It was just over nine years ago – on the fourth of July to be exact – when the Minnesota Wild made a dual signing that sent shockwaves through the NHL, giving big-name free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter matching 13 year, $98 million contracts, which was supposed to mark their first step toward being a true contender. Of course this was before the most recent CBA where contract lengths got capped at eight years and before the format of contracts themselves got adjusted due to a myriad of artificially long deals that made a mockery of the salary cap. Relitigating the fact that the Devils were the only team punished for ‘violating the spirit of the CBA’ on the Ilya Kovalchuk deal is another debate for another blog.
Of course it was nine days after the fourth of July this year, after the shocking dual buyout of Parise and Suter’s contracts in Minnesota where I was reminded of that fateful day in the summer of 2012 that changed the Devils forever. For all the talk about how we were fortunate in avoiding Parise’s contract (more on that in the next paragraph), the on-ice facts are undeniable. New Jersey made the playoffs every year of Parise’s Devils career aside from 2010-11 where he was limited to thirteen games due to injury, and has only made the postseason one time since he left. Obviously plenty of other factors contributed to the franchise’s downfall, but the exodus of star wingers Parise and Kovalchuk in a twelve-month period certainly sped up the franchise’s inevitable decline at the very least.
While it does get tiring hearing that the Devils dodged a bullet not having to sign Parise to that deal, there is some obvious truth to it as evidenced by the fact the Wild saw fit to buy out both him and his bff Suter with four years left on each of their deals and a whopper of a dead cap hit 2-3 years down the road. Parise and Suter were the most infamous buddy package deal in NHL history since Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne’s ill-fated team up on the Colorado Avalanche in the early 2000’s, so it’s oddly fitting they both get their walking papers together. After their obvious (and unpunished) public tampering in the summer of 2012, my heart does not bleed one drop for the cap issues the Wild are going to have based on these buyouts.
Even at best, avoiding his deal was a bit of a pyrrhic victory for us though. Sure, it saved us cap space and allowed us to fully bottom out despite the efforts of then-GM Lou Lamoriello to keep the leaky ship afloat. Really if today proved anything though, it’s that nobody benefitted from the events of July 4, 2012 – at least on the ice. Parise and Suter made bank and Zach at least did get to be close to home in his dad’s final years but on the ice, it was a loss for all involved. Obviously our team still hasn’t fully recovered. All Minnesota got for splurging on two deals of a combined 26 years and nearly $200 million was a few first and second-round exits, and no real deep playoff run in their nine years for the Wild. Parise could have had a golden legacy as a Devil who was drafted, developed, became the captain and had a long, distinguished career in one spot – or mostly in one spot at least. Think Patrik Elias, only not quite as productive but with a longer stay as captain and more of a connection to the local fans as an American star.
Splitting his career between New Jersey and Minnesota with only one deep playoff run in a fourteen-year career – and that came as he was on his way out in NJ – leaves Parise’s overall legacy as muddled, although I’m sure he’ll probably hook on with a contender (cough Islanders cough) for a potential last gasp at a Cup. Right this moment though, it’s not too much of a stretch to say Zach is arguably more well remembered for his game-tying goal in the 2010 gold medal game at the Olympics than anything he accomplished as an NHL player, despite a largely distinguished career with nearly 400 goals and almost 800 points.
Despite my anger at Zach at the time for being the captain and ditching us in a disingenuous way right when we had a deep playoff run, I’ve more or less forgiven him. Maybe it’s just the vindictive part of me glad he never found the team success after leaving that so many other ex-Devils have as of late, and now pitying him toward the end of his career after he’s spent much of it in obscurity. Or maybe it’s just the realization it was a good thing he got to spend his dad’s final years near home, though I’m still not sure if it was a known fact he was sick at the time Zach left or if that occurred later. However, I am sure I’ll go back to rolling my eyes at him if (when?) he reunites with Lou in Long Island though. Cap issues and potential angst aside – and as Lou once famously said, ‘don’t worry about my cap’ – it makes too much sense for it not to happen. Parise goes to the team his dad played for, with his former long-time GM and a chance to compete.
That’s next month’s issue though, this blog is more just a reflection on arguably the darkest offseason day in Devils history. Darker than Kovalchuk skipping the country (especially since we dodged a potential long-term contract issue there too), or Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez – among others – prancing across town to take the Rangers money. At least the Devils won a Cup the year after Holik left, though Gomez’s departure definitely led to some short-term pain the next year when the Rangers punked us out of the playoffs. And at least Gomez was long gone by the time we next met our rivals in the postseason again, during the spring of 2012. Ironically both came back to the Devils late in their careers, and after more acrimonious departures than Zach had here. Just more proof that Lou’s all but certain to make a pitch to Parise about going to Long Island.
I don’t even conceive of the possibility of Zach coming back here enough to care one way or another, why would he return here when we’re still a rebuilding team? Especially if he can go play with fellow Devils buddy Travis Zajac (assuming Lou re-ups him too). Either way, hopefully the Devils will start winning again soon so we can stop looking back at the past and have new players and more spring hockey to embrace.