As we continue to discuss (and argue about) the various reasons why the Flames are perpetually middling, it makes sense to start suggesting some solutions to the problem. A little while ago, I wrote that Calgary should target Steven Stamkos with an offer sheet. Perhaps a more realistic strategy would be to aggressively pursue one Zach Parise when he becomes an unrestriced free agent a year from now.
The fit would be a good one for a number of reasons. First, The Flames will be swimming in cap space next summer for the first time in recent memory. Daymond Langkow, Olli Jokinen, Cory Sarich, Brendan Morrison, Tom Kostopolous, Tim jackman, David Moss and Nik Hagman are all pending UFA’s, meaning the club will have some $20-25M in cap room (depending on who they choose to re-up and how what happens to the cap ceiling).
With so many players/rosters spots needing to be re-signed or replaced, the team will obviously have to be judicious in it’s use of dollars. Pulling a Dale Tallon On July 1, 2012 and drunkenly passing out suitcases of sequential bills to whomever is available will mean burning through the available cap space rather quickly. That said, the option to drive a dump truck full of money to Parise’s agent will certainly exist.
And he’s probably one of the few players who is worth that kind of commitment. While there are always a number of shiny baubles every off season that are more fools gold than true prize, Parise is a legitimate heavy hitter. He tooks his biggest step forward in 2008-09 (appropriately enough under Brent Sutter), scoring 45 goals and 95 points. The second closest scorer on the Devils that year was Patrik Elias, with just 78 points. No one else managed more than 70. Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner shared the heavy lifting with Elias, Madden and Pandolfo that year, somewhat in the same manner Sutter platooned Jokinen and Bourque plus Iginla and Tanguay against top-six guys this season. Difference is, Parise murdered the bad guys. His raw corsi rate was +16.8/60 and his relative corsi was +16.3/60, best on the club and a full 6 corsi events per hour more than second place Jamie Langenbrunner (who was Parise’s regular linemate). The 24-year old (at the time) wasn’t lapping his teammates because of a Babchukian zone start ratio either. Again, like in Calgary, Sutter mostly spread out the offensive and defensive zone draws fairly evenly. Parise landed at 51.1%. The lowest ZS on the squad was John Madden at 48.2%.
His raw numbers fell a bit the next season (38 goals, 82 points), but Parise was still rock solid by the underlying stats. He took on the toughest competition available in 2009-10 but still led his team in relative corsi (only linemate Travis Zajac was close) and in scoring by 15 points. The only other two guys to garner more than 60 points – Zajac and Langenbrunner – played with Parise. No other Devil broke 50. He was, without a doubt, the straw stirring the drink.
I haven’t even mentioned that Parise is also excellent on the PP. In 2008, he led the Devils in terms of PP efficiency with 5.25 PPP/60. He did it again in 2009-10, this time with a 5.93 PPP/60 rate. To put those numbers in perspective, the best rate Jarome Iginla has managed in the last four years is 5.37 PPP/60, garnered all the way back in 2007-08.
Parise is the real deal. He can play against anyone, move the puck in the right direction, improve whoever he plays with and score a bunch with the man advantage to boot. He will also only be 26-years old (turning 27) when the summer rolls around next year as well. Unless he falls off a cliff for some reason, he could therefore be the Flames heavy hitter up front for the next 5-7 years, wresting the mantle from a 35-year old Jarome Iginla.
Parise would fill the sizable elite talent gap that will inevitably be left when guys like Iginla and Langkow are gone or have aged to obsolescence. He is the sort of talent teams build around up front, which is this organization’s primary weakness going forward.
A few caveats apply here. If the Devils manage to sign Parise long-term before his arbitration hearing, this plan obviously goes out the window (aside – if they do take Parise to arb, it will probably make the player even more motivated to test the market next year). Also, Parise suffered a fairly severe knee injury last season, limiting him to just 13 games. The above assumes Parise has fully recovered form his infirmity and will continue to be the same quality player he was before the accident.