This morning I planned to write my long anticipated plea-article about the Minnesota Wild's need to bring a local face home. Not only born in Minneapolis, Elk River, raised Zach Parise, a free agent-to-be, but the team he is on, the New Jersey Devils had been struggling, unorthodoxly, at historic proportions.
However, a recent 8-1-1 run may have changed all that, at least for now.
Note, there are currently no rumors to Parise coming home, nor has there ever been any quotable evidence to the contrary which might suggest he'd actually do so. This is just my speculation and my hope that he will do so, for the good of his team and to give a declining base something to look foward to.
He could be the next Gaborik
When Minnesota lost All-Star winger Marian Gaborik, the team's first pick in its franchise history two years ago to free agency, and specifically the New York Rangers, the team has struggled to find anyone of his caliber on which to build their team around.
Marty Havlat was supposed to be that guy (at least he's paid like it, at over $5 million per season). While the "All-Star" (yes he made it as a late addition, injury replacement) has been much improved this year, we still can't escape the fact that he hasn't been worth anything close to his massive contract.
The Devils, while still 13th in the East in the standings, have been hot as of late. Here's hoping it doesn't cause the young Parise to change his mind about staying, if he ever had any reservations to begin with. The normally competative Devils just didn't appear to have it going for them this season, however, at 52 points, the team is just 8 away from stealing the 8th seed in the conference and from there, once in, anything is possible.
Parise, now injured, is, at 26, one of the most exciting young players in the league. His last full season in 2009-10 netted him 38 goals and 44 assists for 82 points, ironically one point behind Gaborik's career high in Minnesota. Additionally, like Parise, Gaborik too got hurt prior to signing a big free agent deal, but was still able to cash in.
Yes, I am one of those fans who thinks the Minnesota roster should be littered with home state guys. After all, no state produces more NHLers than the state that bills itself "The State of Hockey" (because of this and the talent at all levels) despite the fact the big club can't win it all and never has.
The last Minnesota Born Free Agent has worked out well, so far.
That title would go to Virginia, Minnesota's Matt Cullen who turned down approximately 15 other inquiries from other teams to sign with the home-state club. After his signing I read reports where he admitted that he thought of coming home earlier in his career but he just couldn't do it due to pressure and youthful age. Now, after winning a Cup in 2006 with Carolina, his career has come full circle.
At 12 goals and 23 assists, Cullen is on pace for a typical "Matt Cullen" season of roughly 20 goals and around 30 assits as a second-line center (17G and 33A to be exact).
Look at Cullen's stats and you can just about book him for these numbers: http://espn.go.com/nhl/players/stats?playerId=182
Again, why bring up Cullen since the talent to Parise doesn't compare? For one, not only does that #1 topic on the Minnesota Wild's own messageboard always seem to be do we bring the home state players home or do we not really need him? Want to divide the board and people's opinions? Just start a thread on that topic there, as nothing divides them more.
But secondly, Cullen is evidence that you can go home again and certaintly would play a part in his recruitment. He'd be vital because he's a leader and someone who has succeeded in the system.
The team didn't even try last summer on Parise's former team mate, Paul Martin and the last time they rolled the dice prior to Cullen, it blew up in their faces in Bloomington's own Mark "don't mention my name in St. Paul" Parrish who failed miserably after many solid years on Long Island.
So what would it take to get Parise? Avs, Johnson?
Keep in mind that for now, (pending an extension) Parise is only going to be a restricted free agent this summer, but no talks appear happening which is a good sign if you are a Wild fan. http://www.northjersey.com/sports/pro_sports/hockey/devils/94227934_No_talks_on_tap_for_Devs__Parise.html
Unlike Parrish, Parise is younger and more consistent (see Cullen comparison) and his goals, generally around 35 a season, compare favorably to Gaborik's. The Wild need a big bull, a leader you know going in to a playoff series, is a threat to score every night out as Gabby was, a trait this current team lacks.
