Parise, Suter could be nice NHL free-agent steals after Wild buyouts

Parise, Suter could be NHL free agent steals after Wild buyouts
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For years (maybe from the minute the ink dried?), it’s been almost impossible to think about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter without thinking about the huge contracts they signed with the Wild. Such terms and dollar amounts made it hard to give them a fair shake.

Well, now that the Wild plan to buy out Parise and Suter, other NHL teams must determine what those veteran skaters can bring to the table in 2021-22. Truly, it will be fascinating to see what kind of free-agent interest Parise and Suter command after those Wild buyouts.

Let’s break down the free-agent cases for both Parise and Suter. Free from the Wild contract baggage, it might be surprising for some to get a better idea of what Parise and Suter bring to the table.

Zach Parise as a free agent: What can he provide to an NHL team in 2020-21?

Let’s go big picture first with two key points.

  • Again, it’s important to note that a lot of the negativity revolving around Parise and Suter boils down to their contracts. That can cloud judgment of the players themselves. It’s a shame. Yet it also might be human nature?
  • If there’s an overarching pattern to both Parise and Suter, it’s that they’re both strong offensively, and generally a bit weak defensively. That might be a touch surprising to some, especially considering Suter’s reputation.

If you look at the simplest stats, Parise looks like bargain bin material. The 36-year-old only generated seven goals and 18 points in 45 games. (Once he got into the playoff lineup, he was one of the Wild’s best scorers, generating three points in four postseason contests.)

Parise was productive in the playoffs despite continuing to get “in the doghouse” time on ice.

Parise isn’t that far removed from putting up nice numbers. (Again, especially if you can look past that contract.)

In 69 games in 2019-20, Parise scored 25 goals and 46 points. He’s not that far removed from a 28-goal, 61-point campaign in 2018-19.

After buyouts, we often see players sign cheaper deals. If Parise (fittingly turning 37 on free agent day, July 28) fits into that mold, he could be quite the bargain.

Suter’s free-agent case is also interesting

To hazard a guess, it might be easier to sign Parise to a cheap free-agent deal than to do the same with Suter. Just look at the investment the Oilers made in trading for Duncan Keith, and you’ll see that NHL teams will trip over their own feet for veteran free-agent defensemen.

Once you get beyond the truly great and the truly limited NHL defensemen, grading blueliners often comes down to taste.

During the past three seasons, Ryan Suter’s ice time dropped from outrageous to … still kind of a lot. In 2018-19, Suter averaged 26:42 TOI. That average dropped by about two minutes last season (24:38) and another two in 2020-21 (22:11).

Frankly, 22 minutes might still be pushing it for a 36-year-old defenseman.

To extend the Keith – Suter comparison, it’s interesting to ponder how Suter might handle a far more reasonable workload. What if Suter’s minutes fall closer to the 18-20 range?

Either way, it would be wise to manage Suter’s minutes, and probably his matchups. The underlying numbers argue that Suter brings more value on offense than defense, despite his “eye test” reputation.

If potential Suter suitors keep expectations realistic, he could be a nice addition. When you consider a likely weak NHL free-agent defensemen market, that’s a nice find.

With both Parise and Suter, it comes down — once again — to cost. Yet, after those Wild buyouts, the story about Parise and Suter might be about how their contracts are bargains. That ultimately hinges on league interest (and maybe how badly they want to chase a Stanley Cup?).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.