As it turned out, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were a package deal.
Parise and Suter, the two best free agents on the market, surprised the hockey world Wednesday by signing long-term contracts with the Minnesota Wild.
The Blackhawks had made an offer to Parise, whose decision came down to playing in his home state of Minnesota.
The Hawks also made an offer to Suter, whose wife is from Minnesota.
Both deals with the Wild are worth $98 million over 13 years, carrying an average annual cap hit of $7.538 million.
“I think in that case it really didn’t come down to a financial offer,” said Hawks general manager Stan Bowman. “It came down to a family decision, and you have to wish them well and move on the next matter at hand.
“We certainly made an impressive case, everything the Blackhawks had to offer, and in the end the family thing is what carried the day.”
Only Bowman knows where this leaves the Hawks. It’s clear Bowman is under pressure from president John McDonough to do something big to improve the team following two straight first-round playoff exits.
“Our objective is not to make a splash,” Bowman said. “Our objective is to win hockey games. Our objective is to put the best team on the ice that’s going to give us the best chance to win the Stanley Cup next year.”
Bowman likes the nucleus of his team.
“It’s not like we have seven holes to fill,” he said. “Last year’s team, we had 101 points. Even if we brought back the exact same roster, I think there are ways to be better with that same group.
“You can’t forget the group that we already have in Chicago. We’ve got Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Dave Bolland … the list goes on.
“And we haven’t really talked about players who are going to play bigger roles next year. We get Andrew Shaw for a full season and not a half season. Brandon Saad is going to be pushing for a bigger role. Daniel Carcillo will be here for a full season.”
Does Bowman shift his focus to a forward such as Washington’s Alexander Semin, or does he pursue Shane Doan whenever the 35-year-old veteran decides if he wants to leave Phoenix?
Does Plan B include overpaying for a defenseman?
Maybe Bowman focuses on trades, with Niklas Hjalmarsson still the most likely candidate to be moved.
“I’m not saying we’re going to stand still where we’re at,” Bowman said. “There’s always the possibility for making trades or signing other free agents.”
Parise said he recruited his friend Suter to come help out the hometown Wild.
“We kept in touch throughout this whole thing, and we decided that we thought for both of us that the best fit would be Minnesota,” Parise said in a conference call. “We’re excited that it worked out and we get a chance to play with each other.”
Parise’s father is J.P. Parise, who played for the Minnesota North Stars. Suter is from Wisconsin, but his wife grew up in Minnesota.
“My parents were so excited when they knew that I was considering coming back home,” Parise said. “When I made the decision they were real excited as well.
“That played a big part. I grew up here, I love coming back here in the summers, and I thought, ‘We enjoy it here so much it would be great to be here year-round.’”
Suter spoke of family coming first as well.
“It came down to where I felt my family would like to live,” Suter said. “My wife’s from Bloomington, Minn. That had a lot to do with it.”
Parise was the best forward on the market, while Suter was the top defenseman. Both players are 27.
Suter spent all seven of his seasons in the NHL with Nashville after being selected with the seventh pick in the 2005 draft.
“It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time,” GM David Poile said. “Actually, not disappointed, but very surprised.”
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said Parise told him Tuesday what he had decided.
“There’s no question we’re disappointed,” Lamoriello said. “It’s a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that comes right through the ranks and at this given time a decision is made to go elsewhere.
“Zach told me that if it wasn’t going home to Minnesota, it would be coming to New Jersey. I respect that.”
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