The Minnesota Wild knew the financial ramifications of buying out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter's identical contracts. But they still made the monumental decision to do so, feeling they had no choice moving forward.
Most saw the Parise buyout coming. Struggling through an unproductive year and clashing with the coaches will do that. But no one saw general manager Bill Guerin buying out Suter, one of the league's biggest minute-munching defensemen. It was easy to criticize Guerin for buying out the veteran, considering he was still a productive, reliable defender. Everyone knew his buyout penalties could prove to be detrimental going forward.
The Wild's breakdown of dead money from both those contracts starting next summer is not pleasant:
2025-26 through 2028-29: $1,666,666
These cap restrictions are going to impact roster construction down the road. Kevin Fiala and Matt Dumba are two players with no roster security because of the nature of their contracts. If one or both become cap causalities, Guerin would have to answer to it because Suter was not visibly in decline the way Parise was last season.
Still, there's no doubt the moves positively changed the culture and voice in the locker room, even if the financial aspect of the buyouts is still a factor. Suter's buyout isn't an open and shut case right now, and the next few years will determine the verdict of the decision.
With that said, the Wild have proven so far this season that the moves have completely changed the direction of the organization. Guerin should feel a burden lifted despite it only being only a third of the way into his first season since the decision. If you need a reminder, the Wild are first in the Western Conference entering the holiday break.
Guerin's offseason moves were a direct result of the buyouts. Parise's departure opened up a spot on the fourth line, which Brandon Duhaime earned with an impressive training camp. Likewise, Alex Goligoski is thriving as Suter's replacement on the first pair alongside Jared Spurgeon. Although their lack of financial capability led the Wild to miss out on their top defensive targets, they landed Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill, which happens to be one of the best third pairs in the league.
It's apparent now that Guerin executed the buyouts at the perfect time. Both Parise and Suter's play declined meaningfully this season. One could argue that their decline can be attributed to some rust early in the season. Perhaps it's learning a new system and becoming familiar with a new set of teammates. The more likely reason, though, is that they are declining due to their age, especially in Parise's case.
After being scratched in the first three games of the playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights, Parise managed to score two goals and four points. While the buyout was understandable, perhaps his production in the playoffs indicated his struggles mainly were due to a poor stretch of games.
However, it's become evident that isn't the case. Two years removed from a 25-goal campaign, Parise has only three assists at 5-on-5 and six total points in 26 games this season despite averaging over 14 minutes a night. Early underlying results indicate Parise's lack of point production may be a little misleading -- he's been relatively average.
That said, average on-ice numbers coupled with nearly no production at 5-on-5, would have been a disaster in Minnesota at roughly a $7.5 million cap hit. It's worth noting, too, that Duhaime has been excellent this season, and he's been more valuable than Parise would be on the fourth line.
Suter has also struggled to start the season, but not to Parise's extent. Sure, the 36-year-old veteran defenseman has 14 points in 29 games, but most of his value and production has been on the league's fourth-best power play. Furthermore, his offensive numbers are significantly lower than in years past. Suter's 47 percent expected goals rate is also near the bottom of the Stars' lineup.
Similar to Parise, Suter has been relatively average to begin the season. It appears like the brass made the right decision because it's only going to go downhill from here as the veterans continue to age.
There is no doubt that the financial implications impede the Wild's flexibility in the next few years. But Parise and Suter's replacements have been crucial to Minnesota's early success while Parise and Suter have had minimal impact on their respective team's success.
All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference, and Cap-Friendly.
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