On July 3, 2012, I was part of a Star Tribune stakeout of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in hopes of tracking down Zach Parise.
I was stationed near baggage claim, ready to accost one the Minnesota native and one of the NHL’s hottest free agents, with the obvious question: So, are you going to sign here?
About 25 minutes into the quest, Parise and his wife Alisha – at the time his fiancé – descended an escalator. I peppered him with questions, which he graciously answered (twice, in fact, for a couple of them after I botched a very shaky phone video the first time and asked him for a second go-round in which my thumb appears in the corner but which was still picked up nationally).
The upshot was that he said he hadn’t made a decision yet, but it sure seemed like momentum was building. A day later, Parise and Ryan Suter signed those twin 13-year, $98 million contracts that have come to define the Wild for about 7.5 years – a fitting number since that’s also roughly the cap hit for both players in each of those 13 seasons.
The goal that day was clear: Return the Wild beyond relevancy and bring the Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey for more than just those ceremonial one-day visits opposing native players have in the summers after they win it.
If the dual signings represented a swing for the fences, to borrow a baseball term often broadly applied to other topics and sports, the acquisitions of Parise and Ryan Suter have amounted more to a medium-deep fly ball caught just short of the warning track.
An impressive sellout streak and six consecutive trips to the playoffs … but just two playoff series wins to show for it, and a trophy case has never come close to housing the Cup. Now a backslide, and maybe a rebuild.
With that as a backdrop, it was interesting to watch Wild fans react in real-time to credible reports that Parise could be on the move Monday in a trade to the Islanders.
The overriding sentiment I saw: Most were eager to see Parise’s salary cleared off the books, and there was very little sentimentality involved in the potential move.
And then when it didn’t happen, as the 2 p.m. trade deadline passed with no deal? It strangely felt like one of the greatest players in franchise history staying in a Wild sweater was a bit of a letdown.
That things even got this far down the road – considering Parise’s cap number, his five years remaining after this one and his full no-move clause – is still both surprising and informative.
It was the biggest sign to date that Parise’s “forever” contract might not be forever in Minnesota, even though he and Alisha have had three children born here since his arrival. The lure of playing for a team – the right team – far closer to chasing a Cup appears to be appealing to Parise.
For now: He’s here, as is Suter. Both players make the Wild better even now that they’re on the second half of those long contracts and the down slope of their career arcs.
Parise has had some monster playoff games – including two goals, two assists in a Game 6 win over Colorado that preceded Nino Niederreiter’s Game 7 winner … and two goals in the series clincher over St. Louis a year later – and overall has delivered 31 points in 36 Wild playoff games.
He now has a chance to gear up for at least one more Wild playoff push, as long as the odds might be. (Hockey Reference gives Minnesota a 31% chance of making the playoffs. From there, anyone has a chance but the top of the West is a steep hill to climb).
That’s a far cry from the hopes for Parise as he descended that airport escalator so many summers ago, but that’s the present reality.