The decision is in: Zach Parise is headed home.
After 3½ days of weighing his options and mulling his future as one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents in recent years, Parise committed to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday. The Minneapolis-born Parise agreed to terms on a 13-year deal worth $98 million, a source confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com. The deal, which carries an average annual value of roughly $7.5 million, will keep the 27-year-old in his native Minnesota until age 40.
Parise's decision ultimately forced him to choose between New Jersey, where he has spent the past seven seasons, and his hometown team. According to Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, his team's offer was "competitive" but the choice did not come down to money.
"Zach told me this: If it wasn't for going home to Minnesota, he'd be coming to New Jersey," Lamoriello said on a conference call with reporters. "It was one of the toughest decisions he said he had to make. I respect that decision to make. We can't get into minds of people. In my opinion, our organization did whatever it possibly could to retain him, and it's a decision he made."
As late as Tuesday night, Parise confirmed the Devils were in the mix to keep him, but the allure of returning to Minnesota and playing with fellow sought-after free agent Ryan Suter, a defenseman, won out. Lamoriello confirmed that he also reached out to Suter to gauge whether he'd consider coming to New Jersey, but was not met with mutual interest. Suter, who has spent his entire seven-year NHL career with the Nashville Predators, told Lamoriello he did not want to leave the Western Conference.
"I did reach out to Suter," Lamoriello said. "He did not have any interest in coming to this (Eastern) conference."
Parise and Suter's desire to sign as a tandem -- the two are longtime friends and played together in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the United States -- entered into contract discussions as well. According to a source familiar with Parise's thinking, it was important for him and Suter to be compensated equally. Suter also agreed to terms with the Wild on a 13-year-deal worth $98 million. An additional source briefed on discussions said Parise left at least one offer of $100 million on the table in order to sign with the Wild.
"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.'"
Parise leaves behind a Devils squad that he led to the Stanley Cup finals this June -- the team was defeated in Game 6 by the Los Angeles Kings -- and one that was kept pretty much intact by Lamoriello, despite constant reports of the team's financial distress.
Lamoriello re-signed both franchise goaltender Martin Brodeur and backup Johan Hedberg to two-year deals on Monday and brought back veteran defenseman Bryce Salvador for three years Tuesday. But for Parise, the comfort of returning to the team that drafted him back in 2003 was not enough. Returning home had the stronger emotional pull.
"As far as (if) you can compete with it? You don't compete with it," Lamoriello said when asked about jockeying against the Wild. "You just put forward the experiences they've had with you and you try to do the best job you can of being honest and what's best for them. You can only point out what's best in your opinion -- the positive or negatives if they ask -- but you never derail or never talk about somebody else negatively."
Lamoriello also said that concern over reports of the team's financial distress -- co-owner Jeff Vanderbeek is in the process of trying to restructure the team's debt -- was never pertinent to discussions.
"That never became part of any of our discussions," Lamoriello said. "Zach never asked that question."
Said Wild GM Chuck Fletcher in a statement: "This is a great day in the history of the Minnesota Wild. We are extremely excited to add the collective skill, experience and character of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to an already promising roster. We view this as a rare opportunity for us to transform our franchise by adding two marquee players, who are both in the prime of their careers, at the same time.
"I am grateful to Zach and Ryan and I am also thankful for the substantial commitment and support of (team owner) Craig Leipold throughout this process. This is a huge step forward in our quest to bring a Stanley Cup to the deserving fans of the State of Hockey."
The 17th overall pick nine years ago, Parise recorded 194 goals and 216 assists in seven seasons with New Jersey. He finished 2011-12 with 31 goals and 38 assists in his first year as captain, a strong bounce-back season after missing virtually all of the 2010-11 campaign with a devastating knee injury.
Parise's choice ended a lengthy wait for the final teams on his short list -- believed to also include New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Chicago -- and is expected to have a domino effect on the rest of the NHL. A usually frenzied first few days of free agency were frozen by the indecision of Parise and Suter.
What will the Devils do now?
"We have some outstanding young players here, some who have tremendous potential, but we will do everything we can right now to go to what you'd say a Plan B," Lamoriello said. "We'll do whatever we can to get ourselves better. You don't replace a Zach Parise. You just don't do that.
"So, we'll have to make some adjustments and make some transactions, if possible. But we will not turn our heads and not go forward with reference to getting this team to be where we feel it should be each and every year."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.