2011 Offseason: Zach Parise, Arbitration, and the Devils

Absent any actual news, Tom Gulitti reported the following at Fire & Ice last night.

Two months after the team’s season ended and nearly eight weeks since Lou Lamoriello said the Devils would do "everything we possibly can as expeditious as possible" to re-sign him, left wing Zach Parise said there is still "nothing" going on with his contract.

At this point, it appears inevitable that the Devils will file for team-elected arbitration before next week’s deadline, which will either be 5 p.m. Wednesday or next Friday if there is a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals. Filing for team-elected arbitration would prevent Parise from fielding offer sheets from other teams if he’s still unsigned at noon on July 1, when he’d become a restricted free agent.

Needless to say, he's not wrong that team-elected arbitration is an option.  I do question whether it's "inevitable," but I'm splitting hairs.  This post spurned concerns that I think are at least premature, and as such I have my own thoughts about this situation.  I've touched on it once before when explaining why I wouldn't worry about Parise being given an offersheet a few weeks back.  Given this recent post,  I think it deserves further commentary after the jump:

Let's get started with that second paragraph from Tom Gulitti's post. In of itself, it lays out the reasons of why the New Jersey Devils would take Zach Parise to team-elected arbitration.  Per the CBA, a team has until the later of June 15 or 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals to take a player to arbitration.  This will protect Parise from offer-sheets and would guarantee that he's a Devil for at least 2011-12.  A team can't walk away from the awards of team-elected arbitration per Article 10.12(e) (thanks to Triumph44 for pointing that out).

Of course, the very thought of arbitration is also the source of the concerns, gripes, complaints, and worries of Devils fans. Arbitration with Lou Lamoriello doesn't lead to a happy ending for both sides. Just ask Brian Rolston, Claude Lemieux, Bobby Holik, Scott Niedermayer, and Scott Gomez.  They all left New Jersey as soon as possible or they were traded not long after their awards.   It doesn't lead to many long term solutions with other teams, as Greg Wyshynski referred to in the end of his post on this matter at Puck Daddy. This is all true. 

However, the fact is that a deal can still be negotiated and signed prior to the actual arbitration hearing.  The decision for team-elected arbitration is coming up next week.  Unless I missed something in the CBA, arbitration hearings don't begin until July 20 at the earliest.  Assuming the hearing would be on that day, the Devils and Parise's agents would have over a month to make a deal happen.  It wouldn't be the first time Lou has done this with a player. Travis Zajac elected for arbitration in 2009 on July 5 and signed a deal on July 22 before his hearing.

That alone should be enough to ease some of the worries of Devils fans.  However, I am a little, for lack of a better word, confused by this conclusion by Gulitti:

Still, there has been plenty of time already for the Devils to conduct negotiations and get a deal done without needing to file for arbitration. With no other options right now, however, Parise has no choice but to remain patient.

First off, I have to ask Gulitti this question.  How long have you been the beat reporter of Devils?  Can you tell me how many times Lou has ever publicly discussed negotiations while they were still going?  If it's happened before, it's going to be a big exception to what he's been doing his entire career.  He's not going to change now.  There's a reason why he says "status quo" over and over because that's going to be his answer until something is signed.

You (the reader) and I don't and won't know whether negotiations have gone underway or have been going nonstop for weeks with an understanding in place for all potential options.  Parise or his agents likely know Lou doesn't like leaks and so aren't going to be forthcoming with anything.    Therefore, it's rather unfair in my opinion to conclude that there has been "plenty of time for negotiations."  One would have to assume there's nothing going on and so negotiations must be underway.I will admit, it makes a situation look more dire than it actually is; it's not good PR to say as little as possible. But Lou's not in the PR business, he's in the hockey business and he's going to continue to operate in this manner. 

Second, let me ask those worried about this the following question: What is the salary cap limit going to be for 2011-12?  The actual ceiling number is going to be very important in determining just which restricted free agents can the Devils qualify, much less set up a plan for free agency in this coming summer.  Knowing exactly how much space Lou has to offer will directly impact any deal he can offer to any player, including Parise himself. Given that the Devils don't have a lot of cap space, Lou would have to be really dumb to offer a formal contract not knowing how much of a bind he would put himself for signing other players.  Likewise, how can Parise's agents demand a figure without knowing it's even feasible?  To me, it makes no sense for both sides to assume a figure and go with it.

Incidentally, the ceiling is thought to be in a range of $60.5-63.5 million per this article in the Montreal Gazette. Don't dismiss the difference of having an extra million in space; it's in New Jersey's best interest to have it as high as possible.  If it's on the lower end, then that's less money for players to be retained or signed - and that's not even including Parise's contract. We'll know the actual number likely after the Stanley Cup Finals end.   From then, negotiations can possibly become more realistic.  I emphasize possibly since again, you and I don't know what's been going on.

There's not much merit to thinking that "there should have been a deal" now when it's reasonable to wait until all the parameters are set to make such a signing. Basically,  I wouldn't freak out if the Devils do elect for arbitration regarding Zach Parise in this coming week. I would only begin freaking out if there's no signing by the hearing. 

The larger point I want to make is that I fully understand the inherent frustration over the reality that nothing has happened yet. No head coach. The draft's not until June 24. Free agency doesn't kick off until July 1; and no restricted free agents have been re-signed.   All I can stress for the Devils fans is patience.  I believe once the salary cap is set for next season, moves will start to be made.  And I believe once one decision is made, others will soon follow.  These deadlines and start dates for events are not that long away.  They will come, moves will be made in seemingly short order, and then that is it.   This is the calm before the proverbial storm. 

Let me know what you think or if I missed anything in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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