It's no secret that the biggest impending free agent for the New Jersey Devils in this coming offseason is Zach Parise. This was inevitable when Parise only signed a one-year deal worth $6 million last summer. Given that 28-year old, top forwards don't usually hit the market all that often along with the fact that he's the best forward available, he's going to be highly sought after if he's not re-signed by July 1. In fact, Minnesota is supposedly preparing to offer him a ridiculous amount of money according to this Puck Daddy post by Harrison Mooney.
I made a big deal about Parise's status in yesterday's free agency post, stating that it's just about a must-sign for the Devils in some ways. How can he be replaced? Truth be told, two names came to my mind as I was finishing up that post: Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez.
Back in 2002, Bobby Holik was also highly-sought after free agent. He was a center who could not only shutdown the opposition and win lots of faceoffs, but score plenty of goals and cause a lot damage. Holik could do it all at that time; he wasn't just a mere third liner. I remember being rather unhappy to learn back in July that he signed with another team, much less Our Hated Rivals. Back in 2007, Scott Gomez was a highly-sought after free agent. He emerged a top center in the league as a playmaker. Gomez could defend against the other team's best players and his skating was so smooth, he went end-to-end with the puck just on breakouts. I also was unhappy to learn that July that he signed with another team, much less Our Hated Rivals.
In both cases, I also remember my unhappiness quickly going away when I learned how much they were signed for. As much as I wanted Holik and Gomez to remain Devils at the time, their new salaries were $9 million per year and $7.6 million per year, respectively. They were large enough to make me somewhat glad the Devils didn't commit that much money to those players. Even without advanced statistics, I knew they weren't worth that much. With the benefit of hindsight, they really weren't.
I don't bring up those two players to say Parise's career is going to fall like Gomez and Holik after the new contract he gets. I bring them up because as much as Holik and Gomez were important, not easily replaceable players on the Devils at the time, there was some point where keeping them was not worth it. That's the question I'm asking today. How much would be too much for the Devils to keep Parise?
I'd like him to stay, and I'm sure you'd like him to stay as well. However, I also don't want the Devils to shoot themselves in the foot by offering him such a large deal that Parise can't justify going forward and/or the team's cap is hindered in the future. I have to admit that I'm still struggling with what cap hit - the average salary over the length of the contract - would be exorbitant. He won't make less than $6 million, which is what he made last season. He won't get a maximum deal from anyone if only because those are so rarely offered. Only 14 forwards currently have a cap hit of $7 million or more according to CapGeek. With a relatively thin free agent market for forwards, an increased cap, and teams already preparing to throw truckloads of cash at the guy, Parise could easily become the 15th. I just don't know where I'd draw the line. I trust Lou has a more concrete idea, of course.
To that end, I'm really interested in your answers. How much do you think would be too much for the Devils to keep Parise? What's your Holik/Gomez number? As I'm trying to sort it out myself, I've been looking at all kinds of stats about Parise's 2011-12 season. I've compiled them into a few charts with a few thoughts after the jump. Please use them to guide your opinion.Before I hit you with all of the numbers, I want to emphasize that I'm looking at regular season stats. While the Devils did have a deep playoff run in 2012, the population of games is still a fraction of the regular season. Also, not all advanced stats are available for the playoff run as of this writing. If there's a large enough demand, I'll add it in later.
The first stats that come to mind are the basic ones such as goals, assists, average time on ice, and shots on net. These are readily available at NHL.com (link goes to the Devils' player stats for 2011-12). For the sake of perspective, I've included Parise's basic stats for the last five seasons.
Parise was the team's leading scorer from 2007-08 through 2009-10. He actually finished third in the league in scoring in 2008-09. That season has been the peak of his production in his career. He shot a lot, they went in at a good rate, and he just kept pouring it on. The following season wasn't too shabby either. His 2010-11 season got cut short due to a torn meniscus. This past season saw him return with no ill effects to his knee, but the production has dropped both in terms of points and shots. His shooting percentage dipped, but the drop in shots is more worrisome given he's done so much more in prior seasons. 293 certainly isn't nothing to sneeze at; only seven players had more shots on net in the league. But prolific scorers need good shooting percentages and a lot of volume. If this is a sign that he won't be a 300+ shot-per-season player going forward, that has to give one pause on his future production. There's nothing wrong with a consistent 30+ goal scorer, but paying a lot of money for one could be.
Additionally, there was also a drop in power play production in this past season compared to others. Parise has been consistently used on the power play. While the 2011-12 team was not horrendously bad as, say, the 2002-03 team, Parise was not the main focus on these power plays. More pucks went to Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and whoever the other point man was. I think that had to affect his power play production, where he was a 20+ point player three, four, and five seasons ago. The larger question has to be: why wasn't Parise a featured player on the power play, especially if Kovalchuk and the other pointman struggled?
Lastly, please note that Parise also played a lot more in 2011-12 than in prior seasons. Peter DeBoer and
Ron Dave Barr used Parise quite a lot on the penalty kill in this past season. They wanted an offensive presence to be aggressive and Parise's no slouch on defense, so he knew what risks he should and should not take. In the regular season, the PK was successful in part of Parise's play. As a result of that, his average has gone up by a couple of minutes.
