*Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
By Patrick Knight – KFAN.com
Email: email@example.com I Twitter: @patknightk102
By now, most sports fans here in the Twin Cities know the Minnesota Wild will aggressively pursue Zach Parise if he becomes available on the open market on July 1. 2012. Parise leads this year’s list of free agents – and rightfully so. He is an extremely talented, very skilled player that brings a high level of character and leadership to any team. The Wild would not only love to add a player like that to their lineup, but also reap the benefit at the ticket counter in additional season ticket holders. However, it is important not to overlook another free agent superstar potentially available this summer, Ryan Suter.
Suter will be the most sought after defenseman on the open market. He is only 27 years old and is an offensive-style player that is also extremely solid in the defensive zone. The Wild have been trying to replace the offense they lost on their blue-line when they traded Brent Burns last year at the NHL Draft. Wild General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, has said since the trade he was looking for a “horse” to anchor his blue line for years to come. Suter would be a great fit for the team and what the Wild have been looking for since trading Burns.
Suter could be a potentially integral piece of the puzzle the Wild are missing – an it is important to know the type of player Suter is, what he would bring to the team and how Minnesota could be a good fit for him personally.
You don’t have to look too far to get an understanding of what Suter can bring to any team. Mike Eaves, the men’s hockey head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, coached Suter there, as well as a few years in Ann Arbor with the National Developmental Program and at a World Junior Championship. I talked with Eaves and asked what he remembered about Suter.
“He is a very special player,” Eaves told me. “He has a unique presence on the ice. Playing hockey is what he loves to do and you can tell when he is on the ice that is when he is the most comfortable.”
Josh Cooper, who covers the Nashville Predators for The Tennessean, added about Suter saying, “He is very astute about the game, he has been a leader on this team and he has fit well in this community.”
On the ice, there is no denying Suter is an offensive force that opponents have to respect on a nightly basis. He has played 542 career regular season NHL games and has racked up 238 points (38 goals – 200 assists) over seven seasons. Suter has been extremely durable even while playing a physical game. He has played in every regular season game three times in his career and this season he only missed two games. Eaves raved about his play on the ice.
“He has very good physical attributes and skills,” said Eaves. He added that, “He is really competitive and has a strong competitive drive to win. He is a very stubborn guy in terms of if it doesn’t get done the first time, he is going to give you the second and third effort to get it done. That’s just part of the way he is wired.”
Everyone loves the way Suter plays the game on the ice and he is a great community person off the ice. In fact, off the ice, Suter is a blue-collar “want-to-be farmer” that spends his offseason in the Midwest where he can get away from the spotlight. His current General Manager, David Poile, recently spent some time with Suter on his farm outside of Madison.
“He is a ‘want-to-be’ farmer,” Poile to a Nashville area radio station. “Everything that you have heard about Ryan, that’s how he talks - about the land, the trees and the animals and that’s what Ryan he wants to be. He was born and raised in Wisconsin; he loves it up there and has a beautiful place.”
Cooper agreed that Suter is a private person.
“He is a guy that likes his privacy,” Cooper told me. “I don’t know if he was in a market where everybody knew who you are and everybody followed your every move, if he would really enjoy that.”
With the love of having a plot of land, having the ability to “get away” from it all and being a private person, one could assume that would play in to where Suter ends up signing next month. I believe the Wild can offer the kind of lifestyle Suter enjoys, in which other larger markets cannot. It is difficult to get away and not be in the spotlight in places like New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and, to a certain degree, Detroit. Poile alluded to this issue after he visited with Suter in Madison recently.
“I still believe that we (Nashville) are the right fit for him on and off the ice,” Poile said. He went out of his way to add that, “The Los Angeles Kings could go after Ryan and the New York Rangers can. He is not going there. I am one-hundred-percent sure of that based on his personality, the size of the city and the market he wants to play in.”
His former coach agreed.
“If Ryan was in a New York or something he would go there but if he has a choice in this matter, which at this point of his career he does, being able to get away into some country space to go out to fish and be alone fits his personality pretty well,” said Eaves.
So what does this mean for the Wild? Does it guarantee that they sign Suter once free agency starts? No. However, for the first time in weeks, I feel as though the Wild’s odds to sign him (and Parise) are starting to increase. I believe Detroit poses the biggest threat to the Wild in adding these two players to the organization. However, Cooper pointed out to me that Nashville and Detroit are divisional rivals and why would Nashville give Detroit an advantage in signing Suter?
This entire ordeal is putting Poile in a tenuous situation.
“He hasn’t signed and I think the longer it gets it makes me a little bit nervous,” said Poile.“I really think he is curious to see what is out there on July 1st in terms of interest from other clubs and I assume the dollars. He has made it very clear to me that the money is going to be good wherever he goes but he is not signing for the highest dollar. It’s a hard read for me. Again, I don’t want to be fooled by this because some people say I should trade his rights and try to get something for him because if he doesn’t sign now he isn’t going to sign. I don’t believe that. I still believe that we are the right fit for him on and off the ice. After going up to meet him in Wisconsin, I am even more sure of that.”
If you believe Eaves, it really is down to Nashville, Detroit and Minnesota as possible landing spots for Suter.
“I would say (he would sign) somewhere in the Midwest,” Eaves said, finishing with, “If you take a look at the structure of the states, I think you could go as far south as St. Louis right through up to Detroit and over to Minneapolis. I think you are looking somewhere in the Midwest where he kind of knows the lifestyle he and his family would be getting into.”
Stay tuned to find out how this will play out when free agency starts on July 1, 2012.
*Special thank you to Josh Cooper (@JoshuaCooper) and Mike Eaves for their contribution to this story.