Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The aftermath of Zach Parise in New Jersey

Well, Lou Lamoriello failed to get something that he wanted.  That's a fairly unfamiliar concept to Devils fans.  Lou has always had a knack for letting guys go and then those players decline shortly after, but Lou wanted to re-sign Zach Parise.  So, before you do something irrational or insane, please read on and hope that cooler heads prevail.

Let's start off with what this means for the Devils.  They've lost their captain to free agency.  Sure, that's happened before.  Kirk Muller was traded out of New Jersey, Scott Niedermayer left as a free agent later in his career and Jamie Langenbrunner was also traded away.  But this was supposed to be different.  Zach Parise was the heart and soul of the Devils, so what happened?

The concept of loyalty has gone forgotten in the world of sports.  Sure, there's a few exceptions: Derek Jeter comes to mind, Mariano Rivera, LeBron James, and in the Devils' world, Ken Daneyko (as Bryan Evans so kindly reminded me of on Twitter), Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur are truly dedicated to the only teams they ever knew, but for most athletes, money talks.

Zach Parise signed with Minnesota for 13-years/$98 million.  I'm sorry, but there's no way around it: money was a huge factor.  Consider that Ilya Kovalchuk, who turned down 10-years/$100 million and other huge offers from Atlanta, agreed to a 15-year/$100 million deal with the Devils.  Is Parise really worth the extra dollars per season ($7.54M cap hit compared to Kovalchuk's $6.67M)?  Is Parise really going to be an elite player for that long?

The quick answer is no.  Zach Parise, the player, is not worth $98 million or 13 years.  He's simply not as good as Crosby, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk or any other player who's signed a similar contract previously.  Sure, he's two years removed from back-to-back seasons of 94 and 82 points, but Parise's game is all about his speed and hustle.  He'll have that for a few more seasons, but he lacks the raw scoring ability that Kovalchuk and the others have.  It's great to have a player like Parise on the roster, there's no denying that, but you can't simply throw anything but the kitchen sink at him because he's the captain (But Parise's contract will not look nearly as bad as Ryan Suter's will in 5-6 years).

It's time to move on.  Obviously, Parise wanted to go home and resurrect the miserable Minnesota Wild organization, and he managed to bring Suter with him.  Money was a huge factor for Parise, but he did want to go home.  Of course, he did that out of the expense of leaving the team that drafted him behind.  Devils fans have every right to be bitter.  He had a choice, and he left New Jersey.  But seriously, it's time to move on.

The Devils went on a 23-3-2 run during the 2010-11 season, following the John MacLean failure.  Zach Parise was not a part of that run.  The Devils have added Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, Marek Zidlicky plus the entire fourth line since then.  They're a better team now.  It will take time for the team to overcome the loss of Parise, both on and certainly off the ice, but by no means is this the beginning of the decline for the Devils...if it's handled properly.

Where do the Devils go from here?  The Devils have just 11 forwards under contract for next season, including Cam Janssen, who likely won't be a regular in the lineup.  They have 8 defensemen and two goaltenders under contract, so there will likely be some changes coming in New Jersey this summer.  Obviously, some people will immediately think towards Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan, but with the Devils' reported "budget" they're operating under, how much salary can the Devils afford to add?  They've committed $54 million of cap space towards next year, but remember, Ilya Kovalchuk's actual salary increases to $11 million next season.

There's really no easy answer right now.  Losing Parise will set the Devils back a few seasons, as far as winning a Stanley Cup is concerned, but the Devils still have the foundation to continue to make the playoffs. Perhaps the Devils might try to bring in Alexander Semin and hope that they can help another Russian's career?  Who knows, maybe they will look into bringing Ryan or Nash to New Jersey, but in my opinion, they might do what they always do: make a few under-the-radar additions and hope for the best next season.

I still think there should be some urgency to add a scoring forward or two.  The Devils do have the assets to do so.  They have a tremendous number of good, young defensemen that are either NHL-ready or close to being ready.  There's Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne, Matt Taormina, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Alexander Urbom and others.  Obviously, not all of them will get to be Devils full-time, but some of them might be suited to be packaged in a trade.  If that circumstance presents itself, then perhaps a trade may occur.  What the Devils don't have are forwards or first round draft picks that they can afford to give away.

But regardless of what happens, the Devils will do what they always do: overcome the loss of a departing free agent and continue to compete and win.  I'd be shocked if they somehow missed the playoffs next season.  They'll still have Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, David Clarkson, etc., and a solid group of defensemen as well.  Adam Larsson will be better next season, as he continues to mature and develop.  Henrique will continue to grow as a player and take on more responsibility on the ice.  Then, hopefully within another year or two, the Devils can get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Finally, Lou Lamoriello has to consider negotiating with next summer's free agents.  Obviously, a lot can change from one season to another, but Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson and Marek Zidlicky are all unrestricted free agents next summer, and you can add Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique to that list, as they are restricted free agents.  The Devils would probably like to get all of those players re-signed.  Does Parise's departure mean that some may not want to stay?  That's always a possibility, especially in Travis Zajac's case, as the two seemed to be good friends (they also shared an Alma Mater: the University of North Dakota).  Maybe it's time for Lou to break his own rule and negotiate before he faces losing them for nothing.

So, good-bye Zach Parise.  It was fun to watch you, from your first ever game, stealing some of the attention from Sidney Crosby and scoring your first goal, to growing into a perennial 30-goal scorer, maxing out at 45 goals in 2008-09, scoring in the Olympic Gold Medal Game in Vancouver, then being a part of the 14 win playoff season the Devils enjoyed this past spring.  The seven years you spent with us were filled with ups and downs, but it's over now.  You're just a memory in the eyes of Devils fans.  Life will go on for both of us, but I wouldn't be upset to look back and realize that you made a mistake years from now.  Hindsight is 20-20, after all.