"We're not making money, and that's one reason we need to fix our system. We need to fix how much we're spending right now. [The Wild's] revenues are fine. We're down a little bit in attendance, but we're up in sponsorships, we're up in TV revenue. And so the revenue that we're generating is not the issue as much as our expenses. And [the Wild's] biggest expense by far is player salaries." — Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold to the Star Tribune on April 11, 2012
Fast forward 84 days and Mr. Leipold signs the two big free agents this summer to a collective $196 million dollar contract. On July 4th Zach Paise and Ryan Suter gained lifelong financial independence by signing identical 13-year $98-million contracts with the Minnesota Wild.
Much has been written regarding Mr. Leipold's hypocrisy, complaining about player expenses then spending $196 million on two players. I don't think of the Wild owner as a hypocrite, I think of him as a competitor.
One overlooked character trait of NHL owners is that they are a competitive group. How else can you rationalize investing in a business that you know will put you in the financial red? Like the players, coaches and management, they want to win and are willing to spend a fortune in order to make that happen.
In his quote Mr. Leipold was simply stating a well known fact. The biggest expenditure for NHL owners is player salaries. The biggest revenue stream that helps offset that cost is ticket sales, getting the fans to come to the games.
The best way to put butts in the seats is to put a winning team on the ice. The Wild certainly improved their chances for a winner by signing two young and dynamic hockey players.
The question now for the Wild? Will the signing of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter make Minnesota a winner? Obviously on paper Parise and Suter are two of the best from a great 2003 draft. Zach Parise, among first round drafted forwards, is 10th in games played and 5th in goals, assists and points. Ryan Suter is 3rd in games played, 5th in goals, 2nd in assists and 3rd in points among top rated defencemen from the same class.
However there are many ups, downs, peaks, valleys and unforeseen situations that occur during an NHL season. Questions and pressures surround every team and player.
The biggest question is, how can an individual maintain his edge both physically and mentally with all that financial security? That much money has to change a person. All interested parties have to hope that both of these talented players are incredibly self motivated and driven.
In every NHL season every player needs a push from his coach. An NHL coach has to pressure his players. Will a player on a 13-year multi-million dollar contract really feel pressured by a person making 2% of his overall salary? I don't think so.
No doubt about it, as organizations chase the Stanley Cup, owners are willing to gamble millions of dollars on long-term multi-million dollar contracts. However, these guaranteed contracts have shifted the balance of power on a team to the players. As the saying goes, "with great power comes great responsibility."
The Wild better have the two most responsible players in the League.