Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett / Getty Images
By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)
With each passing series in New Jersey’s unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final, the market price for soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Zach Parise increases.
While Parise may be pricing himself out of New Jersey and thereby causing the other 29 NHL teams to circle July 1st on their calendars again and again, Detroit fans may want to temper their expectations.
82-year-old team owner Mike Ilitch has made his desire to win now at whatever price known on the baseball diamond with the Tigers’ off-season signing of Prince Fielder for nine years at $214 million.
As Ilitch told the Detroit News before the start of the Major League Baseball season, “What I think I’m most thrilled about is that, No. 1, to win you’ve got to have stars.” He added, “And to have public appeal you’ve got to have stars.”
Ilitch’s statement may be indicative of an active off-season for the Red Wings, the team he resurrected from the “Dead Wings” era and has owned for 30 years. With 10 more years as owner of the Red Wings, Ilitch’s desire to once again raise the Stanley Cup may trump his desire to win the World Series.
Parise would be the best free agent at any position in the upcoming class. He has seven goals and seven assists in 14 playoff games. He ranks fifth in playoff scoring with teammate Ilya Kovalchuk and the Kings’ Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar the only active players in front of him. Parise is second in shots with 68 to the recently-departed Brad Richards’ 71, which may be the sign of an impressive statistical series to come.
Parise finished the regular season with 31 goals and 38 assists, which tied him for fifteenth in scoring league-wide.
Parise turns 28 in July. He is in his prime and the hockey equivalent of Fielder. Should he hit the open market, he could command north of $8 million per season for several seasons of a contract more than seven seasons in length.
While Detroit’s General Manager Ken Holland and Head Coach Mike Babcock would undoubtedly love Parise in their top six, the price tag may be problematic.
The team’s highest paid players are superstar forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Zetterberg will make $7.75 million next season and $7.5 million per season in each of the last two years of his 2014-2015 contract, while Datsyuk will pocket $6.7 million per season through the 2013-2014 season. Lidstrom made $6.2 million last season and will command a similar salary to convince him to return next season.
Ilitch can afford Parise and Detroit has more than enough cap space, but the organization has long abided by an unwritten rule that it will not pay newcomers more than its invested superstars. For Detroit, buying into the organization and the team’s system is far more valuable than a player’s past performance elsewhere.
While the organization and its fans cannot imagine a better winger to compliment all-world talent and unrivaled magician Datsyuk, Parise’s goal totals have declined each of the past three seasons from 45 to 38 to 31, though this season was his first after missing the entire 2010-2011 season. Parise’s shot totals have also declined.
The Detroit News and SB Nation recently reported that Parise and top free agent defenseman Ryan Suter may be a package deal given their history together on Team USA. The two have known each other for more than a decade when they first worked at the National Training and Development Camp in Ann Arbor.
Together, Parise and Suter won the United States’ first gold medal for the under-18 age group at the 2002 World Championship. They have played together several times on the international stage since.
According to the Detroit News, an anonymous NHL team official aware of the circumstances said, “I am assuming that, at least as of right now, they are a package deal. They certainly seem to have set it up that way, themselves.”
Do not be surprised if that package requires Parise to make less than Zetterberg. With Lidstrom playing on a year-to-year basis, Suter’s salary may have more wiggle room.
If the two are not a package deal, Parise’s playoff performance and experience and status as the top free agent forward in a relatively thin class could mean that he lands elsewhere for more money. If that is the case, Detroit may turn to another forward such as Alexander Semin whose chemistry with all-world magician Datsyuk was on display during Russia’s recent run to the World Championship title.
Statistics, rosters, and other information obtained at www.nhl.com and http://detroit.sbnation.com/detroit-red-wings/2012/5/24/3041667/nhl-free-agent-rumors-red-wings-ryan-suter-zach-parise.
Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq. He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com. Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.