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Continued: Wild's Suter changes on the fly

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 22, 2013 - 6:20 AM

The Wild schedule was released 10 days ago, and Ryan Suter immediately looked to see when he would play the Nashville Predators.

"I was like, 'Oh, man. Right away,' " said the new Wild defenseman, uneasiness written on his face. "There will be a lot of emotions for that game. I'm still close with a lot of guys on Nashville."

Before this season, Suter had known one coach -- Barry Trotz -- and one general manager -- David Poile -- his entire NHL career. Whenever he looked to his right, there was the comfort of seeing defensive partner Shea Weber.

But now, for the first time since signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild, Suter will be going up against the franchise that drafted him seventh overall in 2003. He still catches himself referring to "them" as "we."

"I'm looking forward to beating them, hopefully," Suter said.

All-Stars Suter and Weber, who stayed in Nashville after the Predators were forced to match a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet from Philadelphia last summer, are trying to adjust to life without each other.

Weber scored 19 goals and had 49 points last season. His new partner is 22-year-old Roman Josi.

Suter had a career-high 46 points and logged 26 1/2 minutes a game last season, third-highest in the NHL. His new partner is 23-year-old Jared Spurgeon.

Weber is 27, an intimidating specimen at 6-4 and 232 pounds. He has played in three All-Star Games and an Olympic Games, is a two-time first-team All-Star and is a former Norris Trophy finalist.

Spurgeon is 5-9 and 185 pounds soaking wet and is friendly and approachable. He is a free-agent pickup on an entry-level deal after the Islanders didn't sign the sixth-round draft pick. Spurgeon is respected by Wild management and coach Mike Yeo.

But he is no Shea Weber.

"My buddies tell me I have big shoes to fill," Spurgeon said, smiling. "At the start, when Mike called me last summer to say I'd be playing with Ryan, I was feeling pressure. But once he came here and getting to talk to him, you can tell how down to Earth he is."

Yeo jokingly called Spurgeon "the boy genius" last week because it was the teenage-looking Spurgeon, who has been in the NHL 1 1/2 years, helping teach Suter the system when coaches weren't allowed on the ice leading into training camp.

"I've done the same thing for the last eight years. The system, the practices, the drills, they're all new, so Spurg has been helping me big-time," Suter said. "I noticed him last year when we would come and play Minnesota.

"He's a good player. I didn't know that he was this good. He's smooth, good with the puck. Guys would always give him his rap, 'Oh he's small,' but he's got a great stick and he's a great skater and so smart, and that makes up for everything. For me playing with Spurg, he's going to help me a lot. I think I can help him a lot."

Change in scenery

Suter left Nashville for a number of reasons that actually had less to do with the $98 million and more to do with the 13-year term he could have gotten from a number of teams, including Detroit and Nashville.

When you're committing essentially the rest of your career and a good chunk of your life to a market, numerous factors come into play beyond money.

Behind the scenes, Zach Parise and Suter decided they wanted to play together.

"It was a big thing for Zach and me that we decided to do this together," Suter said. "I think he's one of the most underrated players in the league. I always get into battles debating people. They say, 'Who do you think is the best?' I'd always say him, and I'd be given the hardest time for it.

"But just watch him play."

Like the Minneapolis-born Parise, a preferred lifestyle was an influence in Suter's choice. To spend potentially 13 years in one spot, Suter had to decide where he wanted to settle down and raise his family.

Minnesota was perfect because Suter hails from Madison, Wis., a short drive to the Twin Cities for his family. And his wife, Becky, is from Bloomington.

Next, he says, "were the guys they have coming up. I mean, we know about Mikko [Koivu] and a lot of their already good players, but we've heard about [Mikael] Granlund and that [Jason] Zucker and [Charlie] Coyle and the defenseman, [Jonas] Brodin. We know we can win here for a long time.

"The hockey market here played a huge part of it, too. And, I know [owner] Craig [Leipold] wants to win."

Some hard feelings

Suter's first call, after choosing the Wild, was to Weber.

"I was in communication throughout whole thing with Shea," Suter said. "He's a great player, good guy, and a really close friend of mine. We still text all the time."

Poile was next, and he didn't take Suter's departure well. Poile voiced frustration to reporters, saying he was "not only disappointed but very surprised. Over the last year I've had literally, 20, 30, 40 conversations with Ryan and his representative, mostly with Ryan about our desire to sign him to a long-term deal and the importance to the Predators hockey club. This could have gone down as the best defensive pair ever in NHL history [with Weber]. They were certainly heading that way."

Suter was stung.

"I have a lot of respect for David," Suter said. "He's done a lot of things for me, gave me my chance, he's helped me along the way with a lot of things. He's a great person. I thought he would have handled it differently. But emotions run high. He had a lot riding on me.

"Looking back now, hopefully, I don't know if he'll ever accept my decision, but hopefully he understands why I made it."

Poile told the Tennessean newspaper on Monday: "It's time to move on. I have nothing bad to say about Ryan. He was a terrific player for us. When I get to see him, I'll shake his hand. ... If I was emotional, I don't make any apologies for that. It was disappointing the way it turned out for us."

Now Suter is trying to adjust to life in Minnesota after a chaotic few weeks. He has family everywhere, "although we've done a good job of saying, 'Hey, when we want you to come by, we'll invite ya,' " he said.

On the ice, Suter also is adjusting. He wasn't happy with his play in Saturday's opener and is trying to chisel Nashville's system, which became as natural as walking, out of his brain.

"There's only a few differences in systems, but if I screw them up, then they're huge things," he said, laughing. "They're minor things and they should be easy for me, and now that I'm feeling good, hopefully they will be."

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  • WILD DEFENSEMAN RYAN SUTER

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