Well, the playoff outlook for the New Jersey Devils is looking bleak to say the least at this point of the season. Even though they are not mathematically eliminated, they are essentially hanging on by a thread. The Devils must win their last nine games and would still need a little help from other teams to ensure the Sabres, Hurricanes, Thrashers or Maple Leafs do not exceed the 90 point mark, which is a long shot to say the least.
The playoff issue aside for now, there are two major questions that jump to the forefront for the Devils come this off-season: (1) What will happen with Zach Parise's contract, as he is set to become a restricted free agent, and (2) Will Jacques Lemaire return as Head Coach?
The second question is pretty easy, as either Lemaire is going to be coaxed into returning for another year, or he is not. I'm sure GM Lou Lamoriello will do anything and everything he can within his mighty powers to have Lemaire return, but more importantly, Lemaire has to want to return, otherwise it doesn't make much sense for it to happen. If Lemaire won't be 100% into it, he'd be doing both him and the team a disservice.
If Lemaire chooses not to return, anyone's guess is as good as mine right now as to whom his potential replacement might be, but we'll table that discussion for if and when Lemaire decides to not return.
So, that brings us back to the question of Zach Parise and his pending restricted free agency. It's an issue of obvious great importance to the Devils, who sorely missed Parise most of this season. You can easily make the argument that Parise should have been taken care of last off-season, before the entire Ilya Kovalchuk mess, but unfortunately, that ship has already sailed. I thought it was prudent to lock both players up last off-season, as I mentioned, but as I said, that is no longer an option.
At this point, a couple of factors greatly impact the pending talks between Parise's agent and Lou Lamoriello. The obvious first item to point out is the knee injury that limited him to just 12 games this season (so far). Parise joined his teammates today for his first practice since November, so, how long will it take for Parise to be ready for game action?
You can do the math and project the possibility that Zach Parise could be set to return to the ice on March 30 against the Islanders at the Prudential Center. That's also assuming Parise doesn't experience any setbacks of any magnitude. It likely won't be impacted by the results in the Devils' upcoming games, but if the Devils post some wins and other teams lose, I guess you never know.
Once this season is over, that's when the real questions about Parise's future will come to the forefront. I think the best option for both sides may be to sign a one-year deal, and here are the reasons why:
- If the teams do not agree on a contract, the Devils can look to take their case to an arbitrator, in which case the injury riddled 2010-11 season will work against Parise, something his agents I'm sure are already aware of.
- The team will have more salary cap space to utilize after the 2011-12 season, when the contracts of Brian Rolston ($5.062 million cap hit), Martin Brodeur ($5.2 million cap hit), Colin White ($3 million) & Bryce Salvador ($2.9 million) all expire, freeing up over $19 million in cap space. While these spots would still need to be filled in the lineup, there also will be two years of probable rises in the salary cap as well to factor in.
- Because of the arbitration rights, the devils will have leverage for this year, since the Devils could just chose arbitration and essentially take Parise off the market for now. However, that does not come without risk, as it potentially opens the door for Zach to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 season.
Well, it's a lot easier to speculate on what might happen, then it is to deal with the human elements that come into play in the negotiation, so with that caveat in place, I'll now take a look at what I would look for from either side of the negotiating table.
If you look at the logic I laid out above, I'd say the best plan would be to discuss an extension in the realm of what Mike Richards signed with the Philadelphia Flyers (12 years, $69 million) back in December 2008, and also use the famous Ilya Kovalchuk contract of 15 years and $100 million. Obviously, the price has gone up from Richards, but I don't see the contract entering the range of Kovalchuk either, only if no other reason than the front loaded deals are no longer allowed to be done like they were in the past.
My plan would be to have Zach sign a 1-year deal for about $5.5 to $6 million, which would be a decent raise over the $5 million he made this season. I think that would be a solid gesture on the Devils' part because Parise might be hard pressed to do much better than that if it went to an arbitrator. At the same time, I'd start setting the parameters for a multi-year deal to be signed in the fall, and to make sure both sides are pretty comfortable with the range of dollars being discussed.
This gives the Devils some flexibility, as well as the chance for Parise to increase his salary further with an excellent start to the 2011-12 season. Ultimately, I see Parise signing something in the neighborhood of a 12-year $85 million contract, which would give him a cap hit of just over $7 million. If possible, they may want to flirt with a 13th year, but only if it is cap-friendly under the new age 40 rules.
Overall, I can't see Lou Lamoriello allowing Zach Parise to end up in a different uniform, but then again, in the summer of 2005, you would have thought Lamoriello would have and did everything he could to keep Scott Niedermayer, when he was a free agent. Thankfully, it doesn't appear Jordan Parise is an NHL-caliber goaltender, so I don't think we will need to worry about Parise looking to play elsewhere with his brother.
There are indications that Parise enjoys playing in New Jersey and would like to stay for the long haul. Without being able to be inside Zach's brain, it's hard to know whether that is him being politically correct, or if he is being sincere. I speculate that Parise is similar to Martin Brodeur, only in that it would mean a lot for him to play with one franchise, and I also think it would be important for Zach to take over for Jamie Langenbrunner as Captain of the Devils, which is something I definitely see being offered to Zach as part of the negotiations.
Hopefully, it doesn't end up a long, drawn out process, because that will be agonizing for the fans, but as long as Parise stays a Devil for the long term, it should work out well in the end. Barring any more long-term injuries, it should bring a lot of excitement to Devils fans in the future, as he teams up with Ilya Kovalchuk for the next eight to ten (or more) years.
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