Zach Parise removed the nameplate from his New Jersey Devils locker Wednesday. The question remaining: Was it for the final time?
If the Devils don't re-sign their 27-year-old captain by July 1, Parise could be the biggest fish the Wild ever has pursued on the open market.
While it's uncertain right now if it will get to the point that the Minneapolis native actually tests free agency, if he does, the only question firmly answered Wednesday is Parise doesn't plan to jump ship and sign across the Hudson River.
Asked if he would sign with the Devils' biggest rival, the New York Rangers, Parise told reporters, "No. No way."
That alone could move the Wild a rung up the ladder as it potentially contends with several teams, including the Detroit Red Wings, for Parise's service.
Parise, a former 45-goal scorer who also has topped 30 goals four times, maintained how much he loves New Jersey, the team that drafted him 17th overall in 2003. But with no negotiations with the Devils all season and ownership trying to refinance the team's debt, it's clear that even Parise doesn't know yet what his future holds.
"We're 48 hours from a pretty devastating loss, so I haven't had time really to sit back and think about that yet," Parise told reporters two days after the Devils' Stanley Cup dreams were dashed by the Los Angeles Kings.
The Wild has more than $20 million of salary-cap space this offseason and General Manager Chuck Fletcher has made clear the team hopes to add more "NHL talent." Owner Craig Leipold said in April that the Wild will not "be shy" this summer.
Parise made $6 million this past season, but the Wild, the lowest-scoring team in the NHL last season and desperate for a star, is expected to offer Parise as much as $8-9 million annually.
Parise attended Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault and the University of North Dakota. He just bought a house in Orono and is getting married this summer. His family lives in the Twin Cities, and even Parise quipped last December that his father, J.P., would love for him to play for the Wild.
Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said Wednesday it's a priority to try to re-sign Parise. Typically when it gets this close to free agency though, players are curious to see which teams pursue them and for how much.
"I'm excited about it because it's something as a player, especially your first time, you don't get to do it very often.
"That being said, hopefully we can get things worked out [in New Jersey]."