Will Zach Parise be a Devil Next Season?
With the Stanley Cup Finals starting up this Wednesday night in Newark, the last two teams standing are ready to give everything they’ve got left in tank in what I believe should be a long, hard-fought series between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings.
With the Stanley Cup the only thing on the minds of the players right now it makes me wonder if more is at stake here than just the hardest trophy to win in all of professional sports. There are a lot of question marks surrounding the New Jersey Devils these days – about ownership and whether or not this will be the last season for future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur between the pipes. I ask myself a different question; What of the Devils’ captain? Does the outcome of these Stanley Cup Finals have any bearing on whether or not Zach Parise will be back wearing a Devils uniform again next October?
Parise was drafted by Lou Lamoriello and the Devils 17thoverall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He joined the big club for the 2005-2006 season and has been with the Devils ever since. Zach has been bred to play Devils “defense first-offence next”, hockey since being drafted. Since that time he has become the Devils most consistent offensive threat without sacrificing defensive play in his own end of the rink. However, after an injury plagued 2010-2011 season in which the star left-winger only played 13 games, the Devils struggled big time out of the gate. They fought hard down the stretch but ended up missing the post season for the first time since 1996.
Parise became the subject of endless trade rumors towards the end of last season and into the summer. It became well known that he was unhappy with the Devils organization, especially after the poor handling and trading of longtime friend and mentor Jaime Langenbrunner to the Dallas Stars. It was starting to look as if a trade was in fact in the future for Parise as he went unsigned passed last year’s July 1st free agent deadline and became a restricted free agent. With trade speculation running rampant into the summer, Zach Parise signed a one-year $6 million-dollar contract on July 29th with the Devils as if to say, “I’ll give you one more year, but you better turn this thing back around.”
The Devils did just that. Under newly-hired coach, Pete DeBoer, the Devils got things back on track in a hurry. DeBoer named Parise the team’s Captain on October 5th and the players (including Russian Sniper Ilya Kovalchuck) started buying back into Devils hockey and playing a team game. A healthy Parise put up another solid regular season posting 31 goals and 38 assists playing in all 82 games. Expected by many to make the post-season this year, nobody was predicting New Jersey to still be playing hockey in June. Parise has been rock-solid all playoffs putting up 7 goals and 7 assists through 18 playoff games while leading his team into these finals.
With things seemingly back on track in New Jersey heading into Wednesday night, do the Devils have to beat the Kings and win the Stanley Cup for Zach to want to re-sign with his team? I tend to think the answer to that question is “no”. The Devils have shown enough compete this year as a team for their leader to want to return regardless the outcome of the finals. But the finals are not the only question mark here. With the NHL being in the salary cap era nothing is ever certain. Going into next season the Devils are projected to have about $22-million in cap space. Sounds like a lot right? The problem is they only have 13 players under contract for the 2012-13 season. $22 million split 10 ways to get the team back to a 23-man roster is starting to sound like a whole lot less. Lou Lamoriello definitely has his work cut out for him heading into what will no doubt be a busy summer. The Devils have one RFA to sign this summer in Mark Fayne, but also have 11 unrestricted free agents on their current roster including Parise and both of their goaltenders.
With Parise due for his big payday he will likely be unwilling to sign another short-term deal. Chances are he will be opting for what has become the trend for the NHL and its star players. He will want the long-term deal for the big money that he deserves and his agent, Wade Arnott, will be able to get him. He has proven to be the leader on this Devils team and should be compensated accordingly. After giving up to farm to sign Ilya Kovalchuck for an unheard of 15 years for $100 million, and ownership far from certain in New Jersey, the question of, “Does winning or losing the Stanley Cup affect Zach Parise wanting to re-sign with the Devils?”, now becomes “Can the New Jersey Devils afford to keep him?”
…and that is the Last Word.