NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 8: Zach Parise #9 of the New Jersey Devils looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center on October 8, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
With New Jersey Devils ownership in turmoil, pending free agent Zach Parise could be the next Brad Richards or Ilya Kovalchuk.
Neither of the latter two stayed, and many signs point to Parise following their path. The only question is whether the Devils make like the Thrashers and get something for their pending unrestricted free agent, or make like the Stars and hang on to the bitter end.
As with Richards while a Dallas Star and Kovalchuk while an Atlanta Thrasher, the problem wasn't so much the team, but the ownership. In a perfect world, the Stars ownership situation -- now sitting pretty just 10 months later -- would've been settled before the 2011 trade deadline. Likewise, the Thrashers would've been run by a group that actually wanted to own a hockey team rather than spend the better part of a decade fighting amongst themselves.
With Parise, it's quite clear the first choice is to remain in a happy, healthy Devils environment. But increasingly there are signs and whispers that ownership group is far from healthy. As CBC's Elliotte Friedman wrote recently:
Tough to get a good handle on what's happening, although it's clear an ugly ownership fight has, at the very least, annoyed everyone by leading to some unpaid bills. Whatever the case, it won't be easy to fix everything in time to deal with Zach Parise's impending free agency. He'll want assurances about the overall health of the franchise.
Unpaid bills. Squabbles among ownership partners. There is something so very Dallas and Atlanta about all this.
Which is why Parise is smart to wait and see -- and why if July 1 arrives without resolution, he'd be right to follow Richards' example and sign some place far more secure. The irony is thick here when you consider the team to which Kovalchuk committed is these very Devils, a team that broke the bank and nearly broke the CBA to keep him, a financial commitment that could not have helped their current financial liabilities.
More irony: The factors that might chase Parise away are the same factors that might lead Lou Lamoriello to hang on to Parise rather than cash him in at the deadline. The Devils have a decent, probably playoff-bound team this year. Lamoriello is getting old. If the ownership implodes, will he want to stick around? Will new ownership keep him and his heir apparent son around?
In which case, this season could even end up as Lamoriello's last hurrah, so why not go out with your best shot rather than trade Parise for uncertain futures you wouldn't be around to see mature. SB Nation's Devils blog In Lou We Trust argues there's no point in trading Parise, as it won't alleviate the financial turmoil anyway.
That's all speculative, of course. But ownership turmoil has a way of producing casualties, whether it's Wayne Gretzky being traded from Edmonton, Ziggy Palffy being traded from Long Island, Jaromir Jagr being traded from Pittsburgh or Chris Pronger being traded from St. Louis.
Which brings it back to what Lamiorello might do in an uncertain, no-win situation. The Stars hung on to Richards, hoping both to make the playoffs and to get new ownership before July. They got nothing. The Thrashers saw the writing on the wall and traded Kovalchuk -- though the return of Patrice Cormier, Niclas Bergfors (since departed), Johnny Oduya and a first-round pick was hardly franchise-changing. They ended up relocating a year later, proving Kovalchuk's fears well-founded.
Lamiorello may go for it this year and keep Parise for perhaps his last big playoff push. Whatever he chooses, he's probably dealing with the next Kovalchuk or Richards.
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