Moving forward from the uplifting playoff run of 2012, the Devils and their fans, are already looking to 2012-2013. As close as the Devils got in 2012 -- being named Eastern Conference Champions for the fifth time and two wins away from lifting Lord Stanley's Cup for the fourth time -- expectations are only going to grow.
All talk of free agency in New Jersey, or the league for that matter, starts with the Devils captain, Zach Parise. The 27 year old winger might be the most lucrative free agent to ever reach the market. After missing all but 13 games in 2010-2011, Parise and the Devils agreed to a one year, six million dollar contract last off season.
In signing the contract last summer, Parise was still a restricted free agent and it seemed to be the safe move for both sides. The Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996 and there was no telling how Parise’s knee was going to affect him the rest of his career. Parise’s production dipped a bit from scoring 82 points in 81 games in 2012 but still was a top line threat scoring 31 goals and producing 69 points. Maybe more comforting for potential suitors was Parise’s health as he played in all 82 games.
In the playoffs, things only got better for the Devils and Parise. Parise scored eight goals in the playoffs, sharing a tie with six others for the lead. The young star also got more pucks on net than any other player, leading the playoffs with 87 shots on goal. The 87 shots were 16 more than the next closest player which was Brad Richards of the New York Rangers. Shots can be disregarded quite easily by some, but they tell a big part of a player’s production and are certainly something that the decision makers in the National Hockey League review.
In baseball, one of the highest remarks a player can have is to be a five-tool player -- a player that can hit for power and average, has speed, fielding ability, and a strong arm. Parise is nearly a hockey equivalent. The 5’11”, 195-pound forward plays on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Parise is at his best on the power play, outworking other players in front of the net for rebounds, deflections and being a terror in general for the opposition. Seven of Parise’s goals in the regular season came from the power play, where he picked up seven assists as well. In the postseason, Parise lit the lamp three times courtesy of the power play and was credited with three helpers on the man advantage.
While the power play numbers are good, Parise played a key role in a record breaking season for the Devils on the penalty kill. The Devils killed off 89.6% of the the penalties they were charged with in the regular season, which was a new league wide record. Parise averaged nearly two minutes of penalty killing and found his way onto the score sheet. With head coach Pete DeBoer’s aggressive approach to killing penalties, the Devils pressured the opposition hard. The pressure led to turnovers, evident with Parise’s three shorthanded goals and four shorthanded assists. The playoffs were a different animal, however. The Devils only killed off 73.2%, 13th of the 16 teams to make the playoffs. In the opening round series, the Florida Panthers relied on their power play to score a ton of their goals, at times, the Devils were only killing off 40% in that series. The penalty kill is about the only negative to come out of the post season run.
Most importantly, he can play in all situations. Parise is a play driver at five-on-five. A play driver is referred to as a player who impacts a team strong enough that there are more attempted shots for his team than the opposing team, when the said player is on the ice. Attempted shots include shots on net, blocked shots, shots missing the net, shots hitting the post. While a casual observer may exclaim the goal is to put pucks in the net - not miss wide or get blocked - that much is given. However, much luck is involved. Players that can consistently out-attempt the other team theoretically have a better chance to defeat the opposing team
Breakaways and shootouts are also part of Parise’s skill set as he played part in all of the Devils 11 shootout wins last season. About the only knock on Parise, is that he isn’t going to blow you away with his shot. Very few of his goals will come from higher than the faceoff dots. When Parise is at his best the Devils are forechecking hard as Parise is the first one in the corners, winning battles on the boards, keeping plays alive. The speed of Parise draws plenty of calls as he has an ability to get steps against opposition and be forced to be taken down.
Parise will be very highly sought after on July 1, should he and the Devils not be able to come to terms before then.
Like Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez before him, the Rangers will be in the playing for Parise, regardless of how many times Parise says “No,” to reporters. Money talks. However, unlike the Rangers did with Gomez, they are going to have a hard time arguing the Devils have been holding Parise back. That was the main tactic that attracted Gomez in the summer of 2007, promising Gomez he would break 100 points with ease once removed of the Devils defensive system which Rangers General Manager Glen Sather argued were the anchors tied to Gomez’s feet. We all know how that turned out.
The tables have turned this summer though, as the Rangers play a large part of the game in their own zone, blocking tons of shots. Why would Parise want to go across the river to play in a system hoping for 1-0 or 2-1 wins, while getting every bounce possible? Many suggest that the Rangers system is much like the neutral zone trap, I disagree strongly. The whole goal of the neutral zone trap, perfected infamously by Jacques Lemaire in 1995 leading the Devils to a Stanley Cup, is to limit the oppositions time in your defensive zone. Force dump-ins by taking away skating space in the neutral zone and have a goalie who can play the puck act as a third defensemen. The Rangers shot-block-at-all-cost system is just the opposite. After the No. 7 and 8 seeds took advantage of it and forced the top seeded Rangers to seven games, the Devils broke through and ousted the Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If Parise ends up in New York, it would have to be a massive overpayment.
The Minnesota Wild are going to be a big chaser of their hometown star Zach Parise. The Wild finished 12th in the Western Conference last season, missing the playoffs by 14 points. Essentially, Parise would be walking into a worse situation that he just escaped from in 2011 in New Jersey. A team without much of a base, picking in the top 10 in the draft. Yet the Wild have a ton of cap space and could even approach something silly like a 12 year/$100 million contract. With that potentially on the table and an opportunity to play at home we are certainly going to find out how much Parise values winning.
A third team, and maybe the most appealing to Parise, are the Detroit Red Wings. Only the Wings can boast ability to offer a fair contract as well as the winning pedigree of the Devils. With a ton of cap space, the Wings are favorites to land Ryan Suter, the top defensemen on the UFA market. Suter is also American born and reportedly good friend of Parise. Things are changing in Detroit, though. Nicklas Lidstrom retired, arguably the greatest defensemen to lace up the skates, that is what opens Suter to step into the Wings blueline. After a first round exit to the Nashville Predators, you surely can bet the Wings will take a long, hard look at Parise.
The place that makes the most sense for Parise is still New Jersey. The Devils will have every opportunity to offer a competitive contract. Coach DeBoer’s system is the absolute perfect system for a player possessing Parise’s tools. Wearing the captain’s C, this is Parise’s team. It would be extremely hard for him to step out on the Devils after coming just two wins short of lifting the Cup. Judging by the exit interviews, he is saying all the right things about wanting to be back and stay a Devil, it is just a matter of getting done.
In today’s NHL it would be nearly impossible to try and predict the correct length and total money of a contract. However, I do predict that if Parise is back as a Devil, the cap hit will hover around $7.5 million a year at 7-10 years.
With July 1 vastly approaching, we are only 15 days away from Parise hitting the open market. Soon we’ll have answers to our questions, until then, speculate away.