the clutches of the Red Wings. Detroit is a franchise used to getting its way, and it made major plays for the two players. But the Wings finished as jilted courtiers at a red rose ceremony of The Bachelor. And so did other teams, like Nashville, whose GM David Poile went into an extended pout with the media after Suter picked Minnesota, divulging what were supposed to remain private details of their negotiations. (Isn't it delicious how NHL GMs can cut players loose any time they want (see: Richards, Mike, in Philadelphia last year), but when a player chooses to employ some hardball on them, well.....that's just an outrage isn't it?

You made a nice case for Carolina as a fit for Ryan Suter, but I don't understand the "city to raise your kids" stuff. Raleigh-Durham a better place to raise your kids than the Nashville area? Slander! Slander I say! -- Tim, Nashville

Without debating the merits of raising children in Raleigh-Durham as opposed to Nashville, your point is well taken. But if reports are to be believed, Minnesota was not the high bidder for Parise or Suter. Reports out of Philadelphia say the Flyers offered more than $100 million for each player. So Parise and Suter can technically say it wasn't all about the money. Except, it was pretty darn close to being all about the money. Detroit reportedly went only as high as $90 million for Suter, and a bit less for Parise. True, Parise can say he chose Minnesota because it is his home state -- but oh-by-the-way, he also got more money than Detroit would have given him.

Listen, good for the Wild. If there's a franchise that deserves some good fortune attracting prime free agents, it's the Wild. It was kind of nice to see the underdog, smaller-market team beat out the big boys for the top dogs. But let's not pretend money had little to do with it. As H.L. Mencken said, "When they say it's not about the money, it's about the money."

Hey, Adrian, here's a solution for the long-term contract dilemma. For any deal over five years in length, the cap hit is equal to the amount that is actually paid each year, not the average of the contract. That way, a hugely front loaded deal won't work as well because you won't be able to use "low paying" years at the end of the deal to lower the average.-- Jacques, Saskatoon, Sasketchewan, Canada

I'm on board with that, though good luck getting it past the NHLPA, which likes double-digit year, front-loaded deals. The players' union and the league will meet again this weekend for more collective bargaining talks, and it's no secret that the NHL wants to eliminate Charleston Chew contracts that stretch forever just to get the median salary down. Again, going back to what Leipold said was the problem with the league -- and then what he actually did, it's clear that owners will always flip-flop on every principle they just espoused, no problem, if it means helping their own team.

Now that teams are getting most of the top players signed, who do you think will be the top team in the league next year?-- Joanne, Nashville. TN

Really, really tough to answer that one right now. I mean, is it Minnesota with Parise and Suter? Yes, I believe they will make the Wild a much better team -- a playoff team. But are they a championship team? Sorry, I don't see it for now, and neither does my sage colleague, Michael Farber.

FARBER: Wild still not Cup-ready.

The Wild still have a mediocre defense once you get past Suter. If he couldn't win the Stanley Cup playing alongside Shea Weber with top-notch goalie Pekka Rinne behind them, how can you make Minnesota a favorite for anything right now? I'll still take Vancouver as the top points team in the Western Conference for 2012-13. The Sedins will be healthy again, and Jason Garrison has been added to their blue line. Unlike Suter, Garrison can really score goals with a big-time slapshot. The Kings won't be far behind, and please keep an eye out for the Oilers. Their forward group is just going to be unreal before long. Good luck to Suter or any other defensemen who will be trying stop it. In the East, I'll take a flyer on Philadelphia to rule. Their offensive depth is still the best, and they showed Pittsburgh in the playoffs that they can still bully them.

At least, those are my predictions for now. A few months later, we can all gather here and laugh them.