NHL Playoffs 2012: Will the Devils' Success Keep Zach Parise in New Jersey?

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NHL Playoffs 2012: Will the Devils' Success Keep Zach Parise in New Jersey?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils selected Zach Parise in the first round of the 2003 NHL draft a mere 12 days after they nabbed their third Stanley Cup in nine seasons.

Nearly nine more seasons have passed since then, including a lockout year in 2004-05 that constituted Parise’s professional break-in at the AHL level. But in that time, the Devils have never advanced to the third round of the playoffs.

That was until Tuesday night, when a 3-1 triumph in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals helped New Jersey abolish the Philadelphia Flyers. The first-year captain Parise and co. will now wait on the New York Rangers-Washington Capitals matchup to see who will stand between them and the Prince of Wales Trophy.

For what one year is worth, the young captaincy of Parise combined with the coaching tenure of Peter DeBoer may be penning the answer to a certain million-dollar (or $6 million) question on general manager Lou Lamoriello’s bulletin board.

Over Parise’s first six seasons in New Jersey, five different coaches, not counting multiple self-appointed interim stints by Lamoriello, produced merely two playoff series victories. Those came one apiece in 2006 and 2007.

In the three years before DeBoer’s arrival, the Devils claimed a set of back-to-back Atlantic Division titles before fizzling in the first round and then missed the tournament altogether in 2010-11.

But to be fair, a contributing factor in New Jersey’s 81-point campaign under the one-and-done John MacLean and midseason replacement Jacques Lemaire was the knee injury that sidelined Parise for 69 games.

This season, Parise partook in all 82 regular-season outings and placed third on the Devils’ scoring charts as part of a 21-point turnaround in the NHL standings. They were the slightly overshadowed fourth head of the Atlantic Division monster, trailing the Rangers, Penguins and Flyers in the standings and the spotlight.

Yet in the postseason, they now stand at 8-4 with a passport to the NHL’s final four. Parise has pitched in four goals and four points, splitting his output evenly between a seven-game triumph over Florida and the five-game annihilation of Philadelphia.

It may be only one run past the halfway mark of the playoffs in seven years of partnership, but Parise and the Devils are making a timely final impression ahead of this summer’s free agency. They may even have enough already to remove this Zamboni from their dressing room.

Finally, they have managed to break the 100-point plateau and follow up proportionally in the playoffs. Finally, after residing in it for five seasons, they have lent some spring sizzle to the Prudential Center.

There is still the franchise’s complicated financial saga in play, but Parise has repeatedly proclaimed his sole concern is finding a fertile field for success on the ice. And why go looking for that in another city when the current employer in Newark is just reaching a new post-lockout height?

Naturally, there will be an abundance of challenges in that department to still answer in the forthcoming conference finals and especially next season. It will be on DeBoer to avoid a second-year slide behind the bench and at least match this year’s success, if not take the Devils to the upper echelon of the standings.

But with eight forwards and five defensemen from the active roster already under contract for at least one more season, there ought to be enough of a core group to close the vent for excuses.

And regardless of whether 40-year-old goaltender Martin Brodeur elects to return for 2012-13, he will inevitably hang up his pads sooner rather than later. And being a year younger, another fairly accomplished veteran, Johan Hedberg, will not be bolstering the crease much longer himself.

But if need be, there is hardly any cause to assume that the Devils cannot ensure their stability in the game’s most critical position by pursuing a certifiable successor from another organization. If they can land a long-term acquisition or a short-term seat-warmer to pass the time while they foster the likes of Scott Wedgewood, Keith Kinkaid and Maxime Clermont, the Devils ought to preserve their foundation.

The venue formerly known as Continental Airlines Arena and previously known as Brendan Byrne Arena was the house that Brodeur, Claude Lemieux and Scott Stevens built. The Prudential Center can still be the house that Parise, Adam Henrique and Anton Volchenkov built.

That might come to fruition, or it might not. But the fact that such hope-filled questions exist and remain unanswered is all the more reason for Parise and the Devils to renew their alliance.

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