Parise's final stand as a Devil?
Zach Parise and the New Jersey Devils began the post-All Star break portion of the schedule firmly on the Eastern Conference’s playoff bubble, and for both the individual and the team, early returns have been positive.
In two home games in Newark through Friday, the Devils rallied for a shootout victory over the Rangers and a regulation win over the Canadiens. Those wins gave New Jersey 59 points, which is good for seventh — one point ahead of Toronto and one behind Ottawa — before Saturday's game against the Flyers.
Parise had three goals in those first two contests after the break. After a sluggish start to the season, the left wing has found his game at the right time. As coach Pete DeBoer said after the win over the Rangers, “we’re at that time of the year where they’re all big.”
But for the New Jersey captain, this spring's upcoming stretch drive is bigger than most.
Two months plus potential playoffs separate Parise, the Devils’ best homegrown player of the post-lockout era, from unrestricted free agency. A strong end to the 2011-12 season for Parise, however, could put him out of the team’s price range over the summer.
Parise will likely earn a raise on his current $6 million, one-year deal, and the size of that raise will be determined this spring.
The Devils, however, are facing financial issues unrelated to whethery they re-sign the 27-year-old star.
The team is currently $80 million in debt, and the NHL is providing it with early payment of some revenue. And co-owner Ray Chambers is reportedly trying to rid himself of his 47 percent share of the franchise.
At a practice this week, player representative David Clarkson said the team’s financial situation did not weigh heavily on the minds of players.
“I think everything figures itself out, somehow,” Clarkson told reporters. “The thing I know is that our locker room is the exact same as it was before. It doesn’t affect us as players. We just have to go out and continue to do our job."
And it will not affect the Devils' personnel for the remainder of the season, either.
Mark Everson of the the New York Post reported Tuesday the team does not plan to trade Parise before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 27.
That means he has until at least early April to create a few more winning memories for Devils fans before the reality of free agency sets in.
“We’ve got to move on and get prepared,” Parise said after the win over the Rangers. “Because it’s not going to be getting any easier.”