While injured player Guillueme Latendresse could be that guy, he's more of a complimentary 25 goal scorer evidenced by last year's breakout season after coming over from Montreal.
An interesting comparison between Mikko Koivu, the Minnesota Captain and Parise's production was done on last year in terms of what it might take to keep him in Jersey. http://www.inlouwetrust.com/2010/7/16/1573730/mikko-koivus-extension-will-impact
The consensus is, a Koivu-type deal which averages about $6.75M for the next seven years. So how do the Wild free up that much cash to make a run at him?
Annti Miettinen ($2.3M), Andrew Brunette ($2.5M), Jose Theodore ($1M), Chuck Kobesew ($2.5M) John Madden ($1M) are all free agents to be. This totals $11.3M, while there is no way the Wild would essentially do a 5 for 1 with all five leaving, there is also very slim chance any will be back.
Brunette due to age and blah production, Madden due to the fact he's a hired gun who goes to teams on one-year deals, Theodore beacuse he was only intended as a stop-gap to backup goalie Josh Harding who is out for the season, and Miettinen who doesn't appear to fit into the team's long term plans because he's less of a sure-thing than Brunette is. There is also no way the disappointing Kobesew, who never fit in from day one, will be back.
So with only a few million to spend how could they do it? Trading Pierre Marc Bouchard's overpriced $4.08 annual cap hit contract would really help but the oft-injured player (notice a theme?) is still recovering albeit having a nice bounce-back season at 5 goals and 16 assists in only 35 games. Over the course of a full season, this equals out to 49 points, basically another Cullen but before injury was a 60-70 point man. Wild fans would be wise to hope he continues to recover and finishes strong and stays consistent so he has some trade appeal whenever that comes.
The team could always do the advice I always suggest but gets ignored every year which is to trade mediocre defensemen Nick Schultz which would free up more cap space. Schultz will make $3.6M for each of the next three seasons and the Wild have shown that youngsters Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner can do just as much.
Cam Barker, another one of GM Chuck Fletcher's mid-season acquisition-flops, will be a free agent after next season when both Parise and Erik Johnson, who was just traded today to Colorado will be unrestricted free agents. Whether Minnesota brings them home this year (Parise in summer via RFA) or Johnson next year, the speculation starts now and will until their contracts are resolved).
Why Johnson you ask?
The former top overall pick in the 2006 draft is still young and just got traded to a team with low cap space. In fact, they don't seem to have a clear direction nor willing to keep their young stars having already traded another promising player Woltek Wolski last year after showing some early promise in Colorado. This is a far cry from the 1990's well-managed teams.
With the team currently sliding,having lost nine in a row, I don't expect Johnson to fit into their long term plans. He's got a Jordon Leopald-blockbuster (another former Gophers and Minnesota native) deal on the horizon I feel, maybe this offseason, maybe next year's trading deadline). Just a hunch, but I think the Avs are keeping him as collateral for a future deal.
While I, as a Wild fan, envisioned a team with some combination of Dustin Byfuglein, a Roseau, Minnesota native, playing with Parise and now Johnson (in light of the trade) Byfuglein's recent contract extension last week with Winnipeg, I mean, Atlanta, now appears to have him locked up. Still, should the team actually relocate, he'd basically be playing at home as Roseau is opposite the Canadian border and the Jets were always coincided Minnesota's 2nd hockey club.
While the team obviously won't get all three, the question becomes can they bring any home and if so, what combination? All would have to be done through a trade unless they are willing to shed some contracts now and pay up for Praise and bet on a full recovery using Bouchard as the template. A risky proposition but one worth taking in my opinion as the benefits outweigh the risks.
Information and statistics from The USA Today, Wild.com, ESPN.com, NHL.com, North Jersey.com. SB Nation "In Lou We Trust", Mouthpiece sports.com, and Russo's Rant's, Star Tribune.com all contributed to the content of this article.