The Devils need a new captain.
It’s not that they weren’t happy with their one-year C-man, but rather that Zach Parise — when all was said and done — preferred Minnesota money and a virtual lifetime contract from the Wild.
Also, for Zach, it was a matter of location-location!
Confirmation of the news was provided by the man who pursued a new deal with his team leader for weeks, Lou Lamoriello. In a Wednesday afternoon conference call with newsmen, the Devils boss spelled out his side of the adventure and how he feels now that Parise is an EX-Devil, virtually for life.
“No question that we’re disappointed,” said Lamoriello. “We have to go elsewhere; and go forward. Our offer was competitive and we did not at any time have to say we needed to change it or go up. There never was any question about money; that was not the issue.”
Parise’s new deal reportedly will be for 13 years — same as defenseman Ryan Suter who simultaneously signed with the Wild — at an estimated $98 million.
But, according to Lou, it really was about geography. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Parise wanted to return to the place where he originally learned his hockey.
Lamoriello: “Zach’s decision was about going home and that was his real focus. He said that if he wasn’t going to sign with Minnesota then he would have stayed with the Devils. I believe Zach when he said it wasn’t about money. He told me that himself.”
Surprised? Lou said straight out that he wasn’t surprised; that very little that happens in the National Hockey League takes him unawares.
“The best word to describe the way I feel,” Lamoriello asserted, “is disappointed. It’s right up there with Scotty Niedermayer leaving New Jersey.”
There was, however, a difference. When Niedermayer exited The Garden State to play for Anaheim, it was specifically because the ace defenseman wanted to play on the same team as his kid brother, Rob.
Lamoriello’s next challenge will be replacing Parise’s production and leadership; a feat that is not as impossible as it may seem. While Zach was an exciting, exuberant stickhandler, he was — like most stars — not without shortcomings. Replacing the captain will, however, be a huge chore for the Devils’ boss.
One highly-gifted forward still available is 28-year-old Alexander Semin, an Unrestricted Free Agent in his playing prime. It’s possible that Lamoriello could plunge into the Rick Nash Columbus Sweepstakes or take a shot at Bobby Ryan in Anaheim.
“We’ll do everything we can going to Plan B,” explained Lou. “You don’t replace a Zach Parise; you just don’t do that. We’ll go forward getting this team where it should be next season.”
The waiting game was no fun for anyone in Devils Land.
“I went about my business,” Lamoriello added. “We’ll continue to put this team back together.”
He will have to find a captain which should not be difficult. Ilya Kovalchuk wore the “C” in Atlanta. Newly-signed and much-respected Bryce Salvador is a potential candidate along with Travis Zajac.
Not having to pay Parise means that Lamoriello will have a hefty amount of dollars to spend should he desire to do so. “But,” Lou forcefully noted, “we’re not going to spend money just for the sake of spending. The idea is to make the team better.”
What message does Lamoriello give his players considering the enormity of the news?
“Our players know the philosophy of our organization,” Lou went on, “and if I had to give a message to my players then I’d really have a problem. Leadership is not an issue at all.”
Throughout the years, teams have rebounded from similar situations. The Montreal Canadiens did well after the retirement of their captain Maurice (Rocket) Richard. The Boston Bruins survived Bobby Orr’s exit to Chicago and Lamoriello believes that he has retained the core of a winning team.
“I’m excited about this team,” he concluded. “Our young, talented defenseman Adam Larsson will be a regular next season. So will Adam Henrique — a finalist for the rookie-of-the-year award. Our defense should be better than it was. We look forward; we can’t look back.”
And they won’t!
The Maven predicts that the Devils not only will survive without Parise but with a deft move or two by Lamoriello will even thrive!
While it may seem difficult for New Jersey hockey fans to accept at this point in time, there is such a thing as addition by subtraction. But much will depend on the nature of Lou’s additions!