November 11, 2012. The ex-Captain comes back to New Jersey for the first time.
From the reactions I’ve seen on Twitter, there will be a mad scramble for tickets. It might be a rare regular season, outside-the-Atlantic-division sell-out crowd. A typical Minnesota-New Jersey match-up (they normally meet once a year) would have been nothing special at all in past years — but the bird has flown the coop. Drafted by the Devils, developed by the Devils, granted captaincy by the Devils, Zach Parise has signed with the Minnesota Wild.
And New Jersey fans will boo him.
Perhaps not all of them. Us, the ones who read any available hockey article, who pour over stats and interview bits, who follow beat writers on Twitter and toss around rumors because it’s fun, we’re a bit of a different bunch. Will ‘regular’ Devils fans, then, the more casual ones, boo Parise? The Rock will doubtlessly show a tribute video prior to the game, and there will be cheers. He deserves them for what he has given to the club over the last seven years. That is a fact.
(I’m reminded of Max Talbot, the ex-Penguin who signed with their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguns-Flyers rivalry is not a pretty one and to some, the signing came as a shock. The reaction was mixed. But when Talbot first came back to Pittsburgh, the cheers for him prior to the first game were real. He was loved there, by fans and teammates. His exit was incredibly graceful and that perhaps made the difference.)
Parise will be cheered. Parise will also be booed. That is all right with me. What I mentioned about ‘exit strategies’ — that is, the things you say after you choose to leave your old team and sign with a new one — they are incredibly important. The things Parise said, well-trained, always polite, always media-savvy Zach Parise, I can’t help but think were intentional. And I think it is those words that are hurting Devils fans. Those words are making Parise’s exit from New Jersey a bitter exodus.
“I think at the end it came to New Jersey or Minnesota,” said Parise.
Of course it di– wait. That’s not true at all. ‘At the beginning’ it was already only Minnesota, largely because the Devils were unable to afford the signing bonuses that Parise asked for. He knew that. The Devils knew that.
“We kept in touch throughout the process,” said Parise, referring to his decision to play with Suter in Minnesota.
They not only talked during the process, they also conferred during the year. Why mention such a thing, Zach? It only gives the (correct) impression that your heart wasn’t in it. His numbers were down this year, and he seemed spiritless in the playoffs. He wasn’t injured. Now we know why.
“I didn’t pick No. 9 in New Jersey. I’ve always been No. 11. So I really had no ties to No. 9.”
Thanks? I’m sure every Devils fan who bought Parise merchandise appreciates hearing this.
I am not criticizing Parise’s desire to establish his family where he grew up, or the fact that he picked the job where he would be able to be paid the most. Don’t we all do that, if possible? And family is important for NHL players. (Johan Hedberg has been separated from his family, a wife and two children, for two years as they remained in Atlanta. Only now that he has received a two-year deal from New Jersey are they coming to join him.) I am not criticizing these things at all.
But he could have been more graceful in his departure. He shouldn’t have said, “I want to be on a winning team,” and then left one to join a franchise that has yet to win a Stanley Cup, in an uncompetitive division. Perhaps with the additions of Parise as a forward and Suter on the blue line, the Minnesota Wild will get much further than they have in the past, and that’s great. Things are more interesting in the hockey world when there is a greater number of successful teams and franchises.
At the same time, I think many New Jersey fans will feel vindicated if Parise spends each summer of his 13-year deal on the golf course. “You said you wanted to ‘win,’ and now look at you.”
I don’t believe Devils fans are a vindictive bunch. When players who were successful for us go elsewhere, such as John Madden or big bro Brian Gionta, I think many fans keep a fondness for them and wish them well. Then you get a player like then-miracle Devils rookie Scott Gomez, who is now mocked for his ongoing NHL struggles.
Zach Parise has put himself into the Gomez category — not in that he’s going to fail in the years to come, because he likely won’t, but in that he broke the hearts of Devils fans. That is incredibly unfortunate, and it could have been avoided if only he had been more honest. More open. Perhaps he was ‘too’ good at attempting to please the media, because everything he said now sounds evasive. We liked him and although I saw this coming, hearing him say “Don’t worry!” when he was bound to leave was adding salt to the wound. Parise was a great captain and I think he’s a great guy, but he did not handle this well.
I wish him luck, and I won’t boo him. But I understand why people would.