One of the on-going issues of the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils season is Zach Parise. He became completely healthy and participated all throughout training camp and preseason. He was named captain of the team. Most of all, he's on a one-year deal. He re-signed as a RFA for $6 million at the end of July and he'll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012 if he does not sign a new contract with the Devils before then.
It's that latter reality that has the hockey world jumping. This isn't some older player en route to hitting the free agent market. This is Zach Parise. The former All-Star. The hustling point machine out of New Jersey. A former Olympian. Someone who's now healthy and will turn 28 in July. On top of that, there aren't many big money forwards going UFA in this coming summer. Throw in some financial issues where that may or not may be concerning and the rumor mill is churning. Do the Devils think about trading him? If so, what would be acceptable? Or do the Devils feel they have a real shot at keeping him? But at what cost should the Devils take to keep Parise? These are valid questions; they are definitely worth discussing. We've had some of those discussions already here. Kevin brought up the trade issue a few days ago. In this FanPost, user Marty 4 Prez cited recent articles about Parise and thought up of some potential targets as to who can acquire him. I'm sure there will be more in the future and I welcome as they come.
However, I want to take a big step back. As important as the questions are about Parise's future, it's just as important to discuss how Zach Parise is performing in this season. This is a "What have you done for me lately?" league. How he does in this season will have a big impact on how much he'll get, be it from New Jersey or other teams. After all, Parise was fantastic from 2008 through 2010, but that was a good long time and an injury ago. If he's not coming close to those levels of performance now, then that will certainly affect his value and make tough decisions even tougher. Though, as a cynical aside, a GM can talk himself into believing he'll return to Parise of old - surely that has happened in the past.
In any case, I think it would be a good exercise to compare how he's doing now compared to his last four seasons. This is my first attempt. I'm planning on doing this again at the end of the season and after the playoffs to see how it all ended up. Any suggestions on what else to include would be welcomed for that follow-up. In the meantime, let's look at how Zach Parise is doing this season, prior to the game against Boston, compared with how he did in the past four seasons.
All of the following numbers are from NHL.com except for the percent totals in the special teams table and the shots per game value, I calculated those from the stats at the league's site.
While I'm big on advanced statistics, production certainly matters. From 2007-08 onwards, I don't think there can be many complaints about the points Parise has generated. Sure, 2010-11 sticks out for being rather low, but he also only played in October of that year and one game late in the season. You can see that Parise hit an admirable peak in 2008-09. He not only set career highs in goals and assists, but also in shots on net and shooting percentage. The impressive part about that season was that his shooting percentage wasn't so wildly high. Parise scored all of those goals through volume. A lot of shots from close range, a lot of rebounds put back in, and a lot of effort. Since almost everyone in sport loves effort, how Parise got his 94 points certainly endeared him to fans. That and getting 94 points.
Per the splits on his NHL.com player page, Parise isn't on pace to come anywhere near that. While 39 points in 45 games isn't bad at all (it's tied for 30th in the league as of Wednesday), it still is a drop in production. His shooting percentage has been below 10%, so he may be due for a hot streak to get him closer to 10-11% by the end of this season. Yet, it's not so far below what he has shot at in the past that this can be called an outlier. The shooting has definitely dropped, as he's not anywhere near a 4 shot per game pace. I wouldn't freak out too much as only handful of NHL players have been shooting at that pace or better.
What is interesting is that he's been playing more minutes than usual this season. His average ice time per game has increased over the prior four seasons, but it has taken a real jump this season. The reason for that is fairly obvious: the penalty kill.
This is the first season where Parise has been a regular on the PK. He's seen a slight increase from season to season and he may have been on track to get more shorthanded time prior to his injury. With an average of over two minutes per game on the penalty kill, Parise's overall ice time has increased. Parise has certainly been successful, as he's a key part of a brilliant and bewildering special team this season.
