Less than a month after captaining the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals, Zach Parise took the money and ran home to Minnesota, bringing good buddy and fellow UFA Ryan Suter along with him as both inked matching 13 year, $98 million contracts this afternoon dissapointing twenty-nine other NHL teams and making one fanbase very happy. Good for Wild fans, this is the only thing they've ever 'won' other than a couple of division titles under Jacques Lemaire. What kind of world do we live in when the Wild are playing checkbook hockey like the pre-lockout Rangers?
Suter's departure was particularly bitter for Preds GM David Poile, who revealed they made their own 13-90 offer but Suter never went back to him before deciding to take the Wild offer. Of course, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was more circumspect about losing his key UFA, saying that he was told Parise was making the choice to play at home and that he would have been back if it wasn't for the Wild offer. If that was the case then what was the three-day holdup about? Talking his childhood buddy Suter into joining him or just waiting for appearances' sake? I mean really, I don't want to hear about going home when you had multiple contenders throwing $80-90 million at your feet and you go home to play with a non-contender basically because you got guilt tripped by your family.
Of course, in the days to come you'll hear all the reasons and hope for why the Wild can win (and nonsense like texting Dany Heatley and him saying yes the Wild can win), but that's all it is, hope. Hope that their prospects pan out and the cap keeps going up. If the cap doesn't go up, having Parise, Suter and Mikko Koivu inked to nearly combined $22 million of cap space is going to cripple them in a few years. And none of them are a top ten forward or defenseman. Zach didn't just pass us up, he passed up the Penguins and Flyers (thank god), the Wings and the Hawks and who knows how many other teams bid on him. Suter passed up agressive offers from the Wings and Preds to go to Minnesota. Ostensibly, if Suter had gone to Detroit - which he was close to - then Zach would have come back. Like that helps.
Yes, this could have been worse, Zach could have pulled a Chris Bosh and linked up with Sidney Crosby's LeBron and Evgeni Malkin's Wade to form the Pittsburgh Heat. From a competitive standpoint, having Zach go to a non-contender in the Western Conference doesn't immediately sting on that end. It certainly stings on our end though. Now the Devils need two top nine wings (one top six), and there are very few options available in free agency or via trade. Options like Alex Semin, Rick Nash or Bobby Ryan that will be populated by all the teams that lost out on the Parise sweepstakes. There aren't any options in house that seem to be ready to take a spot in the top nine either, perhaps part of Lou's motivation of keeping our first-rounder but now that decision looks even more suspect now that the captain ran home.
Even leaving the hockey out of it for a moment, and assuming Lou will replace Parise the way he has Scott Niedermayer, Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik and other departing UFA's, the fact is losing Parise stings more emotionally than the other three did. With all of Niedermayer's previous holdouts and the obvious appeal of playing with his brother in Anaheim, I never really believed he was staying anyway. Holik was obviously about the money after being offended at an arbitration hearing before his final season here, and Gomez had such an inflated view of his own importance you figured he'd be a merc too. Not to mention the latter two weren't nearly as important to the equation as Nieds, or Zach. They just became notorious because they bolted to the Rangers.
Zach I did honestly believe to be different. Especially after stating every which way for a year and a half he wanted to stay, not to mention the fact the Devils finally started to win in the spring again for the first time in nine years. With a 'competitive' offer according to Lou, and a team heading in the right direction with stability at last in coaching under Pete DeBoer playing the kind of system Zach wanted, he certainly had every reason to stay. Not to mention a closeness in the locker room this year with a team that had fun with each other and sacrificed for one another and its fans. Everyone expressed interest in coming back, and almost all of our UFA's did return.
Whatever Zach winds up saying when he and Suter meet the media later this week, there'll be no knowing why he did what he did, and what his motivation was for turning down the Devils and other contenders just to go home. Personally I think he was guilted into it by dad JP and all his friends in Minnesota, since Zach does live there. Not to mention the lure of helping turn around a hometown team which has done nothing in nearly fifteen years of existence apart of one fluke playoff run in 2003 I'm sure factored in. Even if he hadn't really finished the job with us yet. I knew the jig was up when Zach was in Minnesota today for the holiday, and word started to leak out that he and Suter would both decide. I understand why Zach felt he needed Suter to come with him to Minnesota, but I don't really get it from Suter's perspective. Ironically it was probably more of a cash grab for him than for Zach, but whatever the case I don't really care right now.
At this point I'm just worried about our plan B, whatever that could possibly be. There's no way the Devils can go into the season with this gaping hole in our top six and expect to compete. Especially with every team this side of the Rangers looking for offense, offense and more offense (how else to explain two of the best offensive teams around in the Pens and Flyers being so hot in the chase for Zach, well besides the obvious benefit of sticking it to us?). Replacing a third-line winger like Alexei Ponikarovsky shouldn't be much of an issue but finding someone to replace Zach's 30+ goals and 75-80 points a year is. Not to mention appointing a new captain. Maybe Ilya Kovalchuk doesn't want the job but it has to be him now, we can't very well give it to a UFA like Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac or David Clarkson and risk this kind of a fiasco again next offseason. Bryce Salvador is the only other candidate if Kovy shies away from the responsibility.
Not to mention getting guys like Zajac locked up long-term so we aren't going through this again next offseason when Zajac goes to Winnipeg and takes another big FA with him to be the hometown hero there.
Programming note: I am definitely having a follow-up to this post later or tomorrow after hearing some of Zach's quotes today. Suffice it to say I'm even less thrilled with our former 'captain' than I was.