- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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NEWARK, N.J. -- On the cusp of the Stanley Cup finals and with the excitement around his team building to a crescendo, captain Zach Parise couldn’t be swayed to tip his hand.
When asked the singular most pressing question facing the franchise’s future -- will he remain a Devil or bolt as an unrestricted free agent July 1? -- Parise offered a similar refrain:
“I’m not answering any questions about free agency,” he said.
It was the last question of an extended session with reporters during media day, and it will be the one that lingers throughout the rest of the Devils’ run.
Although conventional wisdom might suggest Parise would be more willing to stay and re-sign with the team that drafted him should the Devils secure their fourth Stanley Cup championship, Parise wouldn’t take the bait.
The 27-year-old winger, who is playing on a one-year, $6 million deal, has shut down questions about his future all season and appears willing to do so until the team is done playing, Cup or no Cup.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello also sidestepped the issue when asked how the Devils’ postseason success might affect the team’s push to retain its franchise player.
“Right now, we’re not thinking about that. Zach’s not thinking about that; none of the players are thinking about anything else. It’s really hard, I think, for everyone to understand that,” Lamoriello said. “The only focus everyone has right now is what's at hand. And time will take care of it.”
Parise is anticipated to be one of the most coveted free agents in NHL history with no shortage of suitors. The Rangers, Red Wings, Wild, Hurricanes and Kings are all rumored to have serious interest in making a play for him this summer.
The Devils won one of those sweepstakes two years ago, inking star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to a monster 15-year, $100 million contract in 2010. Whether the team can afford to do so again -- and considering various reports that paint a grim financial picture, it might not -- remains to be seen.
Regardless, Lamoriello maintains that is not the most pressing issue on his agenda.
“Right now, the future of the franchise is today. We’ll worry about that at an opportune time. That’s not something you dwell on [now],” he said. “I think it’s human nature, that every time the question is asked, you think about it. It’s a conscious decision on both sides to let it sit.”
Lamoriello expressed frustration that Parise has been forced to answer such questions, although the local media has honored Parise's request to not field such inquiries on a daily basis.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job with it in every way. The only thing that, quite frankly, has been a distraction to Zach is, Zach is asked every month, and he’s not going to discuss or think about it, and no one respects that,” Lamoriello said.
Essentially shelving the topic until the offseason, Parise has instead focused his efforts on the ice. After missing virtually all of last season with a knee injury -- he played in only 13 games in 2010-11
-- Parise has bounced back to record a 31-goal, 69-point season while chipping in seven goals and seven assists in 18 games this postseason.
How much of a headache has all the contract talk been?
“It was earlier,” he said, referring to the beginning of the season. “And then luckily, when you guys respected my wishes to stop asking about it ... everything’s been fine after that.”