My outlook on the Devils has changed considerably since my fanpost was published a day or two ago, which basically tells me at this point, I am either in complete denial regarding this season or I am completely oblivious to reality. Hoping that neither is the case, I came across two conflicting reports. The first report came from Kevin Paul DuPont of the Boston Globe:
"Scuttlebutt continues that Zach Parise, a restricted free agent as of July 1, has no aspirations to remain in New Jersey. If that's the case, he might force the Devils to deal him as an RFA, a situation similar to Phil Kessel's move to Torontoin September 2009. Lamoriello might be able to land three first round picks, a roster player; and a propsoed for Parise, who remains shelved after early season kne surgery."
To me, this is incredibly disturbing if it is indeed true, however, Tom Gulitti recently spoke with Parise, and needless to say, Parise denied any truth to these rumors, or 'scuttlebutts.' Parise spoke to Gulitti as well as SportsNet's Mike Brophy. Let me get to the point: Zach Parise is worth more to the Devils than a pile of draft picks. According to Adam Proteau of the Hockey News, Parise would likely draw as many as fourfirst round draft picks as compensation for losing a restricted free agent. If traded, Parise could draw more than Phil Kessel did in 2009. But what does four first round draft picks mean? The Devils have drafted well with recent first round picks since 2003, such as Parise, Travis Zajac, and rookie Mattias Tedenby, who has shown fans and scouts why he was selected in the first round, but the Devils have also drafted Matt Corrente and Niclas Bergfors, and as of right now, neither appear to be that kind of caliber of a player in the NHL. The wild card is Jacob Josefson, who figures to have a role with an NHL team, if not the Devils, but it is already to gage his progress. The Devils scouting department is going to undergo a huge test in the coming years, because with or without Parise, the Devils need to add young talent to their roster in order to restore a winning team in New Jersey.
Now, assume Parise departs either via trade or due to the Devils' inability to match another team's offer sheet. The Devils receive the four first round draft picks, but what does it say about the franchise? Could it damage Lou Lamoriello's ability to sign free agents? Does Lou rely too much on a hometown discount that players may not be interested in? For various reasons, the Devils lost Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski and Brian Gionta to free agency, even Paul Martin as well. All of the players received good pay days after leaving New Jersey, and Niedermayer, Rafalski and John Madden have all won Stanley Cups outside of New Jersey since the lockout. If the Devils lost Parise, arguably the best and most marketable American in the NHL, as well as the best 2-way forward (he and Ryan Kesler anyway), the identity of a hard-working, blue-collar superstar would be lost. Maybe that's part of the problem, the Devils lack an identity right now. Since the loss of Rafalski, the Devils have relied on defense by committee to win, and it has worked up until now, due to a combination of a conservative system and a Hall of Fame goaltender, Martin Brodeur, but this season, everything has been exposed. The defense is extremely weak in all zones, and the goaltender has suffered a setback in performance as his career winds down.
The Devils need a system that is based around the players on the roster. If the system is a defensive system, where all players need to be responsible in their own end, it starts and ends with Zach Parise. The Devils don't need to trade the world for a star, he's on the team right now. Zach Parise makes everyone better. He draws so much attention in the corners where he battles endlessly, and deserves to be treated first-class through these negotiating processes. Many think he will be re-signed before July 1st, but if he is not, there will be plenty of offer sheets for Parise, because he is worth changing the structure of your franchise to build around.
“It’s all been the same,” Parise said. “I haven’t heard anything.”
Those were the words of Parise to Gulitti. Why hasn't he heard anything? The calendar is turned to January, and Parise has not been talked to about a future contract. There is going to be salary cap space for Parise, assuming Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are not in the future plans of the Devils, which appears the case. His cap hit will be close to $7.5M for 7-10 years, and that is acceptable for a player like Parise, because there is no other player like him. Parise is an All-Star, he is a 35+ goal scorer, he's posted seasons of 94 and 82 points during the past two seasons leading up to this season, in which he has been limited to just 12 games. He was a +54 in that span and is a fixture 5-on-5, power play and penalty kill for the Devils. Without him, this team is simply not the same. But Parise is more than a couple statistics. Parise is the heart and soul of the team, he leads by example, and his hard work motivates others to work hard as well. Just as Toews and Kane, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise are a dynamic duo. Together, they are elite, if not, close-to-elite hockey players in the NHL today. You simply cannot tell the rest of the team, the coaches and the fan base that a couple of draft picks is more valuable to the organization and franchise from a hockey perspective and a business perspective than Zach Parise.
When asked about how really feels about wanting to re-sign with the Devils, however, Parise chose his words very carefully.
“Of course, you play in a place and you get drafted by them and you play there your whole career and you’d love to play in one spot for your whole career,” he said. “So, we’ll see what happens, I guess. I do like playing here and I like living here and everything. We’ll see how all that stuff turns out, but ideally you’d like to stay.”
That is what Tom Gulitti wrote on Fire and Ice. There is little more to say, except that the Devils, quite simply, cannot let history repeat itself. Losing the defensemen they did all built up and is now hurting the Devils. They could have managed without one of them, but losing the pieces they did, as well as a number one center (Gomez) and a top-6 forward (Gionta), plus another top defenseman (Martin) is all starting to echo on the current roster. I'm not sure the Devils have a number one center in the organization right now, and maybe the Devils can add a first round draft pick via trade this Spring, but the Devils should focus on drafting a defenseman rather than pursuing Sean Couturier aggressively. None of this matters without Parise. The rebuilding process becomes a larger project without Parise. Someone, maybe many teams, have nothing to lose by sending Parise an offer sheet. The Devils can't let things get to that point. This needs to be over by the end of the season. Zach Parise isn't and cannot be another player the Devils let slip away. Zach Parise gives the Devils a star player, a fan favorite, a captain, a leader, a hard-working player, but most of all, an identity. A few draft picks simply will not and cannot replace that.