Free agent defenseman Ryan Suter’s decision to sign with the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday did more than cast a pall over the Nashville Predators.
It raised serious questions about the business side of things and exactly what it will take for the local franchise to attain and sustain status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
After all, the long-held belief was that the difference between now and the early years of the franchise is the commitment and wherewithal of the current ownership group led by Tom Cigarran. For the first time, general manager David Poile had the opportunity to spend all the way to the salary cap and had a player, Suter, who was worth the cost.
Instead, the 2003 first-round draft choice signed with the Wild, which currently is owned by original Nashville owner Craig Leipold.
That’s the same Craig Leipold who often made the Predators look like a bargain basement operation during his time here, who ordered a pre-sale salary dump in 2007 that sent the likes of goalie Tomas Vokoun, left wing Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen elsewhere just as they entered the prime of their respective careers.
“The disappointment for me comes in the reason for [Suter’s] final decision,” general manager David Poile said in a conference call Wednesday morning. “If you had told me, like in the old, old days with Timonen and Hartnell, they went to Philadelphia because we could not afford them. This was not a case of money. If you told me our franchise wasn’t tracking well, that our ownership wasn’t in a good place, that we were a team that had never made the playoffs — those were things I couldn’t fight off.
“But everything we talked about [with Suter] we were, we are or did. From that standpoint, it’s very disappointing.”
Citing family reasons, Suter accepted a 13-year offer from the Wild on Wednesday morning. He said it came down to a choice between Nashville, Minnesota and Detroit but also indicated that he considered Minnesota an option from the get-go.
Zach Parise, the top forward available and a close friend of Suter’s, also opted to sign with the Wild, also for 13 years not long after.
“This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said in a statement. “We are extremely excited to add the collective skill, experience and character of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to an already promising roster. We view this as a rare opportunity for us to transform our franchise by adding two marquee players, who are both in the prime of their careers, at the same time.
“I am grateful to Zach and Ryan and I am also thankful for the substantial commitment and support of Craig Leipold throughout this process.”
They join a club that acquired defenseman Tom Gilbert, a friend and former college teammate of Suter’s, at the February trade deadline.
Minnesota also has left wing Dany Heatley, the second overall pick in the 2000 draft and another former player at Wisconsin, and goalie Niklas Backstom on its roster. Thus, the Wild suddenly look like an upper echelon team in terms of talent.
The Predators are looking at other options.
“Ryan Suter is a hard player to replace,” Poile said. “It’s a team sport, and we’ll find a way. … We have to move on to Plan B. We would like to get a defenseman to replace Ryan. It could come as a free agent. It could come through a trade. I want to get the right player, right fit.”
Poile said he was “surprised” by the outcome.
He estimated that he had 20 to 40 conversations with Suter over the past year in regard to a long-term contract. He even said that, according to his notes from a November discussion, Suter said he intended to re-sign with the Predators, heretofore, his only NHL team.
On Sunday, the first day of the free agent signing period, Poile offered a 13-year package of his own.
“He told me that our offer was substantial,” Poile said. “It was not about the money when it came to the final decision. We did not get a chance to make a counter-offer or anything like that. He did not want that. So it was clearly not about the money.
“… It would be an understatement to say that the Nashvile Predators are disappointed at this time.”