Share this article

print logo

Summer suitors await Parise The left winger's future is an uncomfortable reality the Devils would rather not discuss

Peter DeBoer scoffed at the question Thursday and perhaps understandably so. The Devils lost the opener in the Stanley Cup final and were trying to make sure the series doesn't get away from them. The last thing their coach wanted to discuss was Zach Parise's future.

Parise is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. DeBoer offered a one-word answer when asked if he had thought about the possibility his captain could be playing his last home appearance for the Devils in Game Two on Saturday night in the Prudential Center.

"No," DeBoer said.

The Devils should be pushing little distractions aside and concentrating on the Kings, who won the first game in overtime. Los Angeles has won nine straight road games and is 13-2 in the postseason. If the Kings win again Saturday, they'll be looking to sweep the Devils when the series shifts to L.A.

We'll see what happens, but Game Two could very well be Parise's last home game in New Jersey. He refused to address the subject before the series began and wasn't available Thursday. Still, the possibility has had to cross his mind at some point after seven years and 558 games, including the playoffs, with the Devils.

"I'm not answering any questions about free agency," Parise said during his pre-Cup news conference.

Like it or not, ignore it if necessary, but the uncertainty of left winger's future for months has been hanging over the Devils. It's an uncomfortable reality they would rather not discuss, like a dark secret becoming common knowledge. Parise grew up with the Devils after arriving a baby-faced 21-year-old who played one season in the AHL during the NHL lockout.

Parise had seven goals and 14 points in his first 17 games of this postseason before falling silent and going minus-4 in his past two. The closest he came to scoring in Game One was a disallowed goal. He tried swooping a loose puck into the net with his glove but was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. His uneventful stat line was 0-0-0, minus-2.

Still, he has evolved into a true star, an offensive difference maker and leader counted on for 30 goals and 65 points while adhering to the Devils' defensive system. He has scored 30 goals or more five times in six years. The other was 2010-11, in which he was sidelined for all but 13 games after blowing out his knee.

Parise and Kings center Dustin Brown are the first two American-born captains in the same Stanley Cup final. Parise is an early favorite to be named captain of the U.S. team in the 2014 Olympics in Russia, assuming the NHL allows its players to participate. He would be a nice fit for many teams in a tight league.

The price for him will be steep.

Parise pocketed $6 million this season and will likely command more, in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per season, in the open market. The Devils dumped $100 million over 15 years on winger Ilya Kovalchuk last year and would have a difficult time keeping both wingers and having enough money to address other needs.

Minnesota will have a Brinks truck waiting for him if he wants to return home. The Rangers are expected to make a pitch for him. Tampa Bay and Montreal could get involved along with a few other teams.

OK, what about Buffalo?

It would have been laughable a few years ago, but things have changed under owner Terry Pegula. The vault has been opened, and the Sabres can create enough room under the salary cap for a marquee free agent if they're creative. One advantage they could have is none other than Drew Stafford.

Stafford and Parise have been close friends since high school. Stafford is a year younger but played with Parise at Shattuck-St. Mary's High in Minnesota, along with a sophomore named Sidney Crosby, and at the University of North Dakota. Stafford and Parise train together every summer.

Heck, they're teammates for life. Stafford will be a groomsman in Parise's wedding this summer. Parise is busy trying to win the Stanley Cup, so they haven't spoken about the possibility of being reunited in Buffalo. Stafford has been asked about him numerous times over the past year with the idea he can put in a good word.

"I would love to have him, and it's beyond the fact that he's my buddy," Stafford said Thursday morning by telephone. "He's a great player who can help any team, and there are going to be a lot out there who want him. He's the complete package."

It's unlikely he would sign with Buffalo, but it could work.

The Sabres still need a playmaker down the middle, but what they need more than anything is more production from their forwards. Parise isn't an elite passer like Brad Richards, for example, but he has the smarts, speed and skill that force opposing teams to defend him on the wing. It frees up his linemates.

If there's a problem with him signing with Buffalo, it's his style. The Sabres already have too many finesse players and not enough bangers. Adding another would mean juggling the roster and removing one of their softies up front -- Derek Roy, perhaps? -- and adding someone else with more beef and punch.

Sorry, are we getting ahead of ourselves? OK, now isn't the time. But if things progress the way they did Wednesday, it could be closer than the Devils would like to think.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com