He's also been quite productive as he's got more shorthanded points than power play points. As great as that is on the PK, it's sad that his PP points have dropped so much. I think a lot of that is by design rather than Parise not playing so well. As he's not a main target for this current power play. Parise hangs out down low by the net, but he doesn't see the puck often and when he does, it's not in a position to shoot the puck. As a result, the power play production has really dropped off to a point where shorthanded points represent more of his total points. Unless Parise gets hot or he gets moved to somewhere else (e.g. another unit, another spot on the ice) on the power play, I suspect we may not see many more power play goals or assists from the captain.
That said, even in those halcyon days of 2007-08 through 2009-10, Parise's power play points only served to supplant his numbers. Don't get me wrong, he was great then. Parise garnered many of his goals and assists at even strength. I've written many, many words about it in the past (here's an example), and I've found the advanced stats at Behind the Net better explain his 5-on-5 greatness.
Behind the Net Advanced Even Strength Stats
The stats at Behind the Net go as far back as 2007-08; hence, the decision to compare him to his past four seasons. Here's an example of the stats used and ranked on the Devils from this season. For the following two charts, I just changed the years for each season. Here's how Parise has done with possession (on-ice Corsi) and competition (Corsi Rel QoC):
The ranks are among all forwards for that season; I've included them as Corsi Rel QoC doesn't really translate as value from season to season. In any case, what surprised me on that front is that Zach Parise has only played the toughest competition on the Devils in 2009-10. He wasn't going up against scrubs in other seasons, but Parise was rightfully targeted by opposing teams after his incredibly productive 2008-09. The impressive part is that Parise still succeeded. Sure, the points dropped by 12 and the shooting rate fell a little bit; but Parise was still one of the best possession players on the team. Parise was fantastic in pushing the play forward in those three healthy seasons, and he wasn't awful in the little bit he played in 2010-11.
This is where the concern comes in: Parise isn't really pushing the play forward. The Patrik Elias line has been taking on the toughest competition this season, and Parise isn't going up against weak players. Relative to his team, he's not ranked too poorly. However, he's just above the even point in on-ice Corsi. His relative Corsi is also at a five-season low. For a player who wasn't just driving the play forward but steamrolling ahead and among his team's leaders in this stat, this is rather shocking. It suggests to me that Parise may not be performing as well this season compared to prior years. Sure, the points are one thing, but if on-ice Corsi is around zero, it means he's not consistently winning his match-ups or generating more opportunities than allowing. That's not good. Especially after what I thought was a good start on this front.
From 2007 through 2010, Parise was rolling through defenses alongside Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. This season, he's been playing with a rookie center in Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk, who's never been much of a possession forward. And Parise experienced other linemates until Peter DeBoer settled on all three. One way to look at it is that because Henrique and Kovalchuk aren't great defensive and/or possession players like Zajac and Langenbrunner. It's not Parise's fault that his linemates can't do the same things ZZ Pops did with such success. That he's producing at all and not getting beaten on every night should be seen as a positive for Parise.
On the other hand, it could be a clear sign that Parise isn't someone who can drive a line; he's at his best when he has a Zajac like player centering him or a complementary player like Langenbrunner. Since Zajac remains injured and Langenbrunner isn't coming back to NJ anytime soon (or at all), one has to wonder how effective he really is at even strength? The question looms larger when one considers that he's not facing the toughest competition every night. Must Parise have certain type of players for him to be most effective? Who are these players? Is this what we should expect if Parise isn't with those players; and if so, how can we say he's a good player at even strength? These are just some of the questions this invites; this season is providing at least some kind of answer. I will admit this may not even be an either-or situation; there could be other explanations or even a little bit of both at hand. Still, it's something a team should consider before making an offer to Parise.
There's still plenty of time in this season for this to change, of course. Zajac will eventually get healthy (hopefully) and when he's in form, the question of where to slot him will arise again. Perhaps he'll be re-united with Parise and the duo can make 5-on-5 magic happen again. Maybe some more consistency out of Parise, Henrique, and Kovalchuk can help each other out in this regard.
Not all of the advanced stats are against Parise. For one thing, Parise has continued to be a good drawer of penalties. Parise has been well disciplined on the ice and his style of game has compelled defenders to foul him. That has been the case over each season and it continues in this one. OK, the penalties drawn rate has dipped a bit, but it's not too bad. The important thing is that it's still larger than the penalties taken rate.
