Zach Parise: Excellent player, free agency contract risk

Eric T.
May 21 2012 01:01PM

There's no question that Zach Parise is an excellent player and will receive a lot of attention in free agency. Someone will sign him, and he will immediately make that team better.

But that improvement will come with a cost.

Parise will likely command a long-term contract -- players like Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Jason Spezza, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Vincent Lecavalier all signed contracts of at least seven years at this point in their careers, and the rare top player who reaches unrestricted free agency (Ilya Kovalchuk, Brad Richards, Marian Hossa) has typically gotten even longer deals on the open market.

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.

Crystal Ball

Are there any clues about which category Parise falls into? Take a look at this table:

Year Goals Points 5v5 pts/60 SOG/60 Corsi Rel
'08-09 45 94 2.93 14.2 16.3
'09-10 38 82 2.59 13.0 12.4
'10-11 injured

'11-12

31 69 2.18 10.0 4.2

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.

In addition, his Corsi Rel -- a measure of how much he helps his team push the play forwards which comes from comparing the team's shot differential with him on the ice and off the ice -- has dropped sharply over the same period.

It is possible that this was just a down year for Parise and he will return to his '09-10 form, and it is possible that he will follow Iginla's path and perform well into his mid-30's. But all long-term big-money contracts entail significant risk, and Parise has more warning signs than most.

It is very likely that he will elevate whichever team signs him in the short run, but as teams weigh the idea of making him an offer, they need to keep in mind the distinct possibility that he will underperform this contract in the near future and eventually become an anchor on the team's salary cap finances.

 

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Eric T. writes for NHL Numbers and Broad Street Hockey. His work generally focuses on analytical investigations and covers all phases of the game. You can find him on Twitter as @BSH_EricT.