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2012 NHL Trade Deadline: Musings On Zach Parise

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With the Dallas Stars still scrambling for playoff positioning, and their play over the next few weeks determining whether Nieuwendyk becomes a seller or a buyer at the trade deadline -- supposedly, many eyes are focused on the deadline as a time when the Stars might finally be able to make a splash. Tom Gaglardi has made it clear that the Stars must make the postseason this year and it's going to be interesting to see what he allows Nieuwendyk to pull off in order to try and make that happen.

The Stars, struggling the past few weeks without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro, are now 10th in the West headed into the All-Star Game break and are three points behind Minnesota for the 8th spot. Technically, they no longer control their own destiny but with a busy schedule coming in February and plenty of conference games left to play, there's still a chance this team can fight their way into the postseason.

Last week, we discussed what sort of plan the Stars should approach the deadline with, saying that Nieuwendyk should be cautious and smart about the assets he might give up just to try and make a run at the postseason this year. After all, it's become obvious this is an average hockey team that needs to get younger over the next few years -- giving up prospects or young players just to try and make the playoffs this season isn't exactly the best plan for the future.

So we turn our attention to players that not only would help this team this season but also provide a boost for the future as well. That "splashy" player that would help put the Stars back on the map in Dallas and provide that star presence -- alongside Jamie Benn -- that this team desperately needs as it rebuilds.

For Dallas Stars fans, and for most around the NHL, that thought leads to just one name this season: Zach Parise.

Zach Parise, who turns 28 this summer as he potentially hits free agency for the first time in his career, is perhaps the biggest American hockey star in the NHL today. Along with his baudy career numbers, Parise was an Olympics hero and helped put American hockey back on the map with an incredible performance on the international stage.

All of this makes him the most interesting target in free agency this summer, if he doesn't re-sign with New Jersey. He's their current captain and is just a few years removed from a 94-point season, so it's incredible we are even having the conversation that he might be available. Because of the potential financial issues of the Devils heading into this summer, there's a thought that Parise might not only be available as a free agent -- he might be traded by the Devils for the right price.

We'll get to that potential price in a bit, but let's take a look at Parise as a player first. After all, it's not just the name the Stars -- or any other team -- would be acquiring, it's the actual future production that would result from the deal.

In Lou We Trust took a close look at Parise this season, compared to the previous four years in New Jersey, and it becomes clear that Parise's value is based on past production -- not what he's done lately. Parise's best seasons came between 2008-09 and 2009-10, when he was facing the toughest competition on his team while ranking as a top forward on the Devils as far as Corsi and point production go. It should also be noted that Parise played just 13 games last season due to injury and there's a chance his struggles at times this year have carried over from that.

This season, Parise has just 39 points in 45 games and is on pace for less than 30 goals. What's more, he's doing this against easier competition compared to the rest of his team. His shots per game are lower and his shot percentage is lower than it has ever been in his career, not counting last year's injury-shortened season.

Per John Fischer:

This is where the concern comes in: Parise isn't really pushing the play forward. The Patrik Elias line has been taking on the toughest competition this season, and Parise isn't going up against weak players. Relative to his team, he's not ranked too poorly. However, he's just above the even point in on-ice Corsi. His relative Corsi is also at a five-season low. For a player who wasn't just driving the play forward but steamrolling ahead and among his team's leaders in this stat, this is rather shocking. It suggests to me that Parise may not be performing as well this season compared to prior years. Sure, the points are one thing, but if on-ice Corsi is around zero, it means he's not consistently winning his match-ups or generating more opportunities than allowing. That's not good. Especially after what I thought was a good start on this front.

From 2007 through 2010, Parise was rolling through defenses alongside Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. This season, he's been playing with a rookie center in Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk, who's never been much of a possession forward. And Parise experienced other linemates until Peter DeBoer settled on all three. One way to look at it is that because Henrique and Kovalchuk aren't great defensive and/or possession players like Zajac and Langenbrunner. It's not Parise's fault that his linemates can't do the same things ZZ Pops did with such success. That he's producing at all and not getting beaten on every night should be seen as a positive for Parise.

So, the question becomes whether Parise's overall performance has waned this season because of personal decline or whether it's because of the players around him. He's always been known as one of the better defensive forwards in the game, who can also score at an incredible rate, and this season he may be overcompensating defensively because of who he's playing with.