Of course, Parise's production was quite good last season. He was a top-25 scorer and while he didn't top 300 shots on goal, few players in the whole league generated as many. However, as Eric T noted in this NHL Numbers post about Parise's future, he could be past his peak as a scorer. Parise will definitely contribute, but he may not be a 40+ goal scorer in the future. If so, then that's a big reason to avoid giving him ludicrous amounts of lucre.
The basic stats on Parise have been very good. However, from 2007 to 2010, he absolutely shined in possession at even strength according to the advanced stat, on-ice Corsi. Behind the Net is the resource for all advanced stats. Since a majority of the game is played at 5-on-5, it's worth knowing how Parise did. Anyone who signs him should know what he has done there. I've taken a number of stats from Behind the Net from the past five seasons and put it into a chart to see how Parise has performed at evens. (Note: The even strength ice time came from NHL.com and this other Behind the Net page has penalties drawn and taken counts.)
The ranks are out of all Devils forwards who played at least ten games that season. For example, Parise's on-ice Corsi ranked 4th out of the 17 forwards who played at least 10 games last season.
Anyway, in 2011-12, Parise returned to an even strength ice time per game average what he got in 2009-10, his last fully healthy season. It's jarring to see the differences between the two. After two awesome possession seasons, he faced the toughest competition among all forwards in 2009-10 and he still drove the play like it was a sports car. Only Vladmir Zharkov had a higher on-ice Corsi rate. In fact, that team as a whole did such a great job in possession, which I think would explain how a 57% offensive zone start percentage is only eighth among forwards. In 2011-12, Parise faced weaker competition - not really weak, but not as tough as 2009-10 and ended up with a more pedestrian on-ice Corsi rate. The Devils as a team weren't as strong in possession, so it ranks relatively well. Yet, it's a big drop off to see someone go in double digits to closer to zero - and I didn't even adjust for zone starts.
Of course, Parise played with completely different players in those two seasons. Parise was part of ZZ Pops in 2008-09 and 2009-10, a line that featured Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. The three complemented each other very well and they were excellent in both ends of the rink. In 2011-12, Parise mostly played with Ilya Kovalchuk, who has never been a big possession player, and Adam Henrique, who was in his first season in the NHL. While Parise was quite productive with both Kovalchuk and Henrique in 5-on-5 play, each finished the season with less than impressive on-ice Corsi rates. And those rates are even less impressive considering they didn't take on the toughest competition on most nights and got favorable zone starts. It could be argued that since Kovalchuk and Henrique aren't as good at possession as Zajac and Langenbrunner, Parise's underlying nunbers would suffer. I can agree with that. However, this also can suggest that Parise can't really drive a line by himself; that he needs very good complementary players to be a top player in the league. That's not a bad thing on it's own. Usually, you want top players to be able to work well with their teammates. However, it makes giving Parise a massive contract a bigger risk. Especially if he's past his peak in scoring.
I will say this about Parise: he's very good at drawing calls. He's drawn at least 21 more calls than he has taken at evens since 2007-08. His tendency to play down low and constantly be in stride in pursuit of the puck has caught opposing players fouling him. That in of itself has value. It can be especially valuable for a team who has a power play that generates a lot of shots. No one on the Devils really plays like Parise, and that includes his apparent skill at drawing penalties.
With or Without You, Where You = Parise
Given that his possession rate really dropped in 2011-12 compared to his prior four seasons, I wanted to see who Parise was really effective with when it came to generating Corsi events (a.k.a. shooting attempts). That can be done with a With Or Without You (WOWY) analysis. It breaks down how a teammate performed with the player in question, how the player in question did without a teammate, and how the teammate performed without the player in question in terms of Corsi percentages. David Johnson's Hockey Analysis actually has a repository of With or Without You (WOWY) tables for every player in the league for goals, Corsi, and adjustments to both in 5-on-5 situations. He's even got tables that stretch out multiple seasons; it's really interesting stuff. For the purpose of this post, I want to focus on this past season.
Here's his full WOWY table for Parise in 2011-12. CF stands for Corsi For, CA stands for Corsi Against, and CF% is the percentage of Corsi For events over total Corsi events. I've used that data to filter out players who didn't have 100 Corsi events with Parise and I've added a Corsi% WOWY to highlight the changes in CF% among Devils skaters with and without Parise. A positive Corsi% WOWY means the players were worse off togther; a negative Corsi% WOWY meant the players were better off apart. For reference's sake, the Devils had a CF% of 50.3% last season. Here's the chart I have for the Devils forwards.
This chart really puts lie to the notion that Kovalchuk and Parise should be kept apart. While they didn't spend a lot of time away from each other, Parise and Kovalchuk were better off together at evens. Either wasn't even at 50% apart at evens. In fact, Parise had a worse CF% away from Kovalchuk than the other way around. With a tounge in my cheek, I must wonder whether Parise needed Kovalchuk more than Kovalchuk needed Parise? I also wonder whether other teams are considering that possibility when trying to figure whether out Parise can help them out right away. There is indeed more evidence for the two sticking together should Parise re-sign with New Jersey than just the fact both Kovalchuk and Parise racked up a lot of points together.
