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Wild hit pay dirt; sign free agents Parise, Suter

Wednesday - 7/4/2012, 5:03pm  ET

By JOHN WAWROW
AP Sports Writer

(AP) - The Minnesota Wild were a starless team in need of a big-time jolt to get the franchise back to the point of being worthy of playing in "the State of Hockey."

The jolts don't come any bigger than this.

The Wild landed not one but both of the NHL's top prizes in free agency, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on Wednesday. Each deal is for 13 years and $98 million, according to three people familiar with the contracts who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release details.

"WE GOT `EM!" the Wild announced on their Twitter account early Wednesday afternoon, sending shockwaves across the league and through a devoted fan base that was starting to show signs of apathy after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

Parise, the former New Jersey Devils playmaker, and Suter, who paired with Shea Weber on the Nashville blue line, were regarded the cream of what was a thin free agent crop, and each had spent the past four days poring over numerous offers from several teams before making a decision.

"This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild," GM Chuck Fletcher said in a conference call.

Maybe THE greatest. The Wild have had a relatively non-descript existence aside from one stirring run to the Western Conference finals in their second season.

Parise knows the history well, having grown up in the Twin Cities. So he recruited his friend Suter to come help out the hometown team.

"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."

One person said that even the breakdown of the contracts is exactly the same, with both players getting $12 million in each of the first two years. The deals then go down in value, with each player making $1 million in both 2023-24 and 2024-25.

"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.'"

And it's a relative homecoming for Suter, who is from Wisconsin, as well.

"It came down to where I felt my family would like to live," Suter said. "My wife's from Bloomington, Minnesota. That had a lot to do with it. . Minnesota has a lot of good young players that I think will help make this team successful."

With one fell swoop, the Wild have been transformed from a relatively young franchise with very little history of success since being re-established in Minnesota, to an immediate contender.

The Wild got off to a tremendous start to last season before injuries and inexperience caught up to them in the second half. Minnesota endured a dreadful 11-28-7 stretch and finished 12th in the Western Conference.

"We felt if we could add either a top defenseman or a top forward it would really help our team," Fletcher said. "I don't think you ever go in assuming you're going to land both of them. We shot for the moon, and we tried our best."

For a team that has struggled to put the puck in the net, this was one monster score.

"These signings will resonate well with our fans, with our players and with everybody associated with the team," said Fletcher, who added that they still have cap flexibility. "Our goal in signing them was certainly not to make a splash, it was to make our team better. We feel we are a better team, but our work is just starting."

Parise was the best forward on the market. He scored 31 goals and 69 points last season in his first year as the Devils' captain. He also chipped in with 15 points in helping the team's surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals, which ended in a six-game series loss to Los Angeles.

Drafted 17th overall by New Jersey in 2003, the 27-year old has 194 goals and 216 assists in 503 career games. He scored 30-plus goals five times.

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