Also, let's note his PDO. PDO is just the summation of on-ice shooting and save percentages and they regress to a true mean over time. It's not clear what that mean is, but given the last three seasons on this chart, it's around 1000. Since Parise is at 995 right now, he's not enjoying really good or bad luck. That doesn't seem like a positive, but it is; it suggests what's happening on the ice will likely continue.
Finally, there are offensive zone starting and finishing percentages. Parise still ends up in the offensive zone more than half of the time and it's at a higher rate from when he starts. That's pretty good. In addition, the coaches have been more even handed with Parise's zone starts. He's at his lowest offensive zone start percentage compared to prior seasons. It means the coaches are putting him out there in more defensive zone starts - a sign of confidence in his defensive work. His on-ice Corsi rate of 0.60 is around that same value when zone starts are adjusted; he's not just performing off good situations.
Parise would be wise to start doing what he can to perform more often when he's in those good situations. He doesn't control faceoffs, but he can control what he does on and off the puck. The on-ice Corsi rate really could stand to improve and the only way that will happen is if he attempts more shots or sets his teammates up for more shots. Kovalchuk certainly isn't shy about shooting it - he's one of the few NHL players who does have a shot per game rate over four - and Henrique has displayed enough talent that he can and should take shots when he's got an open look at the net. To utilize both, Parise has to be a better passer going forward and in the offensive zone. He definitely has the talent, he just needs to sharpen up his accuracy. That alone could benefit the team's offense, not just Parise's advanced stats. It would also help if DeBoer and Adam Oates can recognize they have a potential power play weapon in #9 and try to get him more involved in their plays.
Interestingly, just from watching him on the ice, I'm not seeing a different Parise from before outside of some of the passes being off. He's still constantly skating in motion. He's still going into the corners and fighting down low for pucks. He's still forechecking hard when the situation calls for it. He's just not winning all of those pucks or getting as many rebounds as he once did. His feeds and reads aren't always on target. His forechecking, while filled with effort, doesn't always lead to results. In general, Parise gives a very good effort - but good effort alone doesn't make for good hockey players, much less those seeking big and expensive contracts. It's entirely possible that this season could just be an low season for him and he'll rebound in the future. It seems a bit odd that a player on pace for 70 points is having an "off" season; but that's how talented Parise really is on the ice.
Compared to his prior four seasons, Parise of this season doesn't always measure up. Some of this is understandable. Very few players shoot the puck as much as Parise did in the past and Parise's percentage may be a point or two lower than in past seasons; Parise can't do much about the latter. Some of this invites argument: whether Parise's drop in possession is a result of his linemates or Parise himself. Some of this is actually in agreement: Parise is still drawing penalties like he did in past seasons, he's still taking a considerable number of shots per game, and his shooting percentage and PDO isn't too far off from the past. We can even claim improvement as Parise now has another desirable skill-set: the ability to kill penalties. As of right now, I would say that he really doesn't. Not that Parise hasn't been bad; no, he's been a good player. He just hasn't been playing like one of the best left wingers in hockey - which is exactly what many regard him based on his awesome 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
As I've said prior to the jump, I intend to do this after the Devils' 2011-12 season is completed. This way we can get a clear answer as far as how Parise measures up. It's in the best interest of the player and teams to get that answer before discussing a deal. Teams should wait to find out if only to have more evidence to answer these important questions. Parise and his agents should wait because he could be doing better based on past seasons, and he may improve within the next few months. Fans should at least recognize that while he really doesn't compare to his fantastic 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons were great, he's still doing pretty well.
What I would like to know from you now is your opinion. Do you think Parise from this season compares favorably to his past seasons? What do you think Parise needs to do to improve his performance during this season? What do you think the team can do - and should they do it? Do you think Parise is earning his $6 million contract based on his performance this season? What other metrics should I consider in comparing Parise with his former self or other players (e.g. those with similar salaries)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Parise's performance this season in the comments. Thank you for reading.