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What Should Devils Fans Expect: Zach Parise

Before getting into figuring out what should be the expectations for Zach Parise for 2009-10, I would like to alert you to the following pieces on the SBNHockey network:

1) Jonathan Willis at The Copper & Blue compiled a list of the best goaltenders since the NHL lockout according to even strength save percentage.   A familiar face is among the best, and no, it's not a Flyers goaltender.

2) Brandon Worley has a must-read two-part discussion about journalism in hockey with Greg Wyshynski (a.k.a. Puck Daddy), Mike Heika - Dallas Stars beat reporter for the Dallas Morning News, and 1310 AM The Ticket radio host, Bob Sturm.  If you're at all interested in how coverage of the sport is evolving right before our eyes and the issues that it brings up, then go read it right now.   Here is Part One from yesterday, and here is Part Two from today.

That said, let's talk about Zach Parise.  Considering the comments from yesterday's post about what to expect from Jamie Langenbrunner for 2009-10, it made sense to talk about Parise today.   Some of you feel that Langenbrunner can hit 60 points just on the strength of playing with Parise and Travis Zajac alone.   This particular comment by pepe22 is well-reasoned expectation for the entire line, and for the sake of today's post, let me excerpt what he has to say about Parise:

Parise is an elite player in this league. I see some of you are on the fence with this, but I’ve had season tickets since 87 and he is the most tenacious and exciting player we have ever had. He hasn’t completely developed his game yet and I think we will see more to come from Zach. Some of you have posted about his size and compared him to Gionta, but Parise is listed at 5"11 190 and sid the kid at 5"11 200. Even though NHL stats are always a little generous I prefer the Crosby comparison rather than Gionta who is 5"7 175.

I agree that Zach Parise is an elite left winger in the NHL today. The last New Jersey Devil who I can honestly say that was as dominant in terms of production and offensive presence was Patrik Elias earlier this decade.   If the cap space was available now and in the future, I'd want the Devils to give Parise a Mike Richards-type deal right now.  At the end of the day, he very well could be the best forward the Devils have had in their 27+ year history in New Jersey.

But should we expect Parise to match or exceed his 2008-09 numbers?

2008 - Zach Parise 82 45 49 94 30 24 14 0 8 3 364 12.4


Before jumping into this question, here's Parise's career numbers with the Devils:

Season Games Goals Assists Shots Average Ice Time Shifts per Game Points per Game
2005-06 81 14 18 133 13:08 17.6 0.40
2006-07 82 31 31 247 17:32 21.5 0.76
2007-08 81 32 33 266 18:03 21.9 0.80
2008-09 82 45 49 364 18:45 21.5 1.15

With every season, you can see some improvement in his on-ice contributions.  Every season so far has seen improvements in goals, assists, shots, and ice time.  Looking at this career so far is quite impressive.  Note that  Parise did not suffer a sophomore slump, he experienced a sophomore jump.  Note that while his ice time has increased on average, his shifts per game remain steady.  Brent Sutter rewarded his skills with longer shifts as opposed to just more of them. 

And of course, his 45 goal, 94 point 2008-09 was simply massive.  It was the most points scored in a single season by a Devil since Elias put up 96 points in 2000-01.  It was the most goals scored in a single season since Brian Gionta pounded 48 goals home in 2005-06.  Unless I'm missing somebody from the 1980s or early 1990s, Parise took the most shots in a single season with 364.  He was in seemingly constant motion all last season. Even when the opposition tried to set their best defenders on them, they could not stop him - they could only hope to contain him.  And even that wasn't happening on most nights.

Since Parise is 25, he's not even in the prime of his career yet.  He's certainly not going to lose a step or change his game as it's been working out wonderfully for him.  He hasn't been injured in his NHL career, so health isn't a real big concern.   The best is really yet to come from Parise, and I would love to see Parise strive for 50 goals or 100 points.  I'm almost certain Parise and the Devils organization has the same hopes.

But should we expect him to do what no Devils forward has done in a single season before?  No.

Now, don't misunderstand me here.  I would gleefully, happily, and ecstatically see Parise improve on his 2008-09 numbers, and I think you would as well.  I think he can certainly do it, I do not believe he is just a one-year wonder. But this isn't about what we want or what we think Parise can do - it's about what we should expect from the player.  Put it this way, if someone from the future came up to you and said that Parise had 75 points in 2009-10, would you be satisfied by that news?  Of course we would want Parise to score more, but would it be truly disappointing if he didn't break 100 points in 2009-10?

