The 2012 Stanley Cup final between the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils is underway, but questions about the future of one Devil could become an unwelcome distraction.
Left winger Zach Parise may hoist the Stanley Cup as Devils captain, but his status as a potential unrestricted free agent this summer suggests this series may also be his last in a Devils jersey.
It’s a scenario most Devils fans, as well as Parise’s teammates, coaches and bosses, aren’t keen to entertain. Since his selection in the first round (17th overall) of the 2003 draft, Parise has become one of the brightest stars in franchise history.
In his seven seasons as a Devil, he’s consistently been their best forward, leading the team in scoring three straight campaigns from 2007-08 to 2009-10 and finishing among the top three in two other years, including this one.
Entering this year’s Cup final, Parise was tied for the team lead in goals (seven), was second in points (14) and was mentioned as a Conn Smythe candidate. Leading the Devils to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup championship would be a crowning achievement of his career thus far.
Given these accomplishments, any talk of Parise leaving the Devils this summer seems absurd, yet with the start of unrestricted free agency only a month away, speculation over his departure will increase in the coming weeks.
Parise refuses to address the issue, telling reporters he won’t discuss free agency or his plans beyond the Cup final. That might ease speculation for the time being, but questions about his future will resurface once the playoffs end.
Re-signing Parise won’t be cheap. Having amicably agreed last summer to a one-year deal worth $6 million and, given his value both to the Devils and on the free agent market, Parise could command $7-$9 million per season.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello doesn’t talk contract with his pending free agents during the season, so it remains to be seen how negotiations go between the team and the Parise camp.
Lamoriello is certainly willing to keep him in the fold, saying in March that Parise’s “a Devil, he’s not going anywhere.”
Despite Lamoriello’s confidence, reports emerged last fall that claimed the club was on the verge of bankruptcy, leaving questions over whether it can afford to retain its captain.
League commissioner Gary Bettman claimed Wednesday that Devils ownership was on track to resolve its financial situation in a few weeks. To Parise’s credit, he said during the season the team’s situation wouldn’t have any impact on his future plans.
Still, it will be a factor in determining if the Devils can afford to re-sign him.
If Parise were to hit the open market, there wouldn’t be any shortage of teams lining up to bid for his services.
Earlier this season, Parise admitted playing for a Stanley Cup contender would be a factor in determining his future plans. Now that the Devils are competing for the Cup it should work in their favour to keep him, especially if they win.
On the other hand, if Parise gets a Cup ring, it could increase speculation over a return to his home state of Minnesota by joining the rebuilding Wild.
Regardless of the outcome of the Stanley Cup final, conjecture over Parise’s future will be a hot topic throughout the remainder of June.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.