Zach Parise took the Xcel Energy Center ice for a playoff game Saturday night, returning from inaction to join his hometown team in the twilight of his career. It would have been heartwarming if not for facts.
Fact: Parise was a minus-2 as the Wild lost 4-0 to Vegas, which leads the first-round playoff series, three games to one.
Fact: Parise, making a prorated $13 million a year with four years remaining on his contract, and who fared well on the power play this year, was used on the fourth line and did not receive time on the power play.
Fact: Parise was benched for three of the final four regular-season games and the first three games of this series despite being healthy and his team needing a player with his particular set of skills.
That Parise only belatedly returned to the ice is promising yet ominous. He played because Marcus Johansson broke his left arm in Game 3, on Thursday night. That only an injury to a struggling player would cause the Wild braintrust to bring Parise back is a commentary on his play, and the Wild’s altered philosophy.
Former general manager Chuck Fletcher and owner Craig Leipold had to play salesman to get Parise and Suter to sign with the Wild. Parise and Suter received 13-year, $98-million contracts that were bound to become burdens at some point.
Fletcher and Leipold knew they had handed the keys to the franchise to Parise and Suter. Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo knew who held the true power in the organization, and it wasn’t them.
When Bruce Boudreau replaced Yeo, after an interim stretch by John Torchetti, Boudreau let his displeasure with Parise be known with snide comments and press-conference eyerolls. But Boudreau did not push back against Parise and Suter in terms of playing time.
New General Manager Bill Guerin and coach Dean Evason have taken a different approach.
They cut back Suter’s playing time. When Parise slumped toward the end of the season, Evason benched him.
Which means that Evason and perhaps Guerin are finding fault with more than Parise’s play. Because he’s better than some of the players playing in front of him.
Parise said was told Friday night that he would be in the lineup.
“I was excited and ready for the chance to get in. and I felt ready to play,” he said. “It’s been difficult but you know right now what’s more important is that we’re down 3-1 in the series. That’s where all the attention should be, is how can we get ourselves back into this series, win a game and bring this back to Minnesota.”
Parise’s style should help in the playoffs. He’s willing to crash the boards and the front of the net and capable, at least theoretically, of getting the kinds of deflections and putbacks that win in the postseason.
Yet Evason didn’t even want him on the fourth line until he ran out of other options.
This managerial development is both encouraging and devastating for the Wild. Encouraging, because Guerin and Evason are willing to do what they believe is best for their team, regardless of contracts and egos. Devastating, because it’s hard to imagine Parise, who will turn 37 this summer, playing a major role for this team again.
“I was ready to play,” Parise said. “I didn’t jump in there and feel like I had been off a month or anything.”
Asked what the team has told him, Parise said, “I think at this point there’s not a lot of good that’s going to come out of me going into those conversations. Let’s keep the focus where it needs to be, on the team. The last thing I want to do here is be a distraction.”
The Wild should have traded Parise last summer. Now they’re facing elimination in the first round of the playoffs while stuck with a player they have publicly insulted, and Parise might have just one more game this season to prove his worth.