Souhan: Whether or not Leipold scores, at least he's in free-agent game

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 4, 2012 - 7:33 AM

The Wild might or might not sign Zach Parise today, and if it does sign Parise the move might or might not become one of the great acquisitions in Twin Cities sports history, but this much is already certain: The Wild's brain trust will receive maximum points for gumption.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold is becoming the Cal Clutterbuck of NHL owners. He might not score, but he’s willing to mix it up, whatever the cost.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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The Wild might or might not sign Zach Parise today, and if it does sign Parise the move might or might not become one of the great acquisitions in Twin Cities sports history, but this much is already certain:

The Wild's brain trust will receive maximum points for gumption, whatever Parise decides.

Craig Leipold is becoming the Cal Clutterbuck of NHL owners. He might not score. He might not win. He might not even be certain of which direction he's heading at any given time. But he's willing to mix it up, whatever the cost.

Tuesday, Parise flew home to Minnesota and politely answered questions at MSP. Meanwhile, Leipold, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo flew to Wisconsin to visit free-agent defenseman Ryan Suter.

In other words, this has been the most exciting week of any offseason in franchise history, and nothing's happening yet.

Since those goals by Andrew Brunette and Darby Hendrickson won playoff series in 2003, being a Minnesota Wild fan has been to sip of thin wild-rice soup.

The franchise hasn't won a playoff series since.

The franchise hasn't produced a 50-goal scorer. Or a 43-goal scorer.

The franchise survived by adopting Jacques Lemaire's supposedly boring, trapping style, then replaced him with two coaches who couldn't improve on his offense or match his defense.

This is a franchise that asks us to get excited about Mikko Koivu, who is as efficient as a hard drive and almost as charismatic.

This is a franchise that has employed one star -- the bland and unreliable Marian Gaborik, who, when he wasn't holding out in a contract dispute, was injuring himself playing hacky sack.

This is a franchise that does a far better job keeping its beautiful arena clean than its crease.

Being a Minnesota Wild fan has meant cheering for mid-level free agents and disappointing prospects, has meant enjoying the theater more than the movie.

Leipold is trying to change all that, in one crazy week. He is trying to become the first owner in Twin Cities history to land the No. 1 free agent on the market.

That's an un-Minnesota thing to do.

Could you imagine the Twins signing CC Sabathia, or the Timberwolves landing Chris Paul?

It's not that the other teams in town haven't spent generously. The Twins signed Kirby Puckett and Joe Mauer to precedent-setting deals, as did the Timberwolves with Kevin Garnett, but keeping your own talent is different than outbidding every other franchise in your sport to bring the No. 1 free agent on the market to the Twin Cities.

The Vikings signed a great player in Steve Hutchinson and traded for another in Jared Allen, who then agreed to a long-term deal, but Hutchinson, a guard, never could be the face of the franchise, and Allen wasn't a true free agent.

Until this summer, the Wild was the frugal neighbor in the understated city to the East that filled its driveway with Civics and Carollas and never played music loud late at night.

Today, Leipold will try to turn the volume up to 11. He will try to make the Wild a mover and shaker in the NHL and a commander of unprecedented summertime attention in the Twin Cities.

We can debate whether signing Parise to an immense contract is a good idea. He would make the Wild immediately more competitive, but the history of huge free-agent signings in pro sports is a dubious one, and Parise, like Mauer before him, is commanding huge offers because of fortuitous timing.

Committing close to $200 million to Parise and Suter could make the Wild instant contenders, or hamstring the franchise financially for the next 10 years. The future, as weather forecasters and gamblers like to say, is unknowable.

If the Wild signed Parise, he might underachieve, or suffer a career-changing injury, and turn Leipold's grand experiment into a laboratory fire.

Let's worry about that later. Today, let's praise Leipold as a Twin Cities trailblazer. So often in sports you can't control circumstance, only effort, which is why it's so heartening to watch Leipold crashing into the corner and mucking it up with the big boys.

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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