Look, it’s tough to imagine Zach Parise doing enough to make his contract look any less frightening for the Minnesota Wild.
(/Opens Cap Friendly profile. Shrieks at $7.54 million through 2024-25. Shrieks again.)
It’s also tough to imagine 33-year-old Parise playing like prime-age, forechecking and scoring phenom Parise once he returns from an AHL stint to shake off the rust, as has been reported by Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press.
Ultimately it will take him time to regain whatever form he’s truly capable of, something Parise acknowledges (with a smile, it must be noted).
“These guys have to get ready to play games, and when I’m not on a line, it’s tough to get reps,” Parise said. “So, I think this would probably be the best thing, to go there, practice with them, play a game, and go from there.”
As Parise says, the plan is to see how Thursday’s game with the Iowa Wild (his first AHL work since 2004-05, his lone season with the Albany Devils) and then go from there. The Athletic’s Michael Russo notes that players can opt for 14-day conditioning stints in the AHL, so the door’s open for him to shake off the rust into early 2018.
(Bruce Boudreau notes that he hopes to have Parise back sometime after New Year’s.)
Answering the question of “When?” is interesting enough, but it’s most fascinating to ponder how much of a difference Parise can really make.
Let’s consider a few factors.
Playing in pain
It’s important to remember that precedent only matters so much. Parise is 33, a tough time for snipers, and that rust factor cannot be ignored.
That said, it’s worth noting that Parise elected not to get back surgery during the 2016-17 season before ultimately opting for it in October. Maybe he could generate similar numbers through the remainder of 2017-18, with a cleaner bill of health canceling out some of that discomfort? At least eventually?
If you’re looking at Parise’s numbers as a guy making too much money, you won’t be happy. On the other hand, if you picture this type of scorer added to a Wild group that could use the extra punch and balance, it’s a sunnier picture:
Parise: 19 goals, 42 points in 69 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to about 23 goals and 50 points.
With all the (understandable) hand-wringing over his contract being discussed, it’s easy to forget that even a diminished Parise can still help a team win games.
How to use him?
While Eric Staal continues his career renaissance in Minnesota and others have been contributing, there have also been some struggles, particularly for the likes of Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. Adding a smart, 20-goal-ish player to the mix could really bring things together.
Heading into tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars, the Wild figured to line up Staal with Charlie Coyle and Tyler Ennis, Koivu with Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund, and Joel Eriksson Ek with Daniel Winnik and Chris Stewart.
One could picture a more balanced attack with Parise in many situations, but particularly taking the spot of either Ennis or Winnik. By Natural Stat Trick’s linemate listings, Parise’s most common linemates were Staal (by far) and then Coyle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Boudreau would go in that direction.
(It might be wise to ease Parise in, really, which could mean starting off a little lower in the lineup.)
Down, but not out
Heading into Wednesday’s games, the Wild were out of the West’s playoff picture, but in reasonable distance of the final wild card. With a home-and-home against the Nashville Predators on Friday and Saturday after tonight’s Stars skirmish, Boudreau’s early January proclamation seems most reasonable, though not set in stone.
Here’s what the next few weeks look like:
Wed, Dec 27 vs Dallas
Fri, Dec 29 vs Nashville
Sat, Dec 30 @ Nashville
Mon, Jan 2 vs Florida
Wed, Jan 4 vs Buffalo
Fri, Jan 6 @ Colorado
Mon, Jan 9 vs Calgary
Tue, Jan 10 @ Chicago
Maybe the Wild would want Parise to play one of those home-and-home games against the Predators, or perhaps they’d go a safer route and wait until January.
The broader goal might be to get him up to speed by that away date against the Blackhawks. After that, the Wild will enjoy a four-game homestand, which is the sort of opportunity that could help them strengthen their position in the West’s bubble.
Yes, it’s true that this is a pretty modest situation for Parise; many in the Wild organization probably expected these questions and considerations to surface closer to, say, 2020.
The reality is harsher than such daydreams, but at least he’s still in a position to help Minnesota, and the Wild can use all the help they can get.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.