The biggest free agent for the New Jersey Devils remains a free agent: Zach Parise. He became a restricted free agent at the conclusion of a four-year deal totaling $12.5 million. To protect him from other teams giving him an offer sheet, the Devils elected to take Parise to arbitration on June 17. The Devils did not need to tender him a qualifying offer, and the hearing will likely result in a one-year contract. His arbitration hearing is set for August 3; so the Devils, Parise, and Parise's agents have until then to agree on a contract that they can agree upon. I think all parties - especially the fans - will want this to be done before the hearing. Historically, arbitration has not ended well for the player with respect to their time in New Jersey.
Re-signing Parise will not come cheap, however. The Devils do not have a lot of cap space and whatever Parise will get could will take up a vast majority of what's left, if not all of it. It could force New Jersey's hand going into the season, like banking on Bryce Salvador being put on LTIR along with some other moves. Parise's next contract is a big variable in terms of the cap, a sign of uncertainty in terms of the team's talent, and something held highly in the regard of many Devils fans. Not just fans but media too, as Zelepukin (the ILWT user, not the player, though he's more than welcome to join ILWT) pointed out Tom Gulitti is sowing the seeds of a pro-Parise narrative regardless of what's gone on.
Since it's such an understandably large concern in the minds of Devils fans, let's wildly speculate about it. What contract do we think the Devils and Parise will agree to for 2011-12 and hopefully beyond? For the sake of simplicty, let's assume this will be done before arbitration. The arbitration process is more rigidly structured with respect to what case can be made. I'll make my guess and my thought process for it after the jump.
Let's start by laying out some basic facts about Parise and this current situation.
First, Zach Parise got paid $5,000,000 last season. Yes, his cap hit was $3,125,000; but what he actually got was $5 million. Unless Parise and/or his agents hate money, I would expect Parise to command and demand at least $5 million in salary next season.
Second, Zach Parise is in the prime of his career. He will turn 27 on July 28. Unless he signs a short contract, this next contract will be his best chance to maximize what he can make as a hockey player. I'm not saying he'll drop like an anvil over the edge of a cliff in his mid-30s, but if he's looking for a lengthy deal, then he's going to want to get paid a lot of money in the process.
Third, Zach Parise is an excellent hockey player. In the first three years of his last contract, he played 244 games, scored 115 goals, and picked up 126 assists. No Devil has put up more points than Parise in that three season span according to Hockey-Reference. His 2008-09 season was Parise at his most productive, when he reached 94 points. According to Hockey-Reference, this tied him with Kirk Muller's 1987-88 season as the second highest total for points in a season by a Devil since Patrik Elias in 1999-2000. He's more than just production though. According to Behind the Net, Parise had fantastic on-ice Corsi rates while going up against strong competition outside of the 2007-08 season. Parise isn't just a point-machine, but he's a constantly-in-motion possession beast as well; when he's on the ice, good things happen quite often.
Fourth, Zach Parise is coming off of a significant injury. Parise tore his meniscus in his right knee, which was exacerbated after collision in a game against LA in October, and required him to get surgery. While originally planned to be out for 3 months, he ended up being shelved for the whole season except for one game in April where he appeared to be fine. I don't anticipate his knee being a problem, but I could see how his injury from last season can complicate negotiations. According to this recent post at Fire & Ice by Tom Gulitti, Parise has been power skating through this summer and it's gone well according to the winger. It's one more reason to think last season's injury will be limited to just that.
Fifth, the Devils currently have $5,447,500 in cap space available according to CapGeek - with Bryce Salvador, Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen, and Matt Corrente on the roster. I discussed this more in detail yesterday, but I'm just emphasizing that the Devils don't have monster piles of space to give to Parise unless they make some decisions elsewhere with the roster.
Now that is out of the way, what should we be hoping for in terms of a contract?
In short, Parise is going to be well off for the next few years. During his last contract, he became the Devils' top forward and many fans see him as "the guy" for the immediate future of this franchise. Parise is clearly the team's best forward since Elias - and Elias is an excellent hockey player. Let's start with him. Elias' current contract with the Devils was for 7 years and $42 million, with his salary dropping off a little bit as years went on. He signed it at age 31 after his Hepatitis-A shortened season where he was seemingly on fire for 2005-06, and I don't think many fans really mind it since Elias has been quite good. I would be thrilled if Parise gets a contract like that, as should the Devils. Parise can justify a $6 million cap hit and it would allow more flexibility for the team.
