Currently browsing category

Zach Parise

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter can go home again

Hockey does not have “bringing my talents to South Beach” free agent bonanzas. Yes, there are teams that win championships as a result of being heavily stocked with talent and depth that rolls them to a Stanley Cup, but often those teams are built as a result of deftly scouted drafts with the occasional smart free agent signing sprinkled in here or there. Look no further than the 2009 Penguins or the 2010 Blackhawks for evidence. While free agency is a large part of hockey, the tendency, often, is for teams to lock up their prized young assets early on, or at least attempt to do so, with a massive contract that gets them paid, but keeps them in the fold through their formative years. Many stars stay with the same organization for the vast majority of their careers and few championship teams are built almost exclusively on big-name free agents. The closest team in recent memory that might fill that description is 2002 Detroit Red Wings, an astonishingly old team which had four Hall-of-Famers (Steve Yzerman, Igor Larianov, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille), six more players that are certain to be inducted at some point (Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Dominik Hasek), two more that just might join them (Darren McCarty and Tomas Holmstrom) and two players that had already scored overtime Cup-clinchers for other teams in the previous six years (Hull and Uwe Krupp).

They were an immortal squad built on the backs of veteran acquisition and free agency in a way that is a dramatic outlier from how the NHL, generally speaking, has done business. Even that team, however, was no situation of LeBron James and Chris Bosh signing contracts as the top two free agents with the same team. Seeing the top two names on the market go to the same place is rare. Seeing them go to a small market is rarer still. And yet, on July 4, 2012, while most of us in the U.S. were prepping for our barbecues or traveling to to someone else’s, the Minnesota Wild, they of the one division title in their history, three playoff appearances all time and none since George W. Bush was still in the White House, managed to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year $98-million contracts that will carry them both from the age of 27 to their post-retirement fishing days near the Superior Hiking Trail.

The Minnesota Wild are not a good team. Despite a surprising first half before a tumbling second in 2011-12, they are an unbalanced mixed of unfulfilled promise (Dany Heatley), inconsistent offense (Devin Setoguchi) and a whole lot of youth. And yet, somehow, some way, they took the two prizes of free agency in this offseason, Suter, the top defenseman on the market, and Parise, the top forward available and given his combination of youth, leadership, offensive production and defensive dedication arguably the most desired free agent in the history of the NHL. While the idea of the Wild attempting to lure Suter and Parise to Minnesota as a package deal had been floated for months due to the fact that both are friends, Parise is a Minnesota native and Suter is from neighboring Wisconsin, the notion had been met by most hockey insiders and fans alike with scoffing and amusement.

As a lifelong Devils fan, I personally felt as if of all the teams in the hunt for Parise, Minnesota was probably the least likely destination. Rumors that the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers, Blackhawks and Red Wings would all be hot on his trail seemed a far more likely result to anyone paying attention, and despite the rampant assumption that Parise would simp… Read more...

Speak of the Devils: New Jersey at the 3/4 mark

The New Jersey Devils started this season as something of a mystery and for the hockey masses of the Garden State — and elsewhere — that demand some clarity, the Devils haven’t really answered those questions. There are 19 games that now separate New Jersey from the end of the regular season and barring the unexpected it appears the team should earn a playoff berth, something that used to be an afterthought for the Devils. Of course, in a League where more than 50% of the teams make the postseason, that doesn’t really much to tell else just how good this team is or isn’t — and frankly the empirical evidence doesn’t really clear that up either. We do know a few things. We know they’re not bad, although sometimes they can be. We also know they’re not great, although, sometimes they can be that, too.

All in all, if you are a Devils fan, given that the team had a conspicuously murky future heading into this season and was coming off its first non-playoff year since 1996, it’s hard not to be fairly satisfied. After an inconsistent start of the year, the Devils have several positive things going for them. They seem to have bought into coach Peter DeBoer’s aggressive defensive style — New Jersey continues to thrive off turnovers, its penalty kill is third best in the League, the Devils easily have the most shorthanded goals in the NHL and while their average goals against per game (2.71) is not superlative, it has improved over the course of the season.

In addition to that, Ilya Kovalchuk must have been reading this blog, because he seems to have gotten the message and has thrived over the second half of the season. Right now the Russian dynamo has 25 goals and 36 assists, which puts him 11th in the League in scoring, and he seems to have taken his defensive duties on the penalty kill seriously as his three shorties this season are the third most in the NHL. Zach Parise appears to finally have overcome the recovery process from his torn meniscus a season ago, to the tune of 24 goals and 29 assists, and Patrik Elias, with 20 goals and 39 assists seems reborn.

What might be disconcerting however is that despite having a powerful trio of scorers, to say nothing of Adam Henrique being on the inside track to the Calder Trophy as the League’s best rookie and David Clarkson somehow scoring 25 goals so far this season, is that the Devils don’t have much offense beyond that. The Devils are 16th in the NHL in goals per game and their offensive struggles are a sign of some pretty glaring scoring depth. In fact, there is little offense to speak of outside New Jersey’s top six forwards. Of the 165 goals the team has scored in 63 games this season, 139 of them have been scored by just seven people.

That’s an astonishing 84% of the goals coming from just 30% of the nongoaltenders on the team.

This is not the kind of scoring depth that is the mark of Stanley Cup winners. Championship teams roll four lines that both check and score with ease and for any indication of that the Devils can look no further than their own history, as the 2000 Stanley Cup championship team was second in the League in scoring while the 2001 team, which lost Game 7 of the Final to Colorado was No. 1.

For the Devils to have a real impact in the postseason they will need to start getting contributions from their third and fourth lines — not the majority of contributions, but certainly enough to ease the burden lest New Jersey’s elite players be spent by the time they reach the second round.

The good thing is that the De… Read more...