If the Wild are atop the Western Conference again this December, it might not be a complete fluke. As everyone knows by now, they landed the two biggest fish on the free agent market, celebrating America's independence by signing two of the best U.S.-born players in the NHL, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.
It goes without saying that these deals represent significant long-term risks to the franchise. When covering the Rick Nash sweepstakes, which should be heating up now that Parise is no longer available, we've mentioned in this space that aging generally takes a pretty significant toll on goal-scoring wingers as they enter their 30s. Eric T. of NHL Numbers examined Parise in this light and found evidence that he might be more likely to follow in the footsteps of Dany Heatley and Simon Gagne than Jarome Iginla and Patrick Marleau.
But the Wild wanted to make a statement that they were a relevant franchise again and find a way back into the playoffs for their hockey-mad fanbase after spending four consecutive postseasons on the outside looking in. And, at least in the short term, the salary cap shouldn't present much of an obstacle given the sheer volume of talent the team has or is about to have on entry-level contracts. Uber-prospects Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, along with former Sharks pick Charlie Coyle, lead the way up front with first-rounders Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin on their way to Minnesota's blueline in the coming years to join current youngsters Marco Scandella and a personal favorite, Jared Spurgeon.
So what does this all mean for the Sharks, if anything at all? Well, a historically terrible team should at the very least be playoff contenders again, giving San Jose more competition in that area. But, apart from them both signing in the Eastern Conference, this might be one of the better possible Parise/Suter scenarios for the Sharks. Detroit, who most in the media concluded would land Suter as far as a year back, comes up empty-handed and still have Jonathan Ericsson and Kyle Quincey in their top four as their depth chart currently stands. And this is certainly a better outcome than Parise ending up on the Kings, something that was rumored as a possibility.
Where these signings may actually be relevant to San Jose, though, is in the fact that the free agent dominoes should start to fall now. Alexander Semin and Matt Carle will likely sign deals as the Plans B for teams who lost out on Parise and Suter, respectively. With seven defensemen now under contract, it's a stretch to suggest Carle is on the Sharks' radar but it remains a faint possibility Doug Wilson could be the one to give Semin his money shot. The only legitimate reports linking the Sharks to anyone involve, much to my chagrin, the aforementioned Nash. Scott Howson has waited and waited and waited to deal his captain and continues to ask for the moon in exchange for someone who should be considered little more than a cap dump. Hopefully Wilson just says no but we should find out either way in the coming days.