ST. PAUL -- “Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” -- says Brian Flanagan in the movie "Cocktail."
They paraded with the Stanley Cup this week, up and down a Florida river. By the time the Tampa Bay Lightning were done with the most iconic trophy in sports, the century-old silver chalice was dented and damaged.
No big deal. They will fix it, and it will be ready for another parade 11 months from now. Just like the ones they have held in Los Angeles and St. Louis and Chicago (twice) and Pittsburgh (twice) and in Washington, D.C., over the past nine years. By contrast, there hasn’t been a non-WNBA championship parade in Minnesota in nearly three decades.
On July 4, 2012, most hockey fans in the region were sure it was only a matter of time, On a blisteringly hot Independence Day morning, word leaked out of NHL circles that not one, but both of the most-coveted free agents in pro hockey -- winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter -- were bound for Minnesota, having signed matching 13-year, $98 million contracts.
The hype, and the promise of the future for NHL hockey in Minnesota, were off the charts. A top-level hometown forward like Parise would score the goals, while Suter, from neighboring Wisconsin, would start the play and protect the goalie on the road to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Then the real fun would begin.
At their introductory press conference in the jam-packed lobby of Xcel Energy Center, both men talked about their arrival in Minnesota as just the beginning, and that they would be recruiters, spreading the word to the league’s top free agents about the quality of life, the sold-out arenas and the excellent hockey culture in the Twin Cities. The State of Hockey would be the place where every big name wanted to play, and multiple parades with the Cup were sure to follow.
This week, on another hot July morning, that particular Minnesota sports fans’ dream officially died, with the announcement that both Parise and Suter have had the remaining four years of their contracts bought out. Wild general manager Bill Guerin has a plan for the future, and it does not involve either of them.
“A very difficult decision that over lots of time and lots of meetings, lots of things went into this decision,” Guerin said, meeting with the media. “But it's a big decision that I feel we needed to make in order to keep moving forward.”
Looking back, the pricey acquisitions made the Wild a perennial playoff team. They went to the postseason in eight of the nine years Parise and Suter wore forest green and Iron Range red. The team won close to 60% of its regular-season games. They made two trips to the second round, falling to Chicago there both times. Parise and Suter gave the Wild two marquee names -- players that you might get a ticket just to see if you lived in Buffalo or Arizona or Carolina.
For both men, the move was a kind of homecoming. Parise in particular, raised in the Twin Cities after his father starred for the Minnesota North Stars in an earlier era, talked about moving closer to family. Both men were nearby when they lost their fathers -- Bob Suter to a sudden heart attack in September 2014, and J.P. Parise four months later to cancer in early 2015.
Parise and Suter were the stabilizing core of a team that transitioned through four coaches and three general managers during their time in Minnesota. While rumors persisted that both had their difficulties in the locker room, outwardly there were smiles. Suter became the face of a local convenience store chain. Parise was a regular at seemingly every charity event in the region. Both men were on the charity golf circuit just hours before they had what Guerin termed a “difficult conversation” on Tuesday morning -- Parise in Shakopee to support the Jack Jablonski Foundation, and Suter in Warroad to support northern Minnesota youth sports.
But like the day in February 1989 when the Dallas Cowboys jettisoned long-time coach Tom Landry, or the still-controversial decision in the summer of 2008 when the Green Bay Packers decided to move on without Brett Favre, these are moments that sting. There is surely some shock among the fans and the players, and for the people like Guerin who have to make and live with these decisions, there is anguish.
“These are no fun. I've been through it,” Guerin said. “I was bought out. It depends on the situation of the player. These calls are not fun to make. In this position, the chair I'm sitting in, you have to do difficult things.”
As this franchise continues to evolve and be re-made in the image Guerin has in mind, the Parise and Suter era ends. It was a lot of fun, but ended short of the ultimate goal and the dream of so many fans. The most difficult thing to do in hockey -- winning a Stanley Cup, then parading it through town -- remains undone in the State of Hockey.