It wasn't readily apparent at 5 PM EST, but it's now official. As confirmed on Twitter by Tom Gulitti, the New Jersey Devils did file for team-elected arbitration with Zach Parise today - the last possible date for a NHL team to do so. This means that no NHL team can give him an offer sheet. He is protected for this offseason, and the Devils don't have to make any difficult decisions over whether to match a massive contract they may not be able to afford.
There are two outcomes now. The first is the more worrisome: there is no contract and both Parise and the Devils go to an arbitration hearing to settle the matter. The two sides will argue their case, and a third party will make their decision for a one-year contract. Since it's team-elected, the Devils can't walk away from it. At a minimum, he will be a New Jersey Devil for the 2011-12 season. However, the arbitration process tends to wreck a player-team relationship; and those who get into a hearing with Lou aren't Devils for very long regardless of result.
Of course, the hearing won't take place for quite sometime. The first possible day for arbitration hearings are defined as July 20 in the CBA. The Devils have at least a little over a month to negotiate with Zach Parise on a contract. This is the second outcome: the Devils and Parise agree on contract prior to the arbitration hearing. This will eliminate the need for arbitration and could secure Zach Parise for longer than one season.
I believe this what both sides will shoot for based on what Gulitti has tweeted shortly after finding out the news. Lou Lamoriello told Gulitti that he doesn't want this to go to a hearing in this tweet; stated that he wants to have a long-term agreement for Parise in this tweet; and emphasized that this is just to keep other teams away from offer-sheeting him in this tweet. (Update Note #1: And just shortly after this post went up, Gulitti put all of those quotes into this post at Fire & Ice).
Lamoriello: "We'll continue toward getting a long-term agreement."
Lamoriello said this doesn't mean they are going to a hearing. "In fact, that's the last thing we would like to do," he said.
Lamoriello: "It's simply protecting the rights."
As for Parise's side, he wouldn't comment to Gulitti on the arbitration filing though Gulitti revealed on Twitter that discussions have begun. (Update Note #2: Per Gulitti's post on the news at Fire & Ice, Parise didn't think this was a big deal.)
Via e-mail, Parise declined comment. on the team filing for arbitration. He did confirm earlier that there have been "initial discussions."
The cynic in me would like to think that discussions are more than just "initial," but it really doesn't matter much now. The Devils and Parise's agents now have a deadline of sorts and that will drive them to make something happen before then. This isn't the first time Lou has been through this before. Travis Zajac filed for arbitration in 2009 and the two sides agreed to a deal before the hearing. The only difference this time is that the Devils did the filing and there's more time to make something happen. So don't freak out over this news; only freak out if there's no contract signed by the day of the arbitration hearing.
This news should not be surprising, this was discussed last Saturday as a real possibility. Now it's official. I will say that I was surprised that Lou was open enough to say that they'll work for a long term agreement bodes well in my opinion.
What do you think about what will happen next? Are you confident that a deal will be done before the arbitration hearing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks to Tom Gulitti (@TGFireandIce) for getting the word out on Twitter as well as he does; and thanks to you for reading.