We're in the middle of a break in the season for the NHL All Star Game. After Sunday's game, the real crunch of the season will take hold. The playoffs will start becoming a pressing concern, the mindset of teams will turn to maximizing points, and schedules will get tighter - especially in March. Teams are taking this break to take stock of their team and determine where they could stand to improve if they have something to play for this spring or who they should keep if they do not. The New Jersey Devils are no different in that sense. However, they do have a problem not shared by many teams: Zach Parise.
You see, Zach Parise is an impending unrestricted free agent and his status has remain unchanged. Parise will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2012 once his current one-season deal ends. It's an open question as to whether Parise would sign with the Devils prior to that date or if he'll play the market. It will remain an open question since Lou doesn't discuss contract negotiations. Moreover, according to this post by Tom Gulitti on Thursday, there haven't been any contract talks. And we're not going to know if there are any until after it's happened. Therefore, it's only natural to wonder whether the Devils will trade Parise since his future in New Jersey is in doubt.
Making matters more difficult is the team's financial situation. Tom Gulitti wrote an excellent post about the subject which you all should read. In summary: the team's received an advance on money they would normally receive from the NHL; Ray Chambers has yet to have his share bought out; and their outstanding debt of $80 million has yet to be refinanced. It's not nearly as bad as the articles from Josh Kosman have made it out to be, as Matt Ventolo suggested a few weeks back. Also: I wouldn't expect Nelson Peltz to do anything, given this insightful comment from Gulitti that user Zelepukin pointed out in this FanPost. Yet, it's not a good situation either. It could definitely impact Parise's future presuming Parise will demand (and command) a very large contract. The Devils could very well not have the money to give #9 what he wants.
When you combine the two situations along with the general worries involving any free agent (e.g. where do they really want to be, how much are they looking for, etc.), the big question looms larger. Should the Devils trade Zach Parise? Should the Devils get something in exchange for one of their top forwards so they don't end up with nothing? Kevin put together a post answering that question: what would be acceptable return for Parise His desire - a first round pick, a young NHL player, and a forward prospect - would represent a possible outcome. And I understand and respect the opinion of those who don't want the Devils to possibly see Parise walk away on July 1.
However, I have an opposite opinion: the Devils shouldn't trade Parise this season. At all. To put it bluntly, Lou would be really stupid to trade Parise this season. I think the only way he should do so is if Parise himself walks up to the GM and demand a trade in an angry and/or disrespectful fashion. Even then, I think there should be some second thoughts; there are good reasons for the Devils to keep Parise this season. Please read on those reasons after the jump.Let's talk about the elephant in the room first. Trading Zach Parise will not benefit the team's financial situation at all. The Devils' ownership problems are only going to be solved if someone with a lot of money wants to buy Chambers' stake in the team and has no issue with Jeff Vanderbeek remaining in control, or if Chambers completely changes his mind and wants to keep being part of the ownership group. Once that's solved, then the re-financing will get sorted out and we move on. Unless Parise has an incredible fortune that we don't know about, he's a non-factor. Whether the Devils keep Parise this season, trade him right away, trade him after the playoffs, sign him after July 1, or let him go, these financial issues will remain.
Given that the Devils' debt is estimated at $80 million, whatever savings that will come from trading Parise is not significant. CapGeek has an excellent daily calculator of each team's roster that explains why. As of today, the Devils have already paid out $3,729,730 of Parise's one-year deal. If the Devils traded him right now, they would save $2,270,270. That's not really a big chunk of that debt. If the Devils wait until the trade deadline of February 27, Parise would only be owed $1,297,297. The Devils would still have an incredible debt either way.
And as of July 1, Parise is off the books. The Devils' financial issues may prevent the Devils from giving him a huge contract; that is true. But if Parise walks, the Devils will still have those issues. The only fix for that is with ownership.
So let's get to the hockey part of the argument. Yes, the Devils can try and get something for Parise. However well made Kevin's points are and I do respect them, I wouldn't expect that something to be all that good as the Devils have no leverage. Lou has certainly made some excellent trades in the past. Yet, we've seen this situation before with other teams. We've seen it with Ilya Kovalchuk. Talks between Atlanta and Kovalchuk for a contract situation broke down and it wasn't exactly a secret that the Thrashers were looking to deal Kovalchuk. It was a surprise that it was New Jersey, but what Lou sent in exchange wasn't all that much. For Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela was only Johnny Oduya, Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier, and a first round pick. Oduya's a NHL defenseman but not all that good; Bergfors may have talent but he's bouncing around the league; Cormier wasn't a high level prospect; and the first was shipped out in a later deal Atlanta made. The Devils lost no core players or major assets to get Kovalchuk. Essentially, the Devils gave Atlanta 60 cents for a dollar. Why would we believe the Devils would get something better for Parise, who's in a similar situation?
The main point to emphasize is that the Devils really have no leverage. All the other twenty nine teams in the NHL will not have to give up a lot for Parise. Any team with the cap space and cash flow to offer a massive contract can just wait until July 1 and give up nothing to talk to him. Sure, there will be teams who would be willing to make a deal for Parise if the opportunity arises. But short of a GM not understanding the value of his own players; the Devils won't be acquiring a top player or even a top prospect in return for Parise. It'll likely be secondary players and/or assets that likely won't replace what Parise brings to the proverbial table. And that's for the trade deadline, the potential return will be even less after the season (say, around the draft) since free agency would be even closer.
Now, I've argued that Parise has not played as well as Parise has done in the past. Basically, 2011-12 Zach Parise is not THE Zach Parise that we all loved and appreciated from two to three seasons ago. Yet, it's not a binary situation; Parise is still an important part of the Devils. He's the captain of the team. He plays a lot of minutes in all situations for the Devils. He may not be as productive as he has been in past seasons; but he's still producing more than most of the rest of the team. The Devils need to keep such players as they're fighting for the playoffs. To me, this is the biggest reason to keep Parise. At 26-19-3, the Devils are eighth in the Eastern Conference. They've went into the All Star break with three losses; but they're still in the playoff bubble. Toronto, Washington, and Florida all have 55 points like the Devils; and they're all ahead of the basement teams in the East. They're likely going to be in that bubble through the rest of the season. Since the Devils aren't where they are by riding percentages, it would have to take a pretty big collapse for the Devils to fall out of playoff contention as they are. If the Devils move Parise by February 27, then the challenge of making the playoffs becomes far more difficult. Especially if Parise picks up his game in the final three months of the season.
I have to emphasize the importance of making the playoffs. For a financial perspective, making the playoffs is important as it'll lead to extra games. That's additional revenue the team could certainly use. For a hockey perspective, making the playoffs are important as it's the first step to get back to the top. For those who don't recall, the Devils didn't make it to the postseason last season for the first time since 1996. As much as Devils fans want to see the team win a playoff round; they're not going to get there without having their important players playing well. Trading Parise goes against that goal and for that reason alone, it would be dumb for the Devils to trade him this season.
That's my feeling on what the Devils should do with Parise. I respect, and understand that Devils fans by and large want Parise re-signed. I agree with that, even though I have reservations on how much the Devils should offer. That's a discussion for another time; but I want to know what you think. Do you agree that it would be dumb for the Devils to trade Parise? Do you think I'm off-base and there's good reason for the Devils to trade Parise? And if so, why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about trading Parise in the comments. Thank you for reading.