As a New Jersey Devils fan, I’d have a hard time booing Zach Parise upon his return to The Rock on Thursday night.
He took the money and went home. Not to the Rangers, like Gomez.
Yeah, we booed Scott Niedermayer, who was without question a more accomplished player during his time in Jersey than Parise, but he did essentially what Parise did: Chose family over franchise, opting to sign with the Anaheim Ducks with brother Rob than return to the Devils. But the context was different: Niedermayer left the Devils at a time when they needed to build around him, post-Scott Stevens; Parise left for the Minnesota Wild when the Devils had decided to build around Ilya Kovalchuk.
And we know how that worked out.
Parise considered the Devils down to the wire. He made a decision that, while financially sound, wasn’t a slam-dunk from a competitive standpoint. Parise and Ryan Suter could have been, in theory, closer to a Cup with the Detroit Red Wings or Pittsburgh Penguins. They chose the Wild, and the early returns suggest they chose wisely.
Besides, all Parise was for the Devils was one of their best homegrown forwards in franchise history; a rink rat that embodied the work ethic the Devils preach. Were there quibbles? Of course. If he doesn’t post one goal in six games, maybe the Devils find a way to win one of those close contests with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. But clearly, he had some other things on his mind.
So as Parise returns to New Jersey, the discussion returns to why he left in the first place, which led to some interesting comments from Martin Brodeur to Fire & Ice about the former captain leaving as a free agent.
Please recall that the Devils have the opportunity from July 1, 2010 until Parise went UFA to re-sign him to a long-term deal. They didn’t engage him in the 2010 offseason to talk contract; instead, they signed Ilya Kovalchuk to that absurd contract, a player from outside the organization that played the same position as Parise and had to be arm-twisted into staying in New Jersey.
By the time Lou Lamoriello got serious on Parise, it was too late, according to Brodeur:
Brodeur noted how other teams did not make that mistake of waiting to take care of players of similar stature and made sure to get they were locked up well ahead of time while they had the chance.
“When you know you have an athlete that is going to be a game breaker and he’s going to be one of the top players (available) and the rules are free agency comes a lot younger than it used to, you have to make commitments,” Brodeur said. “You see around the league some of the guys, the (Steven) Stamkos and etc., they don’t wait. They get them done. And we let him walk to free agency. That’s a decision of the organization, regardless of it was financial at the time with the ownership that we had, but he was our property for a long time and we lost him.”
(Brodeur going after a managerial decision from the Devils, after Lamoriello didn’t move him at the deadline, is a rather interesting thing, no?)
Tom Gulitti got reaction from Parise on that theory:
“That’s too hard to say,” Parise said. “I know Lou has his policies and his way of doing things. It’s not as if Lou waited until June 29th or 30th to pick up the phone. We had talked for a long time before then. We had talked even the summer before that. So, I don’t think it’s fair to say Lou waited until the last minute because that wasn’t the case.”
But it was the case that Lamoriello, and his current ownership, threw $100 million at Kovalchuk before opening talks with Parise.
What will Devils fans do tonight for Parise?
Probably boo. He’s still the enemy now, a guy who chose something else over the team that drafted him and made him the captain. But it’s going to be jeering out of function, out of tradition. Because Brodeur’s right: Parise ultimately made the decision to go home, after the Devils made him less welcome in theirs.