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Minnesota Wild now a model franchise and legit contender

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were top prospects in 2003 and now they're back together with the Minnesota Wild. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI)

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Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were top prospects in 2003 and now they're back together with the Minnesota Wild. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI)

These two are for you, Norm Green.

The Benedict Arnold of the Minnesota hockey scene – a.k.a. the former owner of the North Stars who relocated the franchise to Dallas in 1993 – had to be on the minds of long-time local puck-lovers as the Wild signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to gargantuan contracts and became the biggest winners so far this off-season.

That the team landed the top two unrestricted free agents this summer – signing them both to 13-year, $98-million contracts – represents more-than-adequate karmic payback for all the misery Minnesotans endured during Green’s shady tenure, not to mention the near deadly boredom of the defense-and-little-else decade of the Wild franchise under Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire. More than that, though, the double-whammy signing has repercussions that will affect a slew of franchises pressured to improve and improve quickly.

The arrivals of the former New Jersey star left winger and ex-Nashville cornerstone defenseman instantly make Minnesota a major player in the Western Conference and create massive holes in the teams they’re leaving behind. The Devils and Preds won’t be able to replace their skills and both teams are much more likely to be life-and-death for a playoff spot in 2012-13. As well, the rumblings of Preds franchise player and current restricted free agent Shea Weber leaving Nashville as a UFA next summer will only grow from here on.

Parise and Suter’s decision to join the Wild also has turned the Northwest into one of the league’s most competitive divisions and made all the moves undertaken by Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Colorado pale in comparison. (As I said on Twitter, the Wild’s signings make the Flames look like a woman who’s spent a month’s salary on a fancy party dress, only to show up at the party to see supermodel Heidi Klum wearing the same outfit.) Moreover, the Wild signings will make Matt Carle (the best remaining UFA defenseman) a rich man – think of the five-year, $26.25-million deal Calgary gave Wideman last week as a starting point – and could result in the Nick Lidstrom-less Detroit Red Wings taking a long, hard look at acquiring (gulp) Jay Bouwmeester.

But for Wild fans who spent so much time trying to drum up positive energy watching the likes of Antti Laaksonen, Benoit Pouliot and Darby Hendrickson, this day must feel like nirvana. Finally, the intense and lasting love the state has for the sport has been rewarded – and not just through a trade, but through the personal choice of players who could have signed anywhere.

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Parise and Suter represent the vindication of Fletcher’s vision for the team, which includes star center Mikko Koivu and top prospects Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Matt Hackett. Yes, both will be under immense pressure to live up to their contracts (Parise likely more than Suter, given his status as a Minnesota kid), but this is not a situation where two stars are joining a team that’s starting from scratch.

No, the Wild are starting to resemble the model of what an NHL franchise has to be in the salary-capped world – efficient at drafting and developing young players, patient while those youngsters learn the ups and downs of the pro game and prepared to step up and pay up when a golden opportunity arises. They’re not yet a threat along the lines of Sidney Crosby’s Penguins or Claude Giroux’s Flyers, but they’re much closer to that point today than they were yesterday.

So here’s to the Wild and their fans. The patience, politeness and persistence Minnesotans are known for have landed their team the biggest free agent fish to hit the market in quite a while. Despite what we see on the news every day, this shows you that great things can still happen to great people.

Put that in your carpet-bagging pipe and choke on it, Mr. Green.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His Power Rankings appear Mondays, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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