Why Zach Parise might be a risky free agent investment

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To the delight of hockey-free summers, it seems like every off-season features at least one tantalizing “can’t-miss” free agent. This time around, Zach Parise might carry the torch from the likes of Brad Richards, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa.

Yet for all the drooling over such an attractive, versatile target, NHL Numbers wonders if Parise should come with a buyer beware sticker.

So it is worth remembering that Parise turns 28 this year. That is past the peak for a scorer, and although players are aging better than they did 20 years ago, in recent years the fraction of players who are performing late in their career has been dropping sharply.

Obviously there is variation from player to player. Some, like Jarome Iginla and Patrick Marleau, have aged relatively gracefully and continue to post 30-goal seasons into their early 30’s. Others, like Dany Heatley and Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne have seen their production drop markedly as they cross into this part of their career. Those players may still be good players, but they would no longer justify a $6M+ cap hit, particularly not on a contract that extends into their mid-to-late-30’s.

… Parise is seeing sharp drops in his goals and points, in almost exact proportion to how often he is getting the puck on net. His story almost exactly mirrors that of Dany Heatley: his power play production has been steady, but his ability to generate shots at even strength has declined, and with that has come a drop in even strength goals and points.

The name “Dany Heatley” likely makes many fans shudder and there are some obvious arguments against that comparison – mostly from a subjective “character” standpoint. Heatley’s deriders might argue that he simply doesn’t work as hard as Parise will once he gets a new deal. More reasonable types would probably point out that Parise is more defensively conscientious.

Still, the overarching risk is something that every suitor should consider.

The post rightly points out that players are aging better than ever, yet it’s also true that “hustle” and “heart” can only take you so far. When you’re talking about deals like the one Parise is likely to garner, whatever team he lands with will be pushing many of their salary cap chips to the middle of the table.

One can argue about the severity of the risk, but there’s no doubt that it’s a gamble in some form – huge free agent moves generally fail more often than they succeed across all sports. Don’t get me wrong; it’s all good fun to daydream about what kind of impact the elite (or near-elite?) forward can make, yet it’s important to note that success is far from a guarantee.

After all, Heatley looked awfully impressive back when he was dominating with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, too.