ST. PAUL -- No one knows what will happen between Zach Parise and the current iteration of the Minnesota Wild. Or, frankly, what has happened. But if this first-round playoff series is his last go-round in Minnesota, he’s making the most of it.
Parise’s status will be one of primary issues in what promises to be an eventful offseason for the Wild, and in his three playoff games he showed that after 16 NHL seasons, he’s got more left in the tank. He made his presence keenly felt in the three playoff games he’s been asked to play.
Parise, 36, scored a mammoth goal in the Wild’s 4-2 victory in Game 5 on Monday — putting his team up 2-1 in the first period — and started the rush that netted Ryan Hartman’s go-ahead goal in the Wild’s 3-0 Game 6 victory on Wednesday at Xcel Energy.
That’s a goal and assist in three games, for those keeping track, from a winger that had been scratched in six of the seven previous games. In each of those games, he played on a line with center Hartman and Kevin Fiala.
“He’s played great,” coach Dean Evason said. “We’ve talked about it before: Everybody that’s not in the lineup on a given night stays prepared and ready to play. Clearly, Zach’s been there and done that and the attitude was right coming back. That has allowed him to fit seamlessly into the group.”
The 13-year, $98 million contract Parise signed on July 4, 2012, was bound to become an albatross for the Wild, though management hoped that they would have advanced to a Stanley Cup Final or two in the meantime. They, of course, did not — although it’s still up in the air with Game 7 of this first-round series set for 8 p.m. CDT Friday in Las Vegas.
Ryan Suter signed an identical contract at the same time as Parise, but the defenseman remains a top-four blue liner. Parise wasn’t a top forward this season, although he scored 28 and 25 goals in his previous two seasons.
Bottom line, Parise has four years left on a deal that will pay $10 million more but with an annual salary cap hit of just under $7.54 million. He had seven goals and 11 assists in 45 games this season, and because he had fallen out of coach Evason’s rotation — and been moved off his spot on the power play before that — it appears the Wild are moving on, or at least trying to.
One wonders if the Wild feel the same after the past three games. The playoffs are what counts, and playoff wins are what have been missing for most of the Wild’s 20 NHL seasons.
It’s unclear what, if any, disconnect there is between Parise and Evason. Interviews this season have been group meetings via Zoom, and as the season wound down, Parise wasn’t made available until after his first playoff appearance in a Game 4 loss at Xcel Energy Center last Monday. With the Wild down 3-1 in the series, he wasn’t about to open a vein.
“The last thing I want to do is be a distraction,” he said.
Inserted into the lineup after Marcus Johansson broke an arm — he ran into a post in Game 3 — Parise has been a conspicuous presence on the ice. He’s not as fast as he once was, but the guy knows how to score in close, as he showed in Las Vegas when he corralled a rebound behind the net and fired a hard shot off the back of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andrew Fleury.
On Wednesday, he slipped a contested puck behind the blue line to Fiala, starting a two-on-one that Hartman finished for a 1-0 lead just more than 4 minutes into the third period.
But even if the Wild are getting ready for life without Parise, moving him in a trade will be about impossible, and with the (draconian) expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken coming this summer, general manager Bill Guerin will have a more difficult time moving the veteran forward than he did last February, when Parise waived his no-trade for a chance to play with late father’s New York Islanders.
That deal fell through at the 11th hour, and no wonder. Parise can help a team, especially in the postseason, but his regular season numbers this season don’t seem to merit a $7.5 million cap hit for the next four years.
But Parise has shown this week he might not be an albatross quite yet.