A few extra fireworks were sent into the sky across the State of Hockey when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed matching 13-year contracts worth $98 million each on the 4th of July in 2012. When the news broke that the two biggest free agents available that offseason had BOTH chosen to play for Minnesota, we celebrated and began planning the victory parade, as we all believed that Parise and Suter would surely carry us straight to the Stanley Cup Final. Shame on us.
While that certainly has not happened, I still defend the signings five years later, as they truly did put Minnesota back into legitimacy for the first time in a decade, and have kept us in contention throughout. Even so, as the fifth chapter of this thirteen-year saga came to an abrupt close once again with a first-round ouster at the hands of Mike Yeo and the St. Louis Blues, we were again left wanting more from the dynamic duo, especially the unluckiest bazillionaire, Zach Parise.
Parise has been through a lot since agreeing to come back to his home state on an extremely long-term contract five years ago. Though his hardships have been eased by his Scrooge McDuck-esque bank account, Zach has truly run into some awful luck the past couple seasons and has simultaneously dealt with some major life events in a fairly public manner. Since signing his contract, Parise has gotten married, fathered twins, grieved over the passing of his father, and he has been injured or ill almost constantly. There’s no doubt that all of these events can and absolutely should factor into a player’s performance on the ice, yet Zach has continued to constantly show his drive, tenacity, and desire to win, even in the worst of times.
While the major life events seemed to stay away in 2016-2017, this was the season of illness for Parise, who was sidelined multiple times with strep throat and once with mumps, and also nearly had his eye carved out twice by errant sticks two weeks in a row at the end of the season. As he prepares for 2017-2018, I would hope to see Parise arrive to Training Camp fitted with a full cage over a surgical mask, neither of which he will remove for the duration of the season.
All of the illnesses came just a few months after Zach missed the 2016 playoffs with a back injury that required him to miss the post-season in 2016 and an offseason of rehab. That back held up in the World Cup of Hockey, but was off to a very slow start to the ’16-’17 season for Parise, who had just two goals before November 23rd and four before December 13th. In those first few months, there were long periods of wondering if we would ever see Parise be the Wild’s best player again, as he looked to really be struggling to find his game.
Despite getting struck with the aforementioned illnesses and face-stabbings that kept him out of the lineup for a total of thirteen games down the stretch, Parise’s play absolutely improved in the second half of the season, and he ultimately finished the year with a respectable 19 goals and 23 assists. Those are certainly not the numbers that we anticipated seeing from him when he signed his gigantic deal, and it’s a VERY far cry from the 45 goals he once scored in New Jersey, but seeing him get back to being a leader on the ice for long stretches of the season gave hope that we haven’t yet seen the best of Parise as a member of the Wild.
While Parise remains a role model and sets a fine example for young hockey players across the country, there is no doubt that his hard-nosed style of play, despite being undersized, has led to some of the time that he has missed. Yet, it’s that very style that makes him an effective player and a star for the Minnesota Wild. Even through a variety of injuries, illnesses, and enormous life events, Parise has brought the highest level of effort that he could possibly muster every single night.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge Parise fan, and I still believe that his game can go to another level, even after he turns 33 years old this July. Let’s hope that we finally get a full season out of Zach in 2017-2018, void of injury, illness, and life events, as Parise at his best, now surrounded by a strong and capable group, could very well deliver us that parade that we began planning five years ago.