Much of the success during the season depends on the action that takes place off the ice this time of year. The New Jersey Devils have been busy re-signing their unrestricted free agents. Johan Hedberg and Bryce Salvador were retained as well as Stephen Gionta, Peter Harrold, Cam Janssen, Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, and the most important UFA this off-season, Martin Brodeur. Bringing back Mr. Brodeur after some tense moments avoided a dreadful Brett Farve situation and kept him home where he belongs.
Then came the bombshell news. Zach Parise is gone.
After seven seasons, the captain’s fork in the road has come and he had a decision to make on the rest of his career. He could go the way of Ken Daneyko and Martin Brodeur and dedicate his entire career to the New Jersey Devils. Or he could take the education and experience and ply his trade elsewhere in the NHL like Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. His decision has taught us more about him and we now know him better than ever before. He chose to play for his home-state Minnesota Wild.
His 13-year deal shows his desire to become an important part of a franchise that must mean something to him. The choice to represent his own team shows his commitment to an even more meaningful career in which the winning will feel even better and the losing will hurt even more.
It seems that this is the team that Mr. Parise had in mind for a long time. In the past when he said that money and winning a Stanley Cup were important factors in his decision during free agency, he was talking to Minnesota hoping that they would put themselves in a favorable position, not New Jersey. The New Jersey Devils have always been that team with the great tradition of having a strong chance to win every game it played and would have a deal ready for him. But this was only going to be his choice if Minnesota wasn’t ready.
Mr. Parise must have felt a sense of pride in 2000 when Minnesota Wild played their first home game with a Minnesota native scoring the first home goal. Also when the Dallas Stars, the former Minnesota North Stars which moved to Dallas, made their first visit and the Wild beat them 6-0.
The Minnesota Wild got the message. They cleared enough cap space in time to be able to sign both Mr. Parise and the other hottest unrestricted free agent this summer, all-star defenseman Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators and signed them both to 13-year $98 million contracts. Now they have a chance to be the contenders that Mr. Parise needed them to be in order to leave his great club in Newark. Now the former captain will go back home and try to make The Land of 10,000 Lakes a powerhouse in the NHL, an inevitability considering that so many great American hockey players are bred there.
Now another former member of the New Jersey Devils will be injected into the NHL as the league and Olympic teams continue to benefit from leaders who cut their teeth in the Devils system. And Jersey’s Team will look forward to the next phase in which the great Ilya Kovalchuk will lead.
So to Mr. Parise: Thank you for all of your hard work and solid results. And best of luck, until the Western Conference Finals. After that, your professors in red and black will re-school you and your new mates and bring the world’s best trophy to the best state in the free world: New Jersey!