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Numbers Game: Wild win sweepstakes, sign Parise, Suter

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Scott Cullen
7/4/2012 1:05:15 PM
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In a summer with precious few difference-makers available in free agency, the Minnesota Wild managed to land the two most coveted free agents.

Numbers Game breaks down the Wild signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

The Wild Get: LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter.

Parise, who turns 28 later this month, was the most desirable free agent forward on the market, coming off a season in which he scored 69 points while playing a career-high 21:29 per game for New Jersey. While Parise's numbers were solid, it's worth noting that he was a career-worst minus-5 and, as much as anything, what he accomplished in 2011-2012 is that he returned to good health after knee surgery limited him to just 13 games the year before.

That knee injury limits Parise's comparable numbers over the last six seasons, but he does have some impressive credentials nonetheless.

Over the last six years Parise is:

One of 22 players have played at least 80 games in at least five of those seasons;

One of six players with at least five seasons in which they scored at least 30 goals;

One of 20 players to record at least 60 points in at least five of those six seasons.

With that level of consistency, it's no surprise that Parise was sought-after as a free agent. He plays a relentless yet clean game and is the face-of-the-franchise type of performer that every team could use. Those credentials put Parise in great demand and, with great demand for one's services, comes a substantial price.

In Minnesota, Parise should join Mikko Koivu on the top line, perhaps with rookie Mikael Granlund on the right side, giving the Wild a potent number one line and possibly leaving Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi (or Pierre-Marc Bouchard, if he's healthy) to man the wings on the second line, which would lead to more favourable matchups.

Losing Parise leaves a large hole in the Devils lineup. They still have Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias as returning 30-goal scorers, but they will need both continued production from David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus as well as a big return from centre Travis Zajac to help offset the lost production. Of course, the Devils could also address their offensive needs through free agency, at least as long as a proven scorer like Alexander Semin remains available.

Suter, 27, has been one of the game's best all-around blueliners, though somewhat overshadowed in Nashville by defence partner Shea Weber.

Suter is one of seven defencemen to play at least 25 minutes per game in each of the last two seasons and ranks 11th among defencemen with 167 points over the last four seasons.

According to the advanced metrics on www.behindthenet.ca, Suter played against the highest quality of competition (5-on-5) among all defencemen that played at least 40 games last season.

In Minnesota, Suter is a major upgrade for a defence corps sorely in need of an infusion of skill. Tom Gilbert, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella and company have talent, but none is at Suter's level.

Nashville's defence is left in a state of flux by Suter's departure. Shea Weber remains, but he's a restricted free agent and, seeing how this situation played out, the Predators can hardly afford to lose Weber for nothing as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Beyond the Weber issue, the Predators do have some promising young blueliners, including Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Kevin Klein, Mattias Ekholm and Jonathon Blum, but there is a difference between a young defenceman with potential and one in the prime of his career that has been playing tough minutes against the league's best forwards on a nightly basis.

Both Parise and Suter signed for $98-million over 13 years, a massive commitment. Even if both remain elite players into their mid-30s, there could be several years at the end of those deals in which their production doesn't live up to the cap hit.

On the other hand, and this is of major importance when assessing contracts of this length, a cap hit of $7.538-million per season isn't going to be nearly as significant when weighed against the ever-increasing salary cap in five years, let alone eight, 10 or 13 years from now.

In the immediate future, though, the Minnesota Wild have a chance to be a contender. They've added two blue-chip players to a team that has one of the strongest crops of prospects, so there is a sustainable base in place for the organization.

It's a big day in Minnesota, potentially something that can change the direction of a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008.

If that allows the Wild to be a consistent playoff team with possible championship aspirations over the next decade, which is entirely possible, then paying the free agent premium for these two stars will be worth it.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Ryan Suter (Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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