Ryan Suter had known this day was going to come since the Fourth of July, the day he signed with the Wild. Now it’s just a matter of getting through it.
Maybe that’s why Suter, the Wild defenseman, sounded just a bit like a guy describing a visit to the dentist. It’s no fun, but it’s necessary. Saturday night in Nashville, Suter, wearing a Wild uniform, will take the ice before fans who watched him over his first seven NHL seasons.
It probably won’t be pretty.
The circumstances surrounding Suter’s decision to sign a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild over the summer are well known. Suter and his wife wanted to be closer to their hometowns. Suter and Zach Parise decided they wanted to play together.
Predators General Manager David Poile cried foul. He said Suter had said he wanted to return to Nashville, and promised the Predators a chance to meet or beat any offer he got.
Suter, of course, already has rehashed all of this. The Wild and Predators already have played twice this season, on Jan. 29 — the Wild’s third game of the season — and Feb. 9.
But this is his first game back in Nashville.
And the town has been getting ready; local radio stations have been pumping the game up for days. When Suter hits the ice he fully expects to be booed.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of signs [in the crowd],” he said. “But that’s part of it. They’re fans. That is their right. …. But who cares? They can do whatever they want. It’s not going to affect me.”
The Predators have a tradition of welcoming back former players who left through free agency with grace. Players such as Joel Ward, Dan Hamhuis, Paul Kariya and Scott Hartnell, among others, were greeted with video tributes when they came to play in Nashville with opposing teams.
It’s likely to be different this time.
“I’m not expecting anything,” Suter said. “If it happens, it happens. But I don’t expect it.”
It’s a business
It’s clear Suter was surprised at Nashville’s reaction last summer. Asked about it again, he tried very hard to be diplomatic.
“I’d say they were disappointed, obviously, with my decision,” he said. “And I can’t fault them for that.”
But he will admit he wishes the Predators had handled the situation differently.
“Probably,” he said. “But that was their decision.”
As for Suter’s choice? It’s not something he regrets.
“I’m happy with the decision,” he said. “I’m happy being here. I think our team has a lot of potential. … Five or six players have left [Nashville], they came back and nothing was ever made of it. This is getting a lot of attention, and I don’t see a difference. But a team can trade a guy at any time, or cut a guy. That’s how the business is.”
On a bit of a roll
Suter returns to Nashville playing well. He is tied for fourth among NHL defensemen with 14 assists, with 10 coming in his past 12 games. He is first in the league in ice time (27 minutes, 27 seconds per game).
“It probably doesn’t hurt,” Suter said, smiling. “If I was stinking it up they’d probably said, ‘Don’t you wish you were here?’ All that kind of stuff.”
As it is, there will be nerves. “I didn’t think I’d be that nervous until I actually showed up at the rink here,” Suter said to reporters after Friday’s practice in Nashville.
But, Suter said, he’s not really spending much time trying to figure out what folks in Nashville are saying. That’s counterproductive, a waste of time. Suter knows his return Saturday might not be particularly pleasant or warm, but it’s something he has to deal with. And then move on.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “You could read 100 things of people saying bad things, and find some good things, too, I’m sure. It’s not like I’m a 20-year veteran, but I’ve been in the league long enough to know you’re going to go through different things. Can’t get too high or low, right?”