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Wild owner Craig Leipold, left, Ryan Suter, center, and Zach Parise were all smiles Monday. All are counting on the millions that changed hands leading to winning a Stanley Cup.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Souhan: Leipold going to great lengths to produce a winner

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • July 10, 2012 - 9:47 PM

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed with the Wild for 13 years.

Thirteen years. That's like a marriage, only longer.

The "A" each wore on his new Wild jersey on Monday must stand for "Always."

Thirteen-year contracts are hard to fathom. Most free-agent contracts are about what the players and teams can do for each other right now.

The guy gets paid. The team gets pub. Everyone promises to try to win right away. Three or four or six years later, both sides move on, often with hard feelings.

Free agency is speed-dating for rich people. The relationship between the Wild and its two new stars is more like a mortgage. A really expensive mortgage.

Monday, Parise and Suter joined the Wild brain trust at a dais for their introductory press conference. If Parise and Suter fulfill their goals of finishing their career with the Wild, how many of the people in the audience and in the Wild organization will be there to see their farewell ceremony?

If the Wild underwent the customary NHL turnover in the next 13 years, Parise and Suter could play for four coaches, three general managers and two owners.

Unless coach Mike Yeo and General Manager Chuck Fletcher start winning, Parise and Suter, both of whom have no-trade clauses, are likely to outlast them. If something goes wrong with this plan, Parise and Suter may wind up making more profit per year than owner Craig Leipold.

"It's investment spending," Leipold said. "We knew we had to make something happen."

Leipold is not only right, he should become the patron saint of Minnesota sports owners.

Anyone who lived through the payroll purges of the late-'90s Twins and the post-Kevin Garnett Timberwolves knows that they only thing more expensive than good free agents is not signing any.

But 13 years? That's the length of 72 Kardashian marriages, or 41 Brett Favre press conferences.

How long is 13 years? Thirteen years ago, the Twins had yet to be threatened with contraction, Kevin McHale had just made an under-the-table deal with Joe Smith, Randall Cunningham was playing quarterback for the Vikings and the Wild did not yet exist.

Last season, Yeo's team collapsed while he tried every motivational tactic short of making his players listen to Skip Bayless after losses. Now he'll be coaching guys who can get him fired, either because they have raised expectations or because they don't like him.

"Should I try to make a deal?" Yeo joked. "Try to be here as long as they are?

"That's OK. The reason why you give a commitment like that to those two types of guys is because they're quality human beings, they're competitors and they want to win."

The Wild immediately offered 13-year deals when free agency began.

"We figured if they wanted to talk shorter terms they could, but we wanted to let them know we wanted them to be here for the rest of their careers," Fletcher said. "We were all in. I expect these guys to be playing right through the end of it.''

Fletcher said 13-year contracts were the longest possible because of the way the collective bargaining agreement regards 40-year-old players. You get the feeling they would have offered 15-year deals if they could have.

"Does it worry me?" Leipold said. "Hey, every season, every player, every contract worries me."

Then he chuckled and said, "This one probably worries me a little bit more."

While Leipold beamed and fretted like a proud father handing car keys to his 16-year-old, former owner Bob Naegele watched the news conference from the wings.

In 2005, Naegele fielded an entire NHL team with a payroll of $23 million. This summer, Leipold will spend that much on bonuses due Parise, Suter and Mikko Koivu.

Leipold is banking on Parise and Suter as players, human beings, recruiters, tutors, marketers and spokesmen.

Most of all, Leipold has to hope they really like winning. Because while most of us are motivated by future paychecks and the vague hope of job security and a decent retirement, Parise and Suter are set for life. Or at least as far into life as any of us can pretend to see.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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