Zach Parise to the Minnesota Wild was an obvious fit. Parise is a Minnesota native, his father played for the since-relocated North Stars, he played for the famed Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school program. The homecoming narrative is a popular one in professional sports, and the Parise homecoming is one that certainly made sense.
These connections were all readily apparent before the $98 million price tag they slapped on him. That much money tends to sway you in favor of a move.
Ryan Suter was less obvious. Detroit was the odds-on favorite given their glaring need to replace Nicklas Lidstrom. Nashville was adamant that they wanted to bring Suter back. Other teams cycled in and out of contention. Minnesota was a relatively under-the-radar candidate to bring him into the fold.
However, upon closer examination, it could be a series of ties between the Crimson of Harvard and the negotiating parties that tipped Suter’s scales towards the Twin Cities.
There are over 323,000 living Harvard alumni in the world today and over 271,000 in the United States alone. In the context of a population over 300 million people, that’s not a ton. But, when you deal with a highly touted university you find those alumni clustered in high places. Pro sports comes with plenty of prestige, and it’s not shocking to find prestigious degrees clustered at the top.
As you may know, Harvard University has a fine hockey program and it has translated into a lot of alumni in the top levels of the sport.
Philip Falcone is the 188th richest man in the United States, according to Forbes. He graduated from Harvard in 1984 and happened to be a pretty good hockey player during his time there. His professional career lasted a single year in Sweden before an injury ended his career and sent him home. When he returned to North America, he ventured into business but the connection to hockey was undeniable for him.
Over the next 20 years, Falcone proceeded to build his wealth in the hedge fund game, but he didn’t channel that money back into the sport until 2008 when he purchased a minority stake in the Minnesota Wild. The share, worth roughly 40 percent, linked Falcone and majority holder Craig Leipold who came to Minnesota by way of the Nashville Predators.
Philip and his brother Mark, who played his college puck at the University of Denver, are both on the Board of Directors in Minnesota, and you can bet there was a lengthy board meeting about this offseason’s plan. The Wild, and ‘The State of Hockey’, needed to rattle some cages.
Chuck Fletcher was brought into the Minnesota fold in 2009; it was the first major organizational move made under the Leipold-Falcone regime. The firing of Doug Risebrough brought an end to the tenure which had been in place since the NHL’s expansion to Minnesota, and Fletcher came from lengthy management apprenticeships in Florida, Anaheim and Pittsburgh. Having his father Cliff as a mentor certainly didn’t hurt his case either.
Fletcher graduated from Harvard University in 1990, six years after Philip Falcone. He beat out three known competitors for the Wild GM spot. Pierre McGuire (yes, that one), then-Anaheim Ducks assistant GM David McNab and then-interim Wild GM Tom Lynn. Harvard may not have nailed the Minnesota job down for Fletcher, but it certainly didn’t hurt Fletcher’s odds that he was a Harvard man with a hockey pedigree interviewing for a job partially decided by a Harvard man with a hockey pedigree.
Lynn, a card carrying Yale alumnus, may have felt hard done by.
Neil Sheehy is one of the NHL’s power agents. He has many big name clients including, among others, Ryan Suter, Drew Stafford, Kyle Okposo, Jason Blake, Matt Niskanen and many others. All of these players are well paid and much of that can be attributed to good representation. And who is more qualified to sell the value of a current NHLer to NHL clubs than a former NHLer. They know the game, they understand what wins hockey games. Neil Sheehy played 379 games in the NHL and has a pretty good idea of how to get things done.
Prior to his NHL days though, Sheehy plied his trade in the NCAA ranks with the Harvard Crimson. He was one of their more offensively productive blueliners from 1979 to 1983 when he graduated from the school. Among his teammates Cambridge, Mass., was Philip Falcone, a skilled forward who was on track to pursue a pro career in hockey until he had to give up the dream because of an injury. He became a hedge fund manager in New York and eventually bought a stake in the Minnesota Wild. Sheehy and Falcone have got on well for some time now. In fact, Sheehy picked Falcone up from his house to take him to Harvard during his freshman year, or so the story goes.
Sheehy’s ties with the Suter family run deep, beyond that of the simple client-agent relationship he has with Ryan. Sheehy had been a member of the Calgary Flames for three seasons when Gary Suter — Ryan’s uncle — joined the team out of the Dubuque Fighting Saints program. The Falcones (Phil and Mark) are current board members for the Dubuque program, for what it’s worth. The friendship between Sheehy and Suter has also held up over the years. You’ll be happy to note that Neil lists Gary as his closest friend in all of hockey.
Who better to represent Gary’s nephew when he needed an agent than his best friend Neil who happens to be good pals with the minority owner of the Minnesota Wild.
The relationship between Suter and the Wild was a fit on the ice first and foremost. The Wild are desperately searching for an identity and needed a face of the franchise. It just so happens that they got two when Parise, a Newport Sports client, signed with the Wild as well. Chuck Fletcher, it should be noted, worked for Newport Sports for two years prior to joining the Florida Panthers in 1993.
It’s not that the signings of Parise and Suter didn’t make good hockey sense, they did. Minnesota needed help up front and on the blueline. The team with the seventh worst record in hockey isn’t in a position to turn away high end talent. But, when the two top targets sign identical contracts with a single team, maybe it’s not so much a coincidence as it is a well orchestrated plan. Nobody is saying it was malicious, just that it wasn’t mere happenstance.
Did the Harvard connections between all of these three shape their positions in hockey? Yes.
Have their relationships to each other been used to gain a leg up in the past? More than likely.
Did they steer Ryan Suter in the direction of Minneapolis? It’s impossible to conclusively say, but it’s certainly more than a coincidence that all of these guys are pals.
Philip Falcone gets to reap the rewards of an influx in income (assuming his current legal troubles disappear), Chuck Fletcher’s job is safe for another few years and Neil Sheehy picks up a nice commission off the top of $98 million.
Everyone wins — particularly a suffering fanbase — and that’s how you do business, folks.
Zach Parise was the hometown boy making his triumphant return, that made plenty of sense. Suter didn’t necessarily arrive in Minneapolis because of the Harvard Crimson, but it certainly didn’t hurt his case.
There are over 271,000 Harvard alumni living in the United States. What’s one more, even if you get the title by putting on a Minnesota Wild sweater?