I'm not all that optimistic that he'll settle for that. Unlike Elias, Parise is in the prime of his career and has already shown to be, well, a more offensive version of Elias in a way. Let's move on to Ilya Kovalchuk. His deal is massive, he'll receive a gargantuan, $10+ million annual salary from 2012-13 through 2017-18, and due to it's structure, it carries an average value of six and two-thirds million dollars. Kovalchuk is a great shooter and he oozes offensive talent. But he's not a complete player like Parise, and the two are worlds apart when it comes to the possession game. While I hope Kovalchuk will improve that regard, I doubt he'll get to Parise's level. Getting back to money, if I'm Parise or his agents, then I see Kovalchuk's average value and figure that I would want something like that or more. I may not want $10+ million per season for 6 seasons, but I would think I'm worth as much to the Devils as Ilya Kovalchuk. Both on and off the ice.
As an aside, the structure of Kovalchuk's contract will come into play for these negotiations from the Devils' point of view. I'm sure the Devils would like to avoid the peak salary seasons for Parise to happen at the same time as Kovalchuk's if possible. I'm not sure how they're going to do that as Parise is going to be in his prime along with Kovalchuk, and he would be kind of generous (or stupid) to sacrifice his salary for someone else. I think the Devils are going to have to bear some financial pain in real dollars - not necessarily a cap hit - for those years.
It is because of this latter point that I've been thinking about a number around $7 million as an average value, or cap hit. This would make Parise the highest cap hit on the team, evidence of his status on the team. It would also put him in the upper echelon of cap hits in the NHL. This is a place to see if there are any decent comparables.
Just to add to the "He'll want to get more than Kovalchuk's average value" pile, look at Alexander Semin's one year contract: $6.7 million. Parise's a more complete player than Semin and at the same age too; so I believe he can command more than that. However, looking at that list, I'm doubtful he'll get an average value that would be top-10 in the league. While it's arguable that Parise's more valuable than Scott Gomez, Thomas Vanek, Marian Gaborik, and Brian Campbell; it's arguable that Parise's just as valuable to the Devils as Pavel Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, or Jason Spezza is to their teams. I will admit these aren't very well suited as direct comparables, but this is the range of average hits that we're talking about
While I can see Parise surpassing $7 million, I'm having trouble seeing Parise getting more than $7.5 million. Steven Stamkos just got a $7.5 million/season average value contract. While he's not a complete player or a possession machine, Stamkos is a definite star in Tampa Bay, they're paying on some potential, and he's coming off two spectacular seasons in production. Parise's not the only star in NJ, he didn't have much of season last season to boost his salary, and there's not much potential for Parise. So I don't think Parise will get much more than what Stamkos, even if it's arguable that he may deserve that much. It's just what I think the ceiling may be.
Length is also a consideration. I'm not really sure it's fair to think or expect that Parise wants a 15-year deal or even a 10 year deal. Though would pretty much make Parise a Devil for life and require another big monetary commitment from the Devils. As much as I'd love to see something like a Mike Richards deal for Parise, I'm not sure that both sides are willing to do that. If I'm the Devils, then I'm pushing for a 5-to-7 year deal. This would benefit the Devils as they'll have Parise through his prime; and Parise would have the right to hit the free market as a capable veteran. If Parise wants to hit the open market sooner, he'll want fewer years; but I don't think 5-7 years is outrageous for either side should Parise really want to be a Devil for some time and the Devils are willing to accomodate him.
Just to bring this to some conclusion, here's a guess that I think would be within the realm of reality. A 7 year contract worth $49.7 million. This would make Parise the player with the highest average value on his contract on the Devils, it would yield a $7.1 million cap hit for New Jersey, he'll be among the highest paid players in the league, and it will commit the two parties through the best years of Parise's career without allowing him hit the FA market at the very end of his career. You may notice I didn't mention any clauses like a no trade or no movement clauses. Should Parise want them, I don't think it'll be a problem for him to add it. I don't anticipate the Devils needing to trade Parise should Parise remain the same Parise Devils fans love to watch. After this, the Devils will just have to clear some space to include such a contract. That could be done by putting Bryce Salvador on LTIR and perhaps a minor deal involving one of the many, many depth skaters the Devils have on their roster.
I expect to be dead wrong. The Devils could be willing to give him more money. Parise could be willing to take less. Maybe the length will be incorrect. After all, I'm just speculating here. Now it's your turn to speculate. What contract length and value do you think the Devils and Parise will agree upon, and why? I'm not asking what you think Parise deserves or what the Devils think he deserves; I'm asking you what the two would agree on. Again, we're just speculating, so please leave your answers in the comments. Thanks for reading.