In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2019-20 performances of each member of the Minnesota Wild during the regular season. Players were evaluated based on overall performance with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in their particular role.
For most Minnesota Wild fans, when they think of Zach Parise’s 2019-20 season, they might remember it as the time his Wild tenure nearly came to an end. In the hours leading up to the NHL trade deadline, Wild general manager Bill Guerin was in discussions with the New York Islanders about a swap that would have included Parise. The trade would have included the Wild receiving Andrew Ladd in return with other pieces being discussed. No trade ever came to fruition though, and the deadline passed without a deal. Parise stayed with the Wild, but it is unclear what exactly his future with the team looks like (but more on that later).
Season in review
To start with, one of the biggest positives from this season for Parise is the fact that he played 100 percent of Wild games. Parise was active and healthy for all 69 games the Wild played before the season was suspended. In his eight seasons so far with the Wild, he has only done that one other time, and that was also an abbreviated season. In his first year in Minnesota, he played all 48 games of the lockout-shortened season. In total, he has played about 84 percent of the Wild’s games since he joined the team, which is about 69 games in an 82-game season. Having Parise active in every game, even in a shortened year, is noteworthy.
As far as what he did in those games, he might have come a little bit short of some fans’ expectations. Two years ago, he played just 42 games and had just 24 points. Those are his worst games played and points-per-game totals in a Wild uniform. He rebounded very well the following year, however. He came back healthy and played 74 games, matching his Wild best, and scored 61 points, one shy of his Wild best. Many hoped he would build off of that successful 2018-19 season, especially if he stayed healthy. Instead, despite staying healthy, he took a slight step backwards. He registered 25 goals and 21 assists, good for 46 points and 0.67 points per game. In general, not a terrible season. It was, however, his second biggest drop off in PPG from one season to the next in his Wild career. It also may not have lived up to the very high expectations many Wild fans have on Parise.
One other interesting stat about Parise’s 2019-20 season is that his shooting percentage was at an all-time high. He posted a shooting percentage of 16.1 — much higher than his previous best of 12.7 and his career average of 11.6. He was also shooting fewer shots per game. He averaged 2.25 shots per game — a shot less per game compared to his career average of 3.27. While his average time on ice did decrease this past year (down to 17:12 compared to an average of 18:45 in his Wild career), it was not such a significant decrease to account for his shots per game being cut by roughly one-third. Perhaps it was just an anomaly, but this past season he was shooting less and still making a lot more of his shots count.
On February 28, just days after the trade to the Islanders fell apart, Parise reminded Wild fans of the production he can provide this team. In his only three-point game of the season, the Wild beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-0. Parise had a goal and two assists. As you can see in the clip below, after a turnover near the blue line, Jordan Greenway found Parise all alone in front of the net. Parise then had no problem beating Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
A year ago, it seemed very likely that, barring an early retirement, Zach Parise would play out the remainder of his contract with Minnesota. Now, after nearly being traded to the Islanders, things seem less clear. In assessing his future with the Wild, let’s start with what we know are clearly true. First, and just as a reminder, Parise has five years remaining on a contract that carries a cap hit of just over $7.5 million. Currently 35 years old, that contract will take him through his age 40 season. Second, Parise is clearly willing to waive his no-movement clause under the right circumstances. He knows the clock is ticking on his career, and he definitely wants to win a Stanley Cup before he hangs up his skates. If an opportunity presents itself where Parise thinks switching teams increases his chances of winning, it seems very possible that he will agree to the move. And third, Bill Guerin does not view Parise as an essential part of the team moving forward. If he did, it is unlikely he would have come so close to sending him to New York earlier this year.
The real question for Parise is whether Guerin revisits those trade discussions. Does he call up the Islanders again? Does he find another team that Parise would approve a trade to? Or does he move on and keep him on the team?
If the Wild decide to keep Parise, the team needs to be honest with what they can expect of him. As shown by the chart below, his production has gradually declined over the course of his first six years with the Wild. He experienced a nice resurgence in the 2018-19 season, coinciding with a return to health and playing the most games he had in years. Assuming he remains with the team, the Wild need to anticipate that this general downward trend will continue. That being said, even in his worst season with the Wild, he was still on pace to produce 47 points over 82 games. That is the only season that he was not on pace for at least 50 points. Parise remains a very useful player when he stays in the lineup. The production might not match what fans would hope to see from a player with a cap hit over $7.5 million, but there is still a good amount of production there. The concern going forward is going to be how quickly his production drops as he ages.
In discussing Parise’s future with the team, it seems relevant to bring up the 2021 expansion draft. Without getting too far down the rabbit hole of who should be and who should not be protected in next year’s expansion draft (that deserves its own article), it seems like the Wild could include Parise on their protected list without leaving somebody more deserving off. But that is based on how the roster is constructed right now. A lot could change by next year. If Bill Guerin wants more roster flexibility, he might decide moving Parise this summer makes sense. If he wants to be able to add long-term pieces this summer without worrying about how he will protect the key parts in the expansion draft, it is very possible that Parise could be the odd man out. This is especially true if Guerin thinks he might go the route of protecting eight skaters rather than seven forwards and three defensemen. This could happen if he extends Jonas Brodin next season and wants to be able to protect Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter, and Matt Dumba. If the Wild can only protect four forwards, it would be hard to justify one of them being the soon-to-be 37-year-old Zach Parise over some of the younger talent.
To summarize the point here, the Wild do not have to move Parise before the expansion draft next summer based on how the roster looks right now, but if the team wants some flexibility — especially the ability to bring in new pieces this offseason — moving Parise to avoid having to protect him begins to make sense.