On July 1, the offers to sign Zach Parise came fast. Some even improved before Parise and his camp had a chance to respond.
Parise sat in a conference room at the Newport Sports office in Mississauga, Ontario, with Don Meehan and Wade Arnott along with four other agents who could answer anything about the interested teams. One agent had a scouting background, Parise said. Another knew every league salary-cap situation down to the dollar.
Each team that made an offer had its own white poster board with details about term, dollar amount and salary-cap hit spelled out in front of Parise.
"It was pretty cool," Parise said.
The Wild were competing against a Devils team that had just reached the Stanley Cup finals. They were competing against a Red Wings team always in the mix for a Stanley Cup. The Penguins had Sidney Crosby and cap space to offer.
The Wild had just finished in 12th place in the Western Conference. They haven't made the playoffs since 2007-08. During the second half of last season, they were awful.
"It still kind of burns in us," Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck said of the free fall down the standings last season. "It was really a tough couple months for us. Anyone that was here is really looking to not have that happen ever again."
It was that bad.
Parise and Ryan Suter had waited their entire careers for a chance to pick any team in the league to join. The Wild seemed, at best, a long shot.
But Parise had a packet of information on the Wild that sold the franchise in a way GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo couldn't while waiting for a response from Newport following its opening offer. It might have been the packet that helped change the entire course of this franchise.
"They were the only team that sent information like that," Parise said.
Well, kind of. The Wild had planned an in-person pitch complete with a video on the virtues of signing in Minnesota. They soon discovered there wouldn't be any in-person pitch, and that video was later emailed to Ontario.
The Wild had just aggressively pursued Newport client Justin Schultz, and part of that process included a 15-page printed-out version of a power-point presentation. It was created to educate Schultz on the area, the future of the franchise, future cap space, Wild prospects. It was the hard work of a combination of people from Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr to director of hockey administration Shep Harder, who did much of the legwork.
Minnesota was disappointed to lose out on Schultz, but that's the information that Parise had in his hands on July 1.
"He saw the long-term plan; he saw the depth of prospects," Arnott said. "It just happened to be the Justin Schultz package."
What's in those pages is a convincing blueprint Fletcher has been meticulously enacting since he took over the Wild. It's a plan strong enough that Fletcher, who had just completed his third year of a four-year contract, got a contract extension in the spring even after the Wild's collapse last season. Before Parise and Suter could be sold on the vision, Fletcher had to first reassure owner Craig Leipold that things were on the right track.
"I kind of presented last spring what our vision was, where I thought we were at," Fletcher said. "We had a pretty candid conversation at the end of last year. Craig's great, he's extremely supportive. He asked a lot of questions, as he should. It's his money. It's his team. But I think he sees what we're trying to accomplish."
Parise started to figure it out, too. The information from the Wild combined with research done by his agents and the lure home became a tempting combination.
"You look at the structure of the team, and there's a lot of depth up front," Parise said. "You have an All-Star centerman in Mikko [Koivu], you've got [Niklas Backstrom] and [Josh] Harding is a fantastic goalie, too. You've got an All-Star defenseman in Ryan [Suter]. You have a 50-goal scorer in Heater [Dany Heatley]... you look at the future, the young players and these guys they've been drafting and grooming to take the next step."
The more he analyzed it, the more it made sense. And paired with Suter, they became convinced that there was plenty in place to end a playoff drought. Perhaps more.
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