By Dave Waddell -
I guess $90 million just doesn’t get you what it used to.
That’s the sum the Detroit Red Wings tossed at free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter over 13 years, but it wasn’t enough to convince him to join Detroit rather than Minnesota. A nearly-as-fat contract was offered to Suter’s pal Zach Parise, but he too opted to join the Wild and play in his hometown.
Instead, the duo each accepted 13-year deals worth $98 million US from the Wild. That works out to an annual cap hit of $7.538 million per season.
“We made good offers to Ryan and Zach,” Wings’ general manager Ken Holland said. “They wanted to go home. You can’t compete with family.
“Parise and Sutter, we didn’t offer $200 million for the two of them, but the money we had on the table was significant. It was competitive.”
Ultimately the Wings couldn’t offer what Suter and Parise wanted most. In this instance, hockey was like real estate – it was location, location, location.
Parise bolted from New Jersey to play in his hometown and Suter moved closer to his home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Suter’s wife is also from Minneapolis.
Suter and Parise will receive $25 million in signing bonuses. They’ll receive $10 million US now, $10 million July 1, 2013 and $5 million July 1, 2014.
The first bonus payment will be protected from any rollbacks that might occur in the new CBA being negotiated this summer.
For the Wings, rejection of this magnitude is an unusual experience. For Detroit fans being runner-ups to the Wild, a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, has never won a Cup and was a disaster after the 30-game mark last season, these developments are difficult to digest.
While the Wings always thought a sweep of the two top free agents available was a dream scenario, they thought they had a real shot at Suter.
“Obviously disappointed to get the news,” Holland said. “In both cases we were told we were down to a small number of teams.
“In Suter’s case we felt good about the offer, it was in the ballpark of what he signed for. We went to Madison, Mr. Ilitch, Mike Babcock, Chris Chelios and I told him what we were all about, why we wanted Ryan to join us.”
However, home proved where the heart was for both players.
The duo’s decision also follows on highly-touted defenseman Justin Schultz’s decision to spurn offers from hockey’s tradition powers to join the Edmonton Oilers – a locale that has traditionally found it very difficult to attract top quality free agents.
It emphasizes Holland’s long-held belief about the multiple impacts the salary cap has had. With the money available equally dispersed among the teams, other factors are gaining importance in a player’s decision where to play.
Detroit had an advantage in past years with their star-studded line-ups that drew players at discounts. That advantage disappeared with Nick Lidstrom over the horizon in May.
“The Lidstroms, Yzermans, Shanahans, Fedorovs are gone,” Holland said. “Those days of star-studded line-ups are gone in the salary cap era.”
Having lost out on the top free agents on their list, the Wings now must regroup and decide how they want to approach the task of filling the voids left by the departure of defensemen Brad Stuart and Lidstrom.
Detroit would also like to bolster its scoring punch with a top-six forward.
“I don’t know if I have a priority,” said Holland of his next move.
In assessing what’s left in the free-agent market, Holland wants to avoid paying a lot more money for players that aren’t appreciably better than what the Wings have.
“If you look at the players we have, other than just paying more…” Holland said before cutting himself off. “There’s also got to be an opportunity for some of our kids and the guys we’ve just signed to play.”
Even though he still has $17 million in cap space to play with, Holland isn’t inclined to play the drunken sailor with his cash. The remaining crop of free agents doesn’t contain any impact players.
Holland said he’s not going to panic into rash moves and believes the Wings still are a playoff contender as is. He said he’ll use all summer to build his team if need be.
“We’ll continue to explore free agency and talk to teams about trades,” Holland said.
“I think we have a lot of pieces in place. We also got some younger players who have been good players at every other level. We feel, with the moves we made on July 1, we got some depth.
“We don’t have as many high-profile players as in the past, but we got a younger team, a faster team. We got some cap space. We’ll explore.”
What he’s hoping to find is a veteran defenseman.
“We need one defenseman, we’d like to have a veteran,” Holland said.
“Up front, we’ll have to be offense by committee. If you get enough people to chip in with goals.”
Regardless of whatever signings or trades he makes, Holland said part of the solution has to be internal growth.
“We’re looking at Quincey, Ericsson, Smith, Nyquist developing,” Holland said.
“We have to have internal growth and development. That has to be part of the solution.
“Any team that has Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Filppula, Franzen, Kronwall, Howard, Helm on it isn’t a bad team.
“We have also added Tootoo, Samuelsson, Brunner and Gustavsson. They’re not sexy signings, but they’re good fits for our team.”
However, it would be surprising if the Wings entered training camp with just the 14 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies currently listed on their NHL roster knowing they had immense salary cap space sitting unused.
The Wings reportedly are already doing that kicking the tires on Rick Nash, but it seems unlikely Columbus would do such a deal with Detroit. No doubt the Wings will hear from Anaheim regarding Bobby Ryan now that the Suter-Parise sweepstakes are over.
Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle is also allegedly available.
Former Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle was the ‘Plan B’ for teams missing out on Suter, yet he ended up signing a six-year, $33 million deal with Tampa Bay late on July 4. It was hard to see the Wings paying Carle more than Niklas Kronwall, who is a better player and will make $4.75 million US next season.
Probably a more likely fit in Detroit would be St. Louis’s free-agent defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who made just under $3 million last season.
Should Phoenix forward Shane Doan declare himself on the market Monday, the Wings would certainly be interested.
The most skilled free-agent forward remaining is also the most puzzling. Washington’s Alexander Semin has produced numbers in recent seasons comparable to Parise’s, but his reputation regarding character and work ethic has been a punching bag for critics.
Would the Wings’ gamble that the highly-respected Pavel Datsyuk could bring him in line? The Wings might not be willing to risk a long-term contract on that wager.
“I think regardless of what happens here the next couple of weeks, we’ll go into camp as a work in progress,” Holland said.
“That’s a lot different than the past 15 years around here.”