The Wild know it's a good year to be a free agent, and they have competition for Zach Parise.
By BRIAN HALLFS North
ST. PAUL, Minn. — New Jersey Devils star
Zach Parise's name has been at the tip of the tongues of
Minnesota Wild fans for more than a year, in hopes that the Minnesota native would one day return home to be the electrifying scorer Minnesota has missed since Marian Gaborik left town.
As the July 1 start of free agency nears, the Parise watch has only intensified. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, unwilling to add any buzz to the speculation, simply deflects the questions as they come.
"It's been a runaway train, for sure, in the media everywhere and not just here," Fletcher said Thursday at his pre-draft press conference. "I think it just speaks to the parity in the league and how much competition there is. And, frankly, it's a year where a lot of teams have money to spend. I've looked. There's a lot of teams with a lot of money to spend. So I think my only statement would be it's probably a good year to be a free agent."
Parise, 27, is a five-time 30-plus goal scorer in six NHL seasons. He's been a playoff hero and has experience on the international stage. He's the pre-eminent goal scorer expected to be available in free agency, and Fletcher has said it's probably time for the Wild to get a "big fish" in free agency as the next step in the organization's development.
The fact that Parise hails from Bloomington and starred at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault adds to the mystique. His dad, J.P., played for the Minnesota North Stars and Zach was born in Minnesota, while J.P. was an assistant coach.
New Jersey has 17 days left with exclusive negotiating rights, but if the two sides can't come to an agreement, Parise will enter July 1 as an unrestricted free agent, and the Wild are one of several teams rumored to be interested.
Fletcher doesn't need to stoke the flames when it comes to rumors about Parise. There are plenty of others willing to add fuel to the fire.
Lou Nanne, the former North Stars general manager, didn't do Minnesota's current GM any favors this week when he said the Wild's offer is "going to be so substantial that I cannot see Zach Parise turning it down." Speaking on the Dan Barreiro show locally on KFAN radio, Nanne said he had recently had dinner with Minnesota owner Craig Leipold.
"And what Craig told me, how hard he's going to go after him, and the kind of money that he's going after him, I don't see how Parise's not coming here," Nanne said. "I can tell you this, no one is going to outbid the Wild. So if Parise goes somewhere else, you can bet he's going for less money. And what I said, the kind of money that they're going to offer him, he might as well just come here, own the team in his later years and win the Stanley Cup as an owner."
Parise just missed a Stanley Cup this season with the Devils losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Final. Parise capped a 31-goal, 38-assist regular season with eight goals and seven assists in 24 playoffs games.
Like Fletcher, Parise isn't interested in adding to the speculation. While clearing out his locker on Wednesday, he said he hoped to return to New Jersey. Parise wasn't going to be baited when asked if he would consider playing for New Jersey's rival, the New York Rangers, telling reporters, "No way."
"Don't try to get a headline out of this," Parise said.
Fletcher is cautious not to create headlines as well. There's enough speculation already. In Parise's case, with a lot of money and a lot of interested teams, does Fletcher feel the need to temper the fans' expectations?
"I try not to do anything to the fan base one way or the other," Fletcher said.
Fletcher doesn't need to when it comes to Parise. The fans know his game well. So does Nanne.
"He's a superb player," Nanne said on KFAN. "He's a player that comes to play with an attitude that's somewhat infectious. He gets other people to play better besides himself, imparting so much to a hockey club. He's the kind of guy you can count on every night. He's the kind of guy that's going to keep himself in condition and will play for a long time. He's the kind of guy that brings fans out of their seats. He excites them. He's got charisma. And he's the kind of guy you want to build a team around."