The two biggest NHL free agents both sign with...

809888.jpg

The two biggest NHL free agents both sign with...

From Comcast SportsNet
The Minnesota Wild were a starless team in need of a big-time jolt to get the franchise back to the point of being worthy of playing in "the State of Hockey." The jolts don't come any bigger than this. The Wild landed not one but both of the NHL's top prizes in free agency, signing forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter on Wednesday. Each deal is for 13 years and 98 million, according to three people familiar with the contracts who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release details. "WE GOT EM!" the Wild announced on their Twitter account early Wednesday afternoon, sending shockwaves across the league and through a devoted fan base that was starting to show signs of apathy after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Parise, the former New Jersey Devils playmaker, and Suter, who paired with Shea Weber on the Nashville blue line, were regarded the cream of what was a thin free agent crop, and each had spent the past four days poring over numerous offers from several teams before making a decision. "This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild," GM Chuck Fletcher said in a conference call. Maybe THE greatest. The Wild have had a relatively non-descript existence aside from one stirring run to the Western Conference finals in their second season. Parise knows the history well, having grown up in the Twin Cities. So he recruited his friend Suter to come help out the hometown team. "We kept in touch throughout this whole thing and we decided that we thought for both of us that the best fit would be Minnesota," Parise said in a conference call. "We're excited that it worked out and we get a chance to play with each other." One person said that even the breakdown of the contracts is exactly the same, with both players getting 12 million in each of the first two years. The deals then go down in value, with each player making 1 million in both 2023-24 and 2024-25. "My parents were so excited when they knew that I was considering coming back home," Parise said. "When I made the decision they were real excited as well. That played a big part. I grew up here, I love coming back here in the summers and I thought We enjoy it here so much it would be great to be here year round.'" And it's a relative homecoming for Suter, who is from Wisconsin, as well. "It came down to where I felt my family would like to live," Suter said. "My wife's from Bloomington, Minnesota. That had a lot to do with it. . Minnesota has a lot of good young players that I think will help make this team successful." With one fell swoop, the Wild have been transformed from a relatively young franchise with very little history of success since being re-established in Minnesota, to an immediate contender. The Wild got off to a tremendous start to last season before injuries and inexperience caught up to them in the second half. Minnesota endured a dreadful 11-28-7 stretch and finished 12th in the Western Conference. "We felt if we could add either a top defenseman or a top forward it would really help our team," Fletcher said. "I don't think you ever go in assuming you're going to land both of them. We shot for the moon, and we tried our best." For a team that has struggled to put the puck in the net, this was one monster score. "These signings will resonate well with our fans, with our players and with everybody associated with the team," said Fletcher, who added that they still have cap flexibility. "Our goal in signing them was certainly not to make a splash, it was to make our team better. We feel we are a better team, but our work is just starting." Parise was the best forward on the market. He scored 31 goals and 69 points last season in his first year as the Devils' captain. He also chipped in with 15 points in helping the team's surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals, which ended in a six-game series loss to Los Angeles. Drafted 17th overall by New Jersey in 2003, the 27-year old has 194 goals and 216 assists in 503 career games. He scored 30-plus goals five times. Suter, also 27, was the top defenseman available this summer. He spent all seven of his seasons in the NHL with the Predators after being selected with the seventh pick in the 2005 draft. The All-Star defenseman had career highs in points last year, with 7 goals and 39 assists. Parise tried to explain why he needed more than a few days to announce his intentions, saying he was evaluating each team and city that was trying to sign him. While the Wild celebrated, the players' former teams were left with big holes to fill. "There's no question we're disappointed," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "It's a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that comes right through the ranks and, at this given time a decision is made to go elsewhere. But right now there's nothing we can do about that and our plans are going forward." Lamoriello said he met with Parise and his representatives in Toronto on Saturday, and made what he called a competitive offer. In later discussions with Parise, Lamoriello said, the player made clear he wanted an opportunity to play in his home state. "Zach told me that if it wasn't going home to Minnesota, it would be coming to New Jersey," Lamoriello said. "I respect that." The Devils cupboard isn't entirely bare as the team still features Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and NHL rookie of the year finalist Adam Henrique. New Jersey also re-signed veteran goalie Martin Brodeur to a two-year contract earlier this week. The Predators had a similar reaction to Suter's departure. "It would be an understatement to say that the Nashville Predators are disappointed at this time," team GM David Poile said. "Actually, not disappointed, but very surprised." Poile had held out hope that Suter would consider re-signing with the Predators even after becoming a free agent. Now the Predators need to turn their attention to re-signing their other star defenseman, captain Shea Weber, who is a restricted free agent. Second-tier free agents such as defenseman Matt Carle and forward Alexander Semin seemed to be waiting for Suter and Praise to reach agreements so that they could offer their talents to teams that didn't get a top target. The Detroit Red Wings were among the teams to take a run at both players, and were most interested in Suter as a player who could fill in after captain Nicklas Lidstrom retired. "We feel good about our offer to Suter and Parise on July 1, and with our chance to adjust our offer to Suter on July 2," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said by phone. Holland said team owner Mike Ilitch and coach Mike Babcock joined him in making a presentation to Suter. He said they didn't have an opportunity to make a similar presentation to Parise.

NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

ronnie_one_on_one_with_leila_04-28_640x360_675978307908.jpg

NFL Draft shows improvements in Notre Dame's player development

You can bet Brian Kelly is going to hammer home the number 51,251,888 in the coming weeks and months. 

That’s the estimated total contract dollar value Notre Dame’s seven draftees will earn, second among college football programs only to Ohio State (which, according to Spotrac.com, is a gargantuan $117,499,008). It’s a sexy number that’ll be used to entice recruits across the nation, as well as players within the program who face the decision to stay at Notre Dame or turn pro after a junior season. 

Notre Dame’s draft-week success is a strong indicator that the program’s player development — especially on the offensive side of the ball — is in a good place. 

Ronnie Stanley was Notre Dame’s first top-10 pick in 22 years, and Will Fuller’s decision to leave South Bend after three seasons paid off when the Houston Texans selected him 21st overall. Nick Martin was a second-round pick, while C.J. Prosise went in the third round. While it was a minor surprise to see Chris Brown go undrafted, those four players represent major player development successes. 

Kelly and a cavalcade of Irish personnel successfully pitched Stanley on returning to Notre Dame for his senior season, and he improved his stock from mid-first-round status to being the first offensive lineman taken off the board (Laremy Tunsil’s bizarre Thursday certainly helped push Stanley up, too). Like Stanley, Martin was a Harry Hiestand success story, having steadily developed his game to the point where the Texans traded up two picks to nab him with the 50th selection. 

Hiestand is one of Notre Dame’s more respected position coaches in recent memory. It’s not just from within the program, too — Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh gave a shout-out to Hiestand, who coached the Chicago Bears offensive line from 2005-2009, in introducing Stanley last week. Having an NFL coach praise a college position coach is an awfully strong endorsement to pitch to recruits. 

But the emergences of Fuller and Prosise as Day 1 and Day 2 picks were almost more impressive. 

Fuller was overlooked coming out of high school in Philadelphia, and even after a breakout 2014 season, one early NFL mock draft had Corey Robinson, not Fuller, projected as a first-round pick. But under Mike Denbrock’s watch, Fuller developed from a raw speed burner into a refined, NFL-ready receiver. 

A year ago, it would’ve been difficult to see Prosise as a third-round pick only a few months into his move to running back. Prosise himself admitted it in December that the idea of passing on a fifth year to enter the draft hadn’t really entered his mind until after last season — he figured he’d play a graduate year at Notre Dame and then see where his career would take him.

Instead, Prosise was an immediate success from Autry Denson’s position group, becoming Notre Dame’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. His explosive playmaking ability and versatility from the two years he spent at wide receiver made him an intriguing pick for the Seattle Seahawks. 

