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Updated: July 4th, 2012 4:33pm
Zulgad: Trip to see Ryan Suter helped Wild land big-name free agents

Zulgad: Trip to see Ryan Suter helped Wild land big-name free agents

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The working theory from this corner during the Minnesota Wild's pursuit of free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter was that the former might have to talk the latter into calling Xcel Energy Center home.

If Parise wanted to play for the Wild, and as it turns out he did, he was the one who has a home in Orono and he was the guy whose father, J.P. Parise, played for the North Stars and still lives here.

But shortly after it was announced Wednesday that the Wild had landed the two biggest names on the free-agent market, owner Craig Leipold told 1500 ESPN that the team felt in recent days that it was making more traction in its pursuit of Suter than it was with Parise.

"Hey listen, if we were going to get Ryan Suter that's fantastic," Leipold said. "That's absolutely fantastic. Then we started getting traction with Zach Parise and pretty soon we realized, 'Hey, we might get both of these guys.'"

While there was much discussion about whether Parise and Suter would be a package deal, Leipold said it wasn't until he, general manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo took a trip to Suter's home near Madison, Wis., on Tuesday that the realization hit that the Wild might hit this type of home run.

Leipold called that trip aboard his chartered plane - they first went to International Falls to pick up Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy - "really key."

"We got there and the reports are pretty accurate," Leipold said. "The Red Wings plane was there and they were before us so we were very, very nervous about that. But it was good to see him, for him to see us, for us to talk to Ryan about what we wanted to do, what we were building.

"He kind of knew everything anyway because he had paid a lot of attention to it. He was even, we were talking to him, and he's text messaging Zach and it was really at that point that (we knew) we're going to drive this deal and we're going to make this thing happen. Within two hours it really kind of came together."

Parise, a top-line winger, was the final piece of the puzzle and he said yes at about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Late Wednesday morning the Wild announced both players had agreed to terms on 13-year contracts. Parise left the New Jersey Devils; Suter, a defenseman, departs from the Nashville Predators. The reported worth of both contracts is $98 million and Leipold said that, "both (players) were offered more money by other teams." Those offers exceeded $100 million in some cases.

"But they wanted to go together and we just happened to be the team that they wanted to go to," Leipold said. "At some point, we're dealing with two marquee players and then they have different agents. The fun part of this is that (Tuesday), when we realized we just weren't making progress moving forward, the two players got together and they made the deal. They cut the deal between themselves.

"They then called their agents, who by the way, I will tell you, complained tremendously with us. That it wasn't enough, it had to be more. 'You guys said that you would go higher on this player and this player.' They said, 'You guys are reneging,' and we're saying, 'Hey, it's your player. Your player is happy, you should be happy that your player is happy.'"

Free agency began at 11 a.m. on Sunday and Leipold said the three days between that time and the decisions by Parise and Suter were both "stressful," and, "kind of up and down."

"But I'll tell you, as much stress as I was in, Chuck was in three times as much stress and you could see it in Chuck," Leipold said.

Expectations now will soar for the Wild, who were banking on an influx of young talent to improve their team next season. Now, that young talent can be brought along at a more gradual pace as Parise and Suter help run the show.

Leipold said the opportunity to take pressure off players such as Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin and Jason Zucker wasn't lost on the Wild's management.

"That did not go unnoticed by our group as well that it clearly will now move a lot of the publicity from Granlund, Coyle, Brodin and Zucker over to these two players and so let them kind of grow within themselves, be nurtured by our other players," Leipold said. "That's the right way to develop these guys and so no question this will move the spotlight away from Mikael Granlund's first day. It's now about Ryan and it's about Zach." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Mike Yeo
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