Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Minnesota Wild free agent signings history.
Minnesota Wild Free Agent Hits and Misses
Best Signing: Eric Staal
— theScore (@theScore) July 1, 2016
Who doesn’t love a good career renaissance? That is what the Wild got when they signed Eric Staal to a three-year $10.5 million dollar contract. That is why it is the best of the Minnesota Wild free agent signings. The long-time Carolina Hurricane captain was coming off a very poor rental appearance with the New York Rangers. The thought was the power forward’s best days were behind him. So the Wild were getting Staal at a bargain. Boy did he deliver on this deal.
All Staal did in the three years was score 92 goals and 193 points in 245 games. In the 2017-18 season, he score 42 goals, good for (tied) fourth in the league. He was named to his fifth All-Star game and played in his 1,000 game. Pretty good production for a player on a $3.5 million AAV. The deal worked out so well that Staal re-signed for two years once his contract was up.
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Honourable Mention: Ryan Suter
Ryan Suter was absolutely a candidate for the best Minnesota Wild free agent signings, but he will have to settle for ‘runner-up’. In 2012, Suter signed a shocking 13-year $98 million contract with the Wild. It was a massive deal and Suter lived up to the expectations attached to a contract that big. He played in three All-Star games, was named a first-team All-Star (2013), was nominated for the Norris Trophy and set the Wild record for most points by a defenceman in a single season (51).
Signing a contract that big for that long has its risks, however. After his ninth season with the Wild, Suter was bought out. Despite his excellent play, the team had not achieved as much success as hoped. The team decided they needed to go in a new direction and the 36-year-old Suter was not part of the future.
Worst Signing: Zach Parise
Package deal: Zach Parise, Ryan Suter sign 13-year, $98 million deals with Minnesota Wild | Puck Daddy – Yahoo! Sports http://t.co/D1EtVUMZ
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) July 4, 2012
In a somewhat controversial decision, the worst signing in Wild history is Zach Parise. When the Wild signed Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year $98 million dollar contracts, it raised eyebrows. While both were elite players, it was going to be nearly impossible to live up to those deals. Ryan Suter, to his credit, was worth the contract. Parise, unfortunately, was not.
This is not an attack on the player Zach Parise was/is. It’s just that for the contract he signed, he was not worth the money. When he signed, Parise had scored at least 30 goals in five of his last six seasons with the New Jersey Devils. That included a 45-goal, 94-point season in 2009. Parise finished fifth in league scoring and third in goal scoring. He looked to be an elite goal-scorer and point producer in the league.
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With the Wild, Parise only surpassed 30 goals one time and only surpassed 60 points twice in his nine seasons in Minnesota. He played relatively well, but when spending the kind of money the Wild did on a player, they were expecting top-tier production. Parise did not provide that. He was good but not great. After nine seasons, the Wild decided to buy out the remaining four years of Parise’s contract.
Honourable Mention: Matt Cooke
The singing of Matt Cooke was a disaster for a few reasons. One thing was his best days were behind him. The other was the optics. Cooke was a controversial player at the time. He had his game heavily scrutinized by fans, media and players. He was a dirty player who had been suspended multiple times. His conduct was so bad he even had teammates calling him out. After multiple suspensions and criticism, Cooke vowed to change his ways.
The Wild signed Cooke to a three-year $7.5 million dollar contract in 2013. Not an absurd contract but still, Cooke was a controversial player. Everyone was watching to see if he had truly changed his game. Statistically, Cooke scored 10 goals and 28 points. He kept his nose clean during the regular season. In the playoffs, however, he delivered a knee-on-knee hit to Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche. Barrie would miss six to eight weeks with a knee injury. For the incident, Cooke was suspended for seven games.
The following year, Cooke’s play fell off as he struggled with injury. He only played in 29 games scoring four goals and 10 points. In the off-season, Cooke was placed on waivers and bought out of his contract. Matt Cooke never played in the NHL after that.