Notre Dame also had three defensive players drafted, one from each unit. Jaylon Smith would’ve joined Stanley and Fuller as first-round picks had it not been for the concerns over nerve damage in his surgically-repaired knee; even despite those, though, the Dallas Cowboys used an early second-round pick on him. 

Sheldon Day (Jacksonville Jaguars) and KeiVarae Russell (Kansas City Chiefs) were fourth-round picks, both landing in spots where they’ll have good opportunities to succeed right away. 

It’s true that Notre Dame only had one player drafted in 2015 (tight end Ben Koyack, who went in the seventh round to Jacksonville). But had Stanley and Day declared, it would’ve been more, and both those guys are success stories in the sense of getting a degree from the prestigious Mendoza College of Business (and, in Stanley’s case, improving his draft stock). 

Plenty of college football’s elite programs can trot out gaudy signing bonus numbers and Pro Bowl appearances for former players, though. Those are a good hook for plenty of blue-chip recruits. 

But for some recruits — and plenty of parents — Notre Dame has another pitch to offer. Robinson and Steve Elmer are excellent examples of what can be done outside of football at Notre Dame, be it being elected student body president and starting a charity or leaving football to take a job in Washington D.C. after graduating in three and a half years. 

And whatever the message may be, it’s working. Notre Dame ranks fourth in Rivals.com’s team recruiting rankings for the class of 2017. 

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

snc_sports_biz_insider_thibs_talks_bulls_04-27_640x360_675490883956.jpg

Timberwolves' Tom Thibodeau appreciative of time with Bulls

There's likely a lot Tom Thibodeau would love to get off his chest.

But the newest head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves continued to take the high road on his tumultous ending with the Bulls when he spoke to David Kaplan Monday morning on ESPN 1000.

Thibodeau, who was hired by the Timberwolves in April as head coach and president of basketball operations, said he was appreciative of his five seasons with the Bulls.

"I felt I had a great job here and I had great guys to coach," he told Kaplan. "That part, you're disappointed that it's going to end, but you know if you're in pro sports. These things happen. I was disappointed that we weren't able to win the championship, not only for our players, but for the fans here and for Jerry (Reinsdorf). Jerry took a chance on me and I'll always appreciate that he did that. I enjoyed my time here.

"Obviously I loved living here and appreciate all the support we received for our team over the five years I was here," he added. "I know what the Bulls mean to this city and I know how the organization feels about the support that they receive from the fans. This is a great, great sports city and I certainly appreciate all they did for me as well."

Thibodeau's departure coincided with Fred Hoiberg's arrival at the helm. The Bulls struggled in their first year post-Thibodeau, missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Thibodeau alluded to myriad injuries the team faced, including the season-ending shoulder injury to emotional leader Joakim Noah.

"Jo (Noah) is a big hit. You can't underestimate that, but along with Jo going down I felt that the East had gotten a lot better," Thibodeau said. "When you combine those things, and sometimes that happens. They're still a really good team. I think Fred is an excellent coach. They have to be healthy. That's a big thing for the organization, and unfortunately that hasn't been the case for the last few years."

The Bulls and Timberwolves will play twice next season.

Road Ahead: White Sox return home after seven-game road trip

sox_road_ahead_05-01_640x360_677830723855.jpg

Road Ahead: White Sox return home after seven-game road trip

CSN's Chuck Garfien and Bill Melton talk about what's next for the White Sox, which host the Red Sox and Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

After playing 19 games in 19 days the White Sox finally had an off day on Monday. The busy stretch ended in a seven-game road trip, which the Sox went 5-2 in.

Garfien and Melton talked about the success the White Sox have had on the road as the team returns home to face the Red Sox and Twins in a pair of three-game series this week. The Red Sox lead the AL East with a 15-10 record while the Twins have the worst record in the American League.

The White Sox entered Monday with more wins than any other team in the majors.