Much has been written in this space and all over the Internet about the potential availability of Zach Parise and the Toronto Maple Leafs' interest in acquiring him. Should he become available for some reason, would the Leafs be willing to part with the abundance of assets that it would take to get him?
First things first: Would Parise even become available?
If I was Lou Lamorello, I would move heaven and Earth to keep Parise. The guy is a bona fide superstar, a clutch player with a great all-around game. He performs on the biggest stages, such as the NHL playoffs and the Olympics, and is exactly the type of player that the Leafs need. He scores, sets guys up, is great on the power play, a very good penalty killer and, oh yeah, he's turning 27 in July.
In my opinion, Parise is a top-10 player in the NHL, and coming off a serious knee injury, now may be the time to pounce and buy the lowest rate he may ever be.
That brings us back to the question of why would Lamorello ever let him go.
The first scenario speaks to the fact that some insiders believe that the Devils' cap issues will force them to move Parise out of town. The more I think about it the more I believe that is not the case.
The Devils currently have just over $52 million committed to 17 players, which means they have six more roster spots to fill and an estimated $10.5 to $11.5 million to do so. If they sign Parise to a deal at $6.5 million per year—which is probably at the low end of what he will command—that leaves them with at most $5 million to sign five more players. Assuming they keep Johan Hedberg for $2 million, that leaves them roughly $3 million to sign four more guys. That is far from ideal but likely doable with some minor tweaking and some very young and inexpensive players.
What is more likely to happen is they will have to trade David Clarkson and/or Danius Zubrus. Lamorello probably won't likely be happy about that, but if it means keeping Parise, I'm sure he'd gladly oblige.
The second scenario could be the Leafs signing Parise to an offer sheet. The issue here is that if the Devils offer Parise arbitration, this will squash that rumor. The only way I see that happening is if Lamorello doesn't see a possibility of bringing Parise back next year and wants to get some serious assets in return. I believe Parise's expected salary would cost the Leafs two first-round picks, a second-rounder and a third-rounder.
The third scenario—the most realistic in my opinion—is that Parise no longer wishes to be part of the Devils' organization. At first glance, most knowledgeable hockey fans would respond to this possibility with something like: "Why would anyone want to leave an organization that is competitive every year, has a great general manager and a Hall of Fame goaltender?"
However, there have been rumors circulating that Parise is indeed not so happy in the Swamp anymore and that a portion of his discontent came from the Ilya Kovalchuk signing. This signaled the end of Parise being "the man" in New Jersey.
Other whispers have Lamorello close to retiring, which would take some of the appeal away from playing in this first-class organization. Then there is the fact that Martin Brodeur is nearing the end of his storied career, and replacing him will be very difficult.
All of that being said, if Parise becomes available, should the Leafs even go after him?
I am sure there would be a great debate about whether the Leafs should go down this road again. After all, they gave up some potentially great assets in order to land Phil Kessel. Simply signing Parise to an offer sheet would cost the Leafs two first-rounders, a second-rounder and a third-rounder.
However, in this scenario there may be other teams involved, so Parise would have his choice of destination if the Devils declined to match. If Brian Burke decided make a trade instead, he would likely be looking at a first-round pick, a top prospect like Joe Colborne or Nazem Kadri, a second-round pick and another very good prospect like Jerry D'amigo or Jake Gardner, in addition to the possibility of one of their goaltending prospects like Ben Scrivens.
Would that put the Leafs in a better position than they are in today? My answer is a simple yes.
The reason is this: While you are giving away a ton of young assets to acquire one player, Parise-type players do not become available often. He is a player entering his prime who would become the face of the franchise and provide the Leafs with the leadership and scoring abilities they haven't seen since Matt Sundin left.
This would still leave the Leafs with a solid back end, a great second line, a potentially fantastic checking third line with Armstrong, Bozak and an addition like Brooks Laich, Joel Ward or Pascal Dupuis, and a first line consisting of two potential 40-plus goal scorers in Kessel and Parise.
Now this would still leave the Leafs without a true first line centre, however, having two studly first line wingers could offset that and allow the Leafs to wait another year to develop one from within (see Colborne or Kadri - whichever one wasn't included in the deal) or sign one or acquire on in a trade.
The bottom line is that the likelihood of Parise becoming available is entirely unknown at this point. But I would put the odds at 30 percent at best. Realistically, the only people who would truly know what Parise's availability are would be Parise himself, Lamorello and Parise's agent. Does Burke know? I'm not so sure he does. I do know this though: Brian Burke absolutely adores Zach Parise and would likely do what he had to in order to acquire him if the opportunity presented itself.