Tuesday, May 29, 2012 Updated: May 31, 1:43 AM ET
Parise to Rangers a Devilish thought
By Johnette Howard ESPNNewYork.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Rangers have been known to throw cash out the window like confetti, looking for a quick fix. The Devils upset the top-seeded Blueshirts to seize the Stanley Cup finals berth that was supposed to be the Rangers' destiny after they led the Eastern Conference in points, in part because of forward Zach Parise, who will be the best unrestricted free agent on the market this year. So if the hated Rangers came calling -- and of course, they should at least kick the tires, archrivalry or not -- could Parise pull the trigger? Would he?
"Not in a hun-dred thou-sand years is he going there -- I guar-an-tee you, I guarantee it," boomed Ken Daneyko, the former Devils star turned television analyst, biting off each syllable for emphasis.
Then Daneyko broke up laughing.
Marian Gaborik was a disappointment to the Rangers in this year's playoffs; could throwing a ton of money at Zach Parise be the answer?
It was as if merely uttering the word "Rangers" to an ex-Devil like him, especially in another year where the chronically underappreciated Devils had gotten the upper hand over the Rangers, riles up a ton of emotions in him.
Daneyko played all 20 of his NHL seasons for New Jersey, and his Wikipedia bio trumpets how he's affectionately known as "Mr. Devil." He knows the Rangers always enjoy this implied superiority over the Devils, even when the Devils win more. He knows all the old wisecracks about how when the Rangers win the Cup, they get a parade down the Canyon of Heroes, while the Devils have to hold their celebrations in a parking lot.
He also knows the Rangers' decades-long habit of throwing money at problems. And don't kid yourself -- getting knocked off by the sixth-seeded Devils in the conference finals is definitely a stick-in-your-craw problem for the Rangers. Only when goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was able to shut the Devils out did the Blueshirts get wins in the six-game series.
New Jersey had more depth and more speed, two traits that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello went out and consciously addressed at the NHL trade deadline, acting upon an insight that his Rangers counterpart, Glen Sather, either didn't have or didn't care to address. As Lamoriello explained Tuesday, asking so much from his team's most skilled players, given the defense-first and puck-chasing style the team was playing, was going to burn out those same skilled players if the front office didn't do something. And look: The Devils' fourth line was one of the big differences in the Rangers series. Don't be surprised if the Devils' depth and speed bothers the Los Angeles Kings, too.
"We had our veterans killing penalties, maybe giving too many minutes," Lamoriello said. "Our focus was how can we get our fourth line better, where they could take some of the top minutes away if we could continue to use our top players?"
If the Rangers are smart, they'll consider it a lesson learned. They play a grueling puck-chasing style too, and their head coach, John Tortorella, asks a lot from his tight rotation of players, especially his workhorse defensemen. Perhaps too much.
Stanley Cup Finals
Get all the news and commentary on the Devils-Kings matchup on ESPN.com's matchup page.
So what would be a better two-fer for the Rangers than stealing away the Devils' most important player and leader and improving their own team? Especially when all it takes is money? What's a little 60 or 70 or 100 million dollars ever been to Rangers/Knicks owner James Dolan after all the money he's shoveled into the furnace so far to chase the Rangers' first Cup since 1994 while the Devils have won -- ahem -- three championships? And counting.
"I'm not answering any free-agency questions," Parise politely said Tuesday.
But he did walk across the news conference room at the Prudential Center to go on Sirius radio a few minutes later and answered a question about how much he and his father, J.P. Parise, the former Islander, reveled together in how the Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals this past Friday to earn home-ice advantage against the Los Angeles Kings, starting with Game 1 on Wednesday night in Newark. Which didn't surprise Daneyko at all.
"If I'm wrong about him," Daneyko said, "you can come back to me. But Zach is not a mercenary. He's a heart-and-soul guy. When you have a rivalry like this -- and this is not a slight, the Rangers are a great organization, and New York is New York -- but still, when you have a rivalry like that, Zach, in my estimation, knowing him well, he will not leave."
If someone at MSG doesn't make a call to Parise's agent, it would be the second-worst oversight by Garden management this offseason after the Knicks' supposed disinterest in Phil Jackson (13 rings) because they wanted to lock up interim coach Mike Woodson (squadoosh when it comes to NBA titles as a head coach).
Parise, a fast-skating forward who turns 28 this year, would give the Rangers more grit and leadership along with more goals. Signing Parise wouldn't be an impossible financial stretch considering in 2014, the Rangers shed the contract of their own 40-goal scorer, Marian Gaborik, who was a disappointment in this year's playoffs. Gaborik spent time in Tortorella's doghouse for turning over the puck on a casual clearing attempt, and then not sacrificing himself to try to block the ensuing slap shot by Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador that led to Ryan Carter's game-tying deflection. The goal turned out to be the pivot point in the Devils' 3-2 Game 2 win over the Rangers at the Garden.
It is hard to imagine any of that happening to Parise. Parise would go down to block that shot -- if he made the lazy pass at all.
"He takes a lot of pride, he's a leader here, he's the heartbeat of this team," Daneyko said. "I think they'll work it out."
Marek Zidlicky, whom the Rangers drafted in 2001, only to see the Finnish star never eventually sign with them, had a similar reaction to Daneyko's when asked if the idea of Parise crossing the Hudson to play for the Rangers was unthinkable.
"I think it is," Zidlicky shot back. Then he, too, laughed. "It's two big teams, a lot of emotions between the teams. It's like the Yankees-Red Sox -- same thing."
One notable difference is that the Devils' ownership has financial uncertainty, while the Rangers' -- like the Yankees' and the Red Sox's -- does not.
There's also this: How do the Devils justify not giving Parise something approaching the 15-year, $100 million contract they gave Ilya Kovalchuk, who hasn't lived up to the contract so far?
You couldn't blame Parise's agent for at least arguing that deal should set the bar for the Devils, even if the only other $100 million contract in the NHL right now belongs to Alex Ovechkin. Could any NHL team possibly shoulder two at the same time?
Parise seems prime for poaching, all right. He will surely have plenty of suitors besides the Rangers.
But again -- if it was the Rangers throwing the most money around, would Parise say yes?
Especially if the Devils win the Cup?
"From his personality standpoint, I don't believe he ever would," Daneyko repeated. "And if I'm wrong?"
Here Daneyko's face, even that scythe-like scar of his, melted into a grin: "I don't think I will be."