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.
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#1 Triumph44
May 21 2012, 01:36PM
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I recognized the same drop, but one has to consider that his linemates in 2011-12 were almost exclusively Adam Henrique (a rookie) and Ilya Kovalchuk (never noted as a play driver).

In 2008-09 and 2009-10, his linemates were Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner for much of the season - much bigger playdrivers.

It does suggest that Parise may not be the panacea for what ails the Rangers, though - Parise may not be able to haul an entire line forward. He may never again be near the shots on goal leaders in the league. I'd still like to see a season away from Ilya Kovalchuk to see what Parise is capable of on a great forechecking line.

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#3 nhlcheapshot
May 21 2012, 02:37PM
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Nice article, and if anything I hope this brings more Gaborik-style high-cap-hit shorter-term contracts than long-tail huge risk contracts.

As a GM I'd be much more comfortable with a $8M cap hit for 3-5 years than a $6M one for 8+

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#4 PopsTwitTar
May 21 2012, 02:39PM
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"...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."

We don't what the outcome of the upcoming OwnerGreedFest...I mean...CBA negotiations will be on this point. It's easy to say that the new CBA will make it more difficult for albatross contracts be buried or disposed of...but that could just as easily be something that both sides decide to continue with relatively few changes. Its less a "owners-players" dispute than a "small market - big market" dispute.

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#6 Derek Jedamski
May 21 2012, 02:53PM
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Interesting. The drop from 08-09 to 09-10 is more worrisome to me than the drop this season. His on-ice SH% increased from 08-09 to 09-10 so as the shot rate indicates, he likely experienced a little bit of luck even producing at the level he did in 09-10.

The general trend does not paint a great picture moving forward though.

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#7 PopsTwitTar
May 22 2012, 10:01AM
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@Eric T.

If there is any guarantee in this process, its that he will get exactly that.

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#8 HailRover
May 22 2012, 11:44AM
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Unfortunately, all of this assumes that one GM won't get desperate and give Parise an eight-year deal. And we can be pretty sure that one GM will do just that.

I think Parise still can be a 30-goal scorer for three or four years if his regression slows down, but any comparison to Heatley is kind of terrifying.

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