By Dane Mizutani, St. Paul Pioneer Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jared Spurgeon woke up on Saturday morning and shared a brief moment with his wife Danielle, knowing he was a few hours from signing a lucrative seven-year, $53.025 million contract extension.
“I just asked her, ‘Did you ever think we’d be here?’” Spurgeon said. “It was pretty cool.”
None of this seemed even remotely possible 10 years ago. Not when Spurgeon was heading into his initial training camp with the Wild on a tryout.
“I can’t thank them him enough for the opportunity to get it started,” Spurgeon said. “The only other option I had was going to Austria after that, so I was going to take my last chance here for sure.”
Even crazier than Spurgeon somehow finding a way to earn an entry-level contract is the type of player he’s become over the last decade.
“I think (head equipment manager Tony DaCosta) was staying downstairs that when I first got called up they didn’t have a jersey for me,” Spurgeon said with a laugh. “I think it worked pretty well.”
That would be putting it lightly.
Small, but effective defenseman
Since making his NHL debut on his 21st birthday, Spurgeon, who will celebrate his 30th birthday in a couple of months, has grown until one of the best defenseman in the league.
Now he’s paid like it. Shortly after noon on Saturday, he signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Wild through the 2026-27 season. It officially goes into effect next season and will carry a $7.575 million cap hit, the largest in franchise history.
It’s a heck of a reward for Spurgeon, who might be the most underrated player in the league, and one of the most popular players in the Wild locker room.
“I’m really proud of him,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You always like to see the little guy succeed. Even though he might be small in stature, his heart is so big that I think the Wild are really extremely lucky for seven more years.”
No doubt his diminutive stature — he stands 5-foot-10 and might weigh 170 pounds soaking wet — makes people forget that fact that he’s one of the best defenseman in the league. As does his sheepish demeanor in front of the cameras.
“That’s naturally who he is,” captain Mikko Koivu said, adding that Spurgeon is a “first class” person that the organization is keep around. “I think the players know how good he is. I think maybe from the media and from the fans he doesn’t get the recognition that he should. But I think he’s OK with it.”
Talking to new general manager Bill Guerin, he emphasized that getting this out of the way before the regular season started was extremely important for everyone involved.
“It can be a burden on the player and we just didn’t want that,” Guerin said. “We love Jared. He’s a homegrown guy. He’s been here for his whole career. We want him to be here his whole career. It was very important to get this done and not go through that.”
It’s no secret that Spurgeon has been top priority for Guerin since he arrived in the Twin Cities. He chatted with agent Eustace King shortly after being hired, and after meeting face to face this week, everything started to fall into place.
“We are just really happy that we got it done,” Guerin said, mentioning that there were a couple of 12-hour days throughout the negotiating process. “He is excited about it. We are excited about it. It’s a perfect fit. We didn’t want him going anywhere.”
Tabbed by goaltender Devan Dubnyk as a “right-handed Ryan Suter” on the backend, to say the babyfaced Spurgeon has steadily improved since he arrived in the Twin Cities then would be selling it short. He’s gone from a complete no name, to a depth player on the blue line, to a legitimate star who should be mentioned among some of the best players in the league.
He’s fresh off the best season of his career, which featured a career high 14 goals, a career high 29 assists, and saw him emerge as a leader in the locker room. His style of play also bodes well for the future because it’s sustainable.
“You get a guy that skates as fluently as he does and it definitely helps,” Guerin said, crediting Spurgeon’s fitness level, too. “It gives us more of a comfort level. We are confident that he’s going to be playing good hockey all the way through this contract.”
Aside from his production on the ice, the type of person Spurgeon is off the ice has clearly helped make him invaluable.
“You know, when I say quality person, like I mean, you’d want him to be your kid,” Boudreau said. “He’s a good person. And he looks like he’s only 16, so I’ve got to believe he can play until he’s about 40 or 50.”
This will always go down as the first big move for Guerin — as he put it, “This isn’t a two-way contract” — and it sounds like he couldn’t be happier with the end result.
“This is an important player to this organization,” Guerin said. ” I’ve heard it from everybody from (owner Craig Leipold) on down. You have a guy that is that good of a person and that good of a player. You definitely want to keep him. I’m thrilled.”
As is Spurgeon, who will almost certainly be buying some nice dinners for his teammates in the coming weeks, though he has no big purchased planned for himself.
“I’m pretty simple,” Spurgeon said. “Maybe a new pair of New Balance shoes. That’s about it.”