The other forwards didn't have nearly as many events, but it's interesting to note that Parise and Elias were great together in terms of CF%. They didn't become awful apart from each other, but there was a big drop. Given that Henrique and Parise weren't excellent with each other and about the same apart, perhaps Elias should center Kovalchuk and Parise? Parise had a similar effect with Petr Sykora, though with a much smaller population of events. Yet, in 2011-12, Parise didn't mesh well at all with Sykora's and Elias' usual right winger, Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus and Parise were both much better in possession away from each other. The same effect applied with David Clarkson and the former Devil, Nick Palmieri to more extreme degrees - likely influenced by smaller total amount of events. As for Zajac, I wouldn't be concerned as Zajac didn't really show he was back from injury until the playoffs. Past seasons are enough to believe that Parise can play well with Zajac.
If there's anyone on the Devils roster who should be pleading with Parise to stay, then look no further to Bryce Salvador. Parise's numbers suffered when he was out there with Salvador at evens. When they were apart, Parise did much better in possession while Salvador got even worse. I know Salvador's a defensive defenseman and we can't expect him to drive the play. However, a 48.5% CF% with a very good player and a 46.4% without him is quite poor. Salvador's the only player on the team to have more than 100 Corsi events where Parise was better off without him while he was worse off without Parise.
The rest of the defensemen are consistent. It was either that both really suffered apart from each other; or they both were better off apart. In the former category, Mark Fayne and Andy Greene really missed those times where they weren't playing with Parise at evens. Their change was massive. Parise was also much worse without them. In the latter category, possession tended to go the other way when Anton Volchenkov and Parise were both on the ice at evens. Interestingly, non-defensive defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Adam Larsson were both better off without Parise at evens. It wasn't to the extreme of Volchenkov and Zidlicky didn't have a lot of time to have events with Parise, so his percentages aren't so strong. Larsson played quite a bit with him and despite the skill sets involved, they were better in possession apart from each other. It goes against what I would have thought, at least.
So what does this all mean for Parise's value? I think it's further evidence that Parise isn't the same player he was once before. I did a WOWY analysis on Parise back in April 2010 after that season ended. All of the forwards and almost all of the defensemen who had at least 100 events with him suffered in possession when they played without him. Back then, we could say that Parise was a significant play driver beyond his awesome on-ice Corsi rate. While the Devils have changed quite a bit since then both in terms of players and coaches, these two WOWY charts show that Parise didn't always improve possession when he was on the ice. He's not necessarily going to step into any lineup and make everything better. This also provides further evidence that Henrique and Kovalchuk really weren't (aren't?) as good playdrivers as Zajac and Langenbrunner, which may have held Parise back a bit. ZZ Pops was such a great unit at generating positive events. While Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk weren't bad by any means, they weren't as a dominant unit. And being on a dominant unit makes the components look real good, including Parise.
That means any team looking to hand him a fat contract should do their due dilligence and determine whether Parise can really play well with their intended lineup. He's not going to make everything better unless the coach and the team is built for driving possession. He'll do well with certain kinds of players; it'll be up to those other teams to figure out if they have them. This includes the Devils, though it'll likely be easier for Lou and his staff since they have 106 games of recent experience with the player and their current roster.
What's Your Number?
I do think the Devils should exercise some caution. I doubt we're going to see the Parise we all fell in love with in the 2008-09 or 2009-10 seasons. His future may be filled with more seasons like this past one. As Eric T noted in his post about Parise at NHL Numbers, it may be a best-case scenario. Don't get me wrong, I don't have too many complaints about it. Parise had a very, very good season. Parise is a very, very good player. I just don't think the Devils should break the bank or offer an incredibly long contract for this level of performance.
Again, with an increased cap, a thin free agency market, and teams already preparing to give him big offers, anyone who gets Parise this summer will likely have to overpay to some level. I think I can live with a cap hit around $7 million per year, provided the term's not too long. A longer term means it's more likely Parise will fade and so I would want a smaller cap via a front-loaded contract. I don't think Parise should get a contract with a top-five cap hit, as he's not a top-five forward in the league. I'm not sure he's even among the top fifteen forwards in the league; but given the situation, I'm expecting he'll get a cap hit like he is one. (Note: The 30th largest cap hit among forwards is exactly $6 million - Parise's cap hit last season) Among forwards, the fifth largest cap hit right now in the NHL is the $7.8 million assigned to Rick Nash. If someone's willing to give him more than that, especially for a long term, then I'd be fine with Parise walking away. That's my number for now; but that may change as we wait for any news surrounding his contract or as I consider the numbers once more.
So after all of these numbers and conjecture, it's your turn to answer: How much would be too much to keep Parise? What's the largest cap hit, salary, and/or contract you would want the Devils to offer to re-sign Parise? What's your number that, if exceeded, should let Parise walk like Holik and Gomez before him? Please leave your answers and other comments about re-signing Parise in the comments. Thank you for reading.