After the Devils resolve the current contract situation with Ilya Kovalchuk, they can turn their attention toward locking up their other young superstar: Zach Parise.
Parise, who recorded 38 goals and 82 points last season, is entering the final year of a four-year, $12.5 million pact he signed in 2007. The Devils’ first-round draft pick in 2003, Parise is set to become a restricted free agent at season’s end and will be one of the most sought-after players on the market, likely commanding a similar sum to that of Kovalchuk.
Parise, who will turn 26 on July 28, sat in the first row with teammates Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond during Kovalchuk’s press conference at Prudential Center, supporting the Russian dynamo as he addressed the media after agreeing on a 17-year, $102 million deal.
Kovalchuk’s contract, however, was rejected by the league last night on the grounds that it circumvents the salary cap. The contract must be reworked.
As Parise watched Kovalchuk discuss his “life-changing” decision to stay with the franchise that acquired him from the Atlanta Thrashers right before last season’s trade deadline, his focus wasn’t on himself and his impending contract negotiations.
“I’m more excited he’s back more than anything,” said Parise, the left winger who has 335 points in 407 career games. “We’ll worry about my situation later. This is more for him.”
Parise said he has not discussed an extension in the offseason with Lou Lamoriello, a statement the general manager would neither confirm nor deny.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Lamoriello said. “Zach Parise is without question a franchise player here and we have to make sure that he doesn’t lose sight that we haven’t lost sight of that. I’m delighted to see him here today and I know he was excited about Kovy because he wants to win.”
Parise wasn’t actively involved in recruiting Kovalchuk to stay with the Devils. In fact, all the speculation he’d heard about the Los Angeles Kings’ courtship of Kovalchuk last week led Parise to believe he was going to leave.
“I thought when things kind of went quiet that we lost him. I didn’t think he was going to come here,” Parise said. “But out of nowhere I heard the other day that he signed. I’m really excited. I think it’s a great addition for us and I’m looking forward to playing with him a long time.
“He’s got that one-on-one skill that not a lot of players possess in this league where he can beat a guy one-on-one, but he’s a threat every time he’s got the puck.
“Sometimes last year I think we were guilty of trying to force him the puck and you could see the attention he gets on the ice, especially during the power play. You have to know where he is on the ice and that’s going to open things up for other guys.”
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur believes the addition of Kovalchuk enhances the chances that Parise will stay.
Plus, Brodeur is looking to Parise and Kovalchuk to succeed him as the new faces of the franchise.
“I think everybody is at a different place in their career and come from different backgrounds,” Brodeur said.
“We’ll see with Zach what he’s going for (in terms of money). But I think as a player like him, he’s excited to have another player to help him out and raise his point total and raise his goal total’’