Who says you can’t go back home?

Congratulations! After working your butt off for the last seven years and producing as well as anyone has ever performed at your job, you have the opportunity to work anywhere you want. The possibilities are endless. You can join the company that always seems to be the leader in your field—they’d be excited to have you. You could join the competition to see what it’s like on the other side of enemy lines. They too have said they’d love to have you on their side. You could sign on the dotted line with that sexy start up that is going to be doing big things in a few years. Again, the possibilities are endless.

But wait, those choices are only the tip of the iceberg. You could also choose to stay right where you are. Things have been good for the last seven years and you’re going to get a substantial raise no matter what you chose to do. You like your boss, you like your co-workers, and you’re comfortable. As far as jobs go, things could be much worse.

Finally, here’s the kicker. You can go home. While you’ve loved your job for the last seven years, you were asked by your employer to pick up and leave home when you were 18 years old. It comes with the territory and you were excited to start your professional career—but you were still forced to leave home to an unknown future. Now, with your future in your own hands, you have the opportunity to go back home and continue your life where it began. You have the chance to be able to do your job, provide for your family, all while being close enough to actually spend time with your family.

Some people want that. Some people don’t. Judging by their decisions earlier this week, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are the type of guys who want to be around their family.

Of course, any decision is going to have some collateral damage. The former employer may be upset that you’re leaving—even if it is to be closer to your family. After all, business is business, and employers are constantly striving to put out the best product possible. If you were successful in your former position, there will be people hurt when you leave.

Such is life for Ryan Suter these days. Here’s what Preds GM David Poile had to say to the media on a conference call about the entire situation:

“Ryan has told me in every conversation that money was the not the most important criteria. He told me that our offer was substantial. He told me it was not about the money when it came to the final decision. As I said to him — and this was all the things that we had talked about — I said I don’t know why you are not signing with us and he told me it was for family reasons.”

“I guess that is where the disappointment comes in. I know family is important in all this. I can’t fight that or argue with that. The disappointing part is that is not what we talked about all year long.”

While it sucks for fans in both New Jersey and in Nashville, isn’t this exactly what we want our athletes to do? Instead of acting like modern-day mercenaries, there was something larger than money involved here. And as much as wanting to win is important, it’s not the most important thing. Both players have indicated that it was extremely difficult to leave their former teams—Parise said his choice was between the Devils and Wild, while Suter said that calling Preds GM David Poile was the “hardest call of his life.” The money would have been relatively equal for either player in any bidding market and both players left money on the table. In fact, neither Suter nor Parise went back to their (former) teams and asked for a counter-offer to make more money.

At the end of the day, both made their decisions based on something more important than money, winning, or team loyalty—family.

Suter’s wife is from Bloomington, MN. He was born in neighboring Wisconsin, chose to play his college hockey at the University of Wisconsin, and lives in Madison during the offseason. If he wanted to play at home, the Minnesota Wild is the only choice until the NHL expands to Milwaukee. After all, it’s only a four hour drive down I-94 from Madison to St. Paul.

Similarly, Parise was born in Minneapolis, MN. His dad was the captain for the Minnesota North Stars and was an assistant coach while he was a kid. He played high school hockey for the incomparable Shattuck-St. Mary’s program in Faribault, MN. He lives in Orono, MN (25 minutes from XCEL Energy Center) and his parents live 30 minutes away in Prior Lake. He even admitted that, “every kid who grows up in Minnesota would love to play for the Wild.” Any way you cut it, Parise is good, young Minnesota boy.

“Just the opportunity to play at home really meant a lot to me,” Parise said. “It meant a lot to my family. My parents were so excited when they knew that I was considering coming back home. I grew up here. I love coming back here in the summer. I just thought we enjoy it here so much it would be great to be here year round.

“I always hoped I would have an opportunity to play here. We do have a lot of ties here. Every kid growing up in Minnesota would love to play for the Wild. I was hoping to have that opportunity. Right now I’m lucky we were able to make it happen.” –Zach Parise

Who says that you can’t go back home? Somewhere, Thomas Wolfe is rolling over in his grave—assuming he was the kind of guy that followed the NHL’s annual free agent frenzy.

We hear about “greedy athletes” jumping for the biggest paycheck all the time, so why aren’t we hearing about Suter and Parise putting their family at the forefront of their decision? Well, there are probably 196 million reasons why people will be tempted to include Suter and Parise in the “greedy athlete” category. But these men were going to get paid no matter where they went. Instead of trying to squeeze a few more dollars from one of their suitors, they established their priorities and signed with the team that was closest to their roots.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Suter and Parise’s decisions are that they are not alone. This whole “family is more important than money” thing looks like it could be slowly spreading across the NHL. Stu Hackel from Sports Illustrated sees the same thing:

“The lure of being close to home obviously mattered to Suter, Parise and Schultz, and may have been the tie-breaking consideration for the newest members of the Wild. Garrison, too, for that matter, elected to return to his home province of British Columbia. Even Carle — who played very briefly for the Lightning in 2008 before the shaky owners who ran the store at that time moved him in a salary dump — mentioned the familiarity of returning to Tampa Bay where “the organization has done a complete 180-degree since I was there the last time and it starts at the top with ownership and management with Steve Yzerman. It seems like they have pretty much the same core with a lot of new pieces and I can’t wait to be a part of it for the next six years.”

Did Suter and Parise want to play together? Sure they did—but they could have done that in a few different cities. Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Raleigh would have welcomed both players with welcomed arms. Yet still, the driving factor to play together in Minnesota was the opportunity to be closer to family for the next 13 years. That’s not a hockey thing, that’s a quality of life thing. (No, we’re not talking about the balmy Minnetonka winters either).

In choosing to put family ahead of all other concerns, they made a decision that determined the path for the rest of their playing careers. Yes, the Minnesota Wild put up the money—but the star free agents committed more than money; they committed the rest of their careers. For better or worse, both players will most likely retire as members of the Minnesota Wild.

How long is the commitment? The Wild have been around for 12 years—each contract is for 13 years. In fact, both Parise and Suter will be 40 years old by the time dueling contracts expire. Let’s put this in perspective: by the time these contracts expire in 2026, Parise and Suter will be more comparable to Ray Whitney and Darryl Sydor. Yes, that old.

Thomas Wolfe famously said: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame…” Surely, Wolfe had the best of intentions when he wrote that passage 75 years ago. Unfortunately, he never ran it by Zach Parise or Ryan Suter.

They would have told him that he’s wrong.

4 Comments

  1. It’s easy to forget that hockey leave home at that young of an age. What a great read.

  2. I think you missed the point that Poile was complaining about. They talked all year long about what the important factors were for Suter in considering his next contract, and the family/location aspect didn’t come up. If this was such an important consideration, Poile could have worked out a deal to trade Suter to the Wild either during the season or prior to July 1, and at least gotten something back in return. Instead, he leaves the impression that Suter and/or his agent misled him all along.

    There’s nothing wrong with placing “family” atop the reasons for making your decision, but being disingenuous during negotiations is open to question.

    • I completely understand where Poile is coming from. His frustration is the same as Bob Murray’s frustration in Anaheim as Justin Schultz said he planned on signing with the Ducks (only to sign in Edmonton). My $.02, perhaps Suter really thought he was going to sign with Nashville after looking at everyone’s offers. If family really was important, then the two most likely destinations would have been either Minnesota or continue building the life he had started in Nashville. Within the negotiations, family (and a wife) can have a little more pull.

      Completely sucks for the Predators, but at least fans can take solace in the fact that they didn’t lose to a better organization–they missed out because of family.

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