One thing is becoming clearer: Parise might not be a forward who is going to suddenly spark an offense by his presence alone. He's a key part of the big picture who is, like many players, reliable on those around him to help create space and create offensive chances. There's also the fact that this season Parise has more shorthanded points than power play points, as he's part of a struggling power play unit that's just as bad as the one here in Dallas.

Parise is an ultra-talented two-way forward with tremendous goal-scoring ability who is also known for his leadership in the locker room. He's also played on a team that has greatly disappointed in the postseason and has under performed at times compared to expectations.

So, what would a team get from Parise should they a) make a trade for him or b) wait until free agency? For one, Parise would certainly be one of the more dynamic forwards on that team, instantly, and should become a top line winger. They'd also receive a strong off-ice personality and incredible leader in the locker room, who would also be a big role-model for that team to market as the big name on the team. Combine that with his past production and his potential performance for the right team, and it's understandable why he's such a hot commodity.

Parise isn't perfect, however, and there's no guarantee he'd become the 90-point forward he was a few years back. There is certainly a risk for any move a team might make to acquire him, especially at the trade deadline.

What would he mean to the Dallas Stars, however, and would that risk be worth it?

Parise is almost exactly the sort of forward the Stars desperately need, especially in the marketing department. A charismatic forward who can put up big points, who's American and is a recognizable name around the NHL is something this team is needing in a bad way. Combine that with how dynamic the offense becomes with Parise, especially with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson still improving as players, and suddenly the Stars have a very, very strong foundation to build around.

Yet, the price to be paid to acquire Parise would be tremendous -- especially if the Devils are looking to trade him at the deadline and head into the rebuilding mode that many feel they should already have started. If the Devils do indeed decide to trade Parise, then the asking price in return would be so astronomical that any trade involving the Stars would certainly become much too expensive, making the idea of bringing him to Dallas this season likely impractical.

The Devils aren't going to want aging veterans or underperforming third line players. The Devils will want prospects and draft picks, likely involving Jack Campbell and a number of other top prospects, as well as young forwards already at the NHL level. While the Stars certainly have a number of prospects that could be used in such a trade, doing so for Parise this season is a risk not worth taking for a team with no certainty of making the playoffs.

There's also the fact that Parise is a pending free agent this summer, and any trade this season brings almost zero promises of signing him long term.

So, we turn our attention to free agency. There's a very real question of whether the Devils can afford to keep Parise, who says he hopes that New Jersey continues to spend to the cap to keep up with other NHL powerhouse teams.

"You hear about teams that, no matter what, they're not going to spend to the cap," Parise told the New York Post. "That's just the way they are. It's hard to be competitive if you're not going to, if you can't spend as much as these other teams. So if there's a change, you hope that part won't change, because we've always been a salary cap team."

Two things are obvious here. First, Parise is likely looking for a gigantic payday and a raise from his current $6 million salary this season. Second, any team he decides to sign with -- if not New Jersey -- is a team he expects to be able to compete and contend with the best in the NHL.

Even if the Stars were able to sign Parise, which they'll have room to do this summer, there's certainly little guarantee that he'd want to come to Dallas. He's been playing on a high-profile team that has at least been playoff contenders each season he's played. The Stars would offer no such promise, especially since Parise would be a key piece to building a better team for the future, not the final piece of the puzzle for a possible Cup contending team.

There's also the prevailing opinion that Parise would prefer to head back to his hometown Minnesota Wild, a place where he'd be welcomed with open arms as the returning hero -- there to bring back glory to Minnesota hockey. Parise would certainly be a high-profile player here in Dallas, but he would certainly receive much less attention in North Texas than he would in MInnesota.

So, what have we concluded? Parise is a good player who has been great in the past, whose presence on any team would instantly boost their offense -- but he won't be the perfect solution to all of their offensive woes. He's also a player that would be tremendously expensive in a trade with no guarantee of staying once he hits free agency, making the idea of a trade certainly seem toO expensive to be worth it.

Should the Dallas Stars focus on Parise, especially this summer? I'd expect nothing less from Joe Nieuwendyk and Tom Gaglardi and I certainly expect them to attempt to sign him to a big contract should he decide to leave New Jersey. Unfortunately, there's 29 other teams gearing up for the same approach, with Minnesota and Detroit already having a better chance at getting the star forward.

That doesn't mean the Dallas Stars shouldn't try, however.