The case to sign Zach Parise long term is simple. First, he very well may be the most talented player the Devils have EVER had. He’s definitely the most talented player (non-goalie) that they’ve ever drafted. We all agree that he’s the total package. He’s got moves, he’s gritty in front of the net, not a liability in his own zone, and is the consummate professional both on and off the ice. Signing him long term is pretty much a no-brainer. Even after the injury last year, it makes perfect sense to sit down, offer him 12 years, $80 million, which would match Kovalchuk’s yearly salary at less years. We’d have our potential captain (again, most people think a no-brainer, but I think Kovy has emerged as a legit candidate and deserves consideration) locked up for more than a decade, and would have our two superstars locked up for about $13.3M per year. To compare, the Penguins pay Crosby and Malkin a combined $17.4M, the Caps pay Ovechkin adn Backstrom $16.2M, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are about to pay a boatload to sign Stamkos to go along with Lecavalier’s $7.7M hit. The Devils would, once they rid themselves of some bad contracts, have a lot of money to throw around to build a great nucleus. You could even argue that by opening up that kind of money with Kovy and Parise locked up long term, the Devils would be in a prime position to send some offer sheets the way of top notch RFA defensemen and other star players.
However, the case to NOT sign Parise, as crazy as it seems, is gaining a ton of steam. First off, he’s only a restricted free agent. He can’t just go wherever he wants. Sure, he can accept an offer sheet, but this could easily work to the Devils advantage. If a team presents him with a long term deal that’s low in overall dollars, the Devils will most certainly match it. If a team with money blows everyone out of the water, with, hypothetically, a 10 year $90M deal, if the Devils choose not to match it (they most certainly wouldn’t), they’d get four first rounders from a team that most likely crippled itself against the cap, which means the Devils could be drafting in the top ten for five straight years. Take a look at the Penguins, Flyers, Lightning, and Capitals to see how great you can become with a bunch of high picks. The other, much more risky option the Devils have, is to take Parise to arbitration.
Arbitration is risky for two reasons. First, they risk alienating him in the hearing and having him walk away after the contract because he feels insulted. Second, doing this most certainly means the Devils are afraid of his reconstructed knee, or they’re banking on the UFA age going up to 29 after the new CBA is negotiated. That would give them another 2 years of Parise as an RFA and allow them to “kick the tires” on his knee for a season or two before locking him up long term. Obviously, this is all speculation and is clearly a huge risk. Parise is the one player in a hearing who I think might come out unscathed. The Devils could simply, instead of ripping him, say to the arbitrator, “Look, he’s a great player, but we don’t know what to pay him. We know what his numbers WERE. We don’t know what his numbers will be after major knee surgery.” Knowing the type of guy Parise is, he would obviously understand this. The Devils would probably come out ok with the decision and Zach would do pretty well. Then they would have a year to lock him up. Many fans don’t remember this, but Lou used to negotiate with players during the season. He’s not a fan of it these days, but he WILL make exceptions for exceptional players. Zach most certainly fits the bill.
The big advantage to arbitration with Parise is that it takes every other team out of the running. If they file before July 6, Parise is off the board and the Devils can negotiate exclusively until the hearing. If they get something done, great. If not, the arbitrator decides. Then, they’re either forced to lock him up long term during the season, or the new CBA gives them an extra year or two, depending on where they settle on the age of UFAs.
Finally, we need to debunk a myth of the popular hockey media when it comes to Zach Parise. That is, the Devils can not possibly afford him because of the Kovalchuk deal. First of all, as much as popular Devils beat writers like to call Kovy the “Hundred million dollar man,” when it comes to the cap hit, he absolutely is NOT that. He’s the $6.6 million man. That’s a bargain for that type of player. Did the contract hinder the Devils this year? Depends on how you look at it. Like I said, I think Kovy’s a bargain at that price. It’s the other bad contracts Lou’s still paying that are hurting us against the cap. However, you can’t pass on a player like Kovy just because the purse strings will be a bit tight this year. Especially when a player of his caliber is not likely to hit the UFA market for a very long time. You need to sign players when you can, when they become available. Not when it’s convenient for your cap number. But I digress. Back to Parise.
Parise’s contract this season was $3.125M. That is officially off the books. Jason Arnott’s $4.5M hit was replaced by David Steckel’s hit of $1.1M. Yes, I know Arnie is much better than Steckel, but with Josefson developing so well at center, Zajac, and a possible center in the draft, Steckel doesn’t need to be Arnott. Nonetheless, it’s another savings of $3.4M. That’s already $6.525M of the proposed $6.6M per year to sign him long term. You could argue that Parise would sign that deal right now. $6.525M per year for 12 years, or a bit over $78M. He’s set for life, he’s a Devil for life, and he’s chasing the Cup every year with the cap room they’re going to have. But why stop there? If they choose to go to arbitration, there’s a boat load coming off the books in June 2012. Add to all of this the fact that the cap is most certainly going to go up due to new revenue deals that the NHL has inked with NBC/Versus, and the near $400M deal with Molson, and they’ve got even more cap dollars. All this adds up to tons of teams licking their chops at the prospect of signing Parise, but Lou, as usual is holding all the cards. At the end of the day, I think this is going to turn out very well for the Devils. They’ll end up having Kovy and Zach long term, and can start building up from the back line forward and chasing Cup number four.