Honestly, I'm skeptical of Parise matching his 08-09 numbers for two reasons. First off, his 2008-09 numbers set some a really high marks to hit.  Look at the top scorers from last season at  Only 7 players topped 90 points, and only 3 even broke 100.  The only players to have produced more than Parise last season are the best forwards in the league: Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, and Pavel Datsyuk.  From this, yes, Parise is an elite forward.  But my point is that these were heights that ace forwards like Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, the Sedin twins, Martin St. Louis, Jeff Carter, and Mike Richards didn't reach last season.  I don't think you could say those players disappointed by not hitting 90 points or scoring more than 45 goals (Carter is an exception as he actually did that, scoring 46 last season).   Would Parise be any different?  Maybe he is, but we don't know that since this is the first time he's scored so much.

It's not even just with points.  Only Alexander Ovechkin (528) and Eric Staal (372) shot more than Parise last season.   Will Parise even get that many looks?  I'm sure he'll create plenty of chances on his own, but it still is just a very high total to reach.  Remember, only 7 players had over 300 shots last season.  Should we really expect Parise to break that total again? Hitting 300 shots is more likely given his style of play, but whether it will lead to so many goals is another question.

The other reason I'm skeptical is more historical. It seems that whenever a Devil would have a career year, the player doesn't seem to do so well in the next season.  Here are some examples of this phemonenon: 

  • When Patrik Elias scored 40 goals and 96 points in 2000-01, he set the single season franchise record in points as well as finishing as the league's third best scorer.  Yet, this did not mean much next season.  Elias really was snakebit next season with 29 goals and 61 points - a reduction of 11 goals and 35 points.   
  • 2000-01 was also a career year for Petr Sykora, Elias' linemate on the A-Line.  Sykora scored 35 goals and 81 points.  In 2001-02, he definitely didn't put up A numbers with only 21 goals and 48 points. I'm sure that had something to do with the Devils not retaining him after 2002.
  • Brian Gionta was on fire in 2005-06, setting a franchise record in goals in a single season with 48 goals and scoring a personal-best 89 points.  But Gionta suffered an injury-shortened 2006-07 where he only played 62 games, scoring only 25 goals and 45 points. Projecting his numbers out to a full 82 point season, Gionta would have had 33 goals and 60 points.  Not bad, but still well short of his 05-06 campaign.
  • Scott Gomez also enjoyed a career year in 2005-06, actually scoring more than 20 goals in a season.  Gomez put up 33 goals and 84 points, but in the following season, Gomez' numbers sharply dropped to 13 goals and 60 points.  In fairness, Gomez' assists have stayed around 45-50 per season; but he has never scored more than 20 goals at any other time in his career outside of 2005-06.
  • Let's go all the way back to the mid-1990s with Claude Lemieux.  Lemieux's career year came in 1992-93 with 30 goals and 81 points.   This was followed up by a 18 goal and 44 point result in 1993-94, despite playing 2 more games than he did in 92-93. Thankfully, he turned it up in the playoffs to make up for the poor regular season production.

I'm not saying Parise will definitely experience a drop-off in production.  I'm just saying is that history shows with other Devils forwards who had career years are followed up by .  Yes, it is arguable that Parise is different. He's more talented. He's more dynamic. Etc.  But the possibility still exists; it's going to be more likely that Parise does not reach 45 goals and 94 points based on the history of past Devils who had exceptional seasons.

Ultimately, Parise reached such great heights in terms of production and on-ice contributions that I am hestitant to say, "Well, Zach, time to do it again." I think he can do it and he may very well do it, but to me, it's unfair to say he would have had a disappointing season if he doesn't put up 94 or more points.    Not that I'll be satisfied with only 25 goals and 60 points from Parise.  No, that would truly be disappointing.  Parise is so talented and has such a strong work ethic that he should be expected to lead the Devils' offense.  I expect him to be the team's leading scorer in 2009-10 unless Elias has a monster season not seen from him since the second half of 2005-06.   And to that end, if Parise finishes with about 35 goals and 80 to 85 points, I would be pleased - and so that is what I'm expecting.  Lower production from 2008-09, but not a big drop as I believe he is truly an elite forward.  (And, of course, if he scores more than that, then great.)

I'm almost certain that most will disagree and think I should be expecting more from Parise.   Put it this way: if Parise can score about points next season, then I'll start expecting him to put up at least 90.    All the same, it's time to have your say.  Tell me why you will be expecting more - or perhaps less? - from Parise in 2009-10.  Tell me what else you expect from the young forward or whatever other thoughts you have on my reasoning.