Few people know Minnesota hockey better than Lou Nanne. The former player and NHL executive played at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s before skating 10 seasons with the North Stars, eventually serving as the team's general manager for a decade.
Now an analyst on area sports radio, Nanne knows what he's talking about when he calls the Minnesota Wild's signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year contracts one of the significant events in the State of Hockey's sports history.
"It's the biggest free-agent signing in the state by far, of any sport. It's a landmark," Nanne told NHL.com. "In the NHL, I can't recall two players of this magnitude going to the same team in a summer."
A Wild season-ticket holder, Nanne was already hotly anticipating the upcoming season after the club selected his grandson, Edina High School winger Louis Nanne, in the seventh round of the 2012 NHL Draft last month. But the Wild's July 4 free-agency coup thrilled Nanne, and not just because of the veteran talent it added to the Minnesota roster. It was also a crowning achievement for Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher, a longtime family friend Nanne has known since the Wild executive was a child.
"His father [former Toronto and Calgary GM Cliff Fletcher] is one of my best friends. We traveled the world together for years with our families. I've watched Chuck grow up since he's been a youngster. So I'm very familiar with him," said Nanne, who first caught wind of the younger Fletcher's intentions to target Parise and Suter in 2010.
"I remember him saying two years ago that, even though [Wild owner] Craig [Leipold] wanted him to spend to the cap, he wasn't going to do it yet because he had his mind on a couple of free agents that he was going to go after in a big way. That was Parise and Suter. During the July signing period last year I asked him of his interest in certain players. He told me point blank right then, 'I'm not as eager to enter the free agent market this year as I am going to be next year.'"
That level of insight stems from a relationship that has continued throughout the younger Fletcher's hockey career. After graduating from Harvard, Fletcher quickly began rocketing up the ranks of the Florida Panthers front office when the franchise entered the NHL in 1993.
As the club's vice president of amateur scouting, Fletcher hired Nanne's son, Marty, as a part-time Minnesota-area scout. After winning the Stanley Cup as an assistant general manager in Pittsburgh under Ray Shero, Fletcher was hired to be Wild general manager in 2009, again hiring Marty Nanne as an amateur scout.
Three years later, Fletcher made Wednesday a July 4 to remember for Wild fans with a move that saw the team sell 500 additional season tickets in the two hours following the big announcement. And when the news broke of the Parise and Suter signings, Nanne immediately received a call from one of his oldest friends.
"Cliff called me as soon as he heard the news, he was just ecstatic. I said, 'You've got to be very proud today. He [Chuck] pulled off something I haven't seen pulled off in the National Hockey League,'" Nanne said. "It is certainly a feather in Chuck's hat, and I know it made Cliff very proud."