CHICAGO – Twelve years remain on Zach Parise’s contract. Tuesday, he played the first of what could be a hundred playoff games for the Wild.
What we will begin discovering this month is whether Parise, already the best player in franchise history, will be transformative or complementary. Whether he will mimic Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer.
Puckett and Mauer became immensely popular in Minnesota and signed record contracts. Puckett became known for leading his team to championships. Mauer became the quiet technician who excels at almost every area of the game other than that which is most pivotal: Hitting the long ball.
The rest of the Wild’s playoff series with the Blackhawks will hint at whether Parise will become known as one of those players who does all of the little things right, or one of those players who does not need anyone to defend him by saying he does all of the little things right.
“I’d say he’s been great,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo of Parise’s season. “I’d be lying if I said that I know exactly what all of our players’ stats are. To me stats are numbers that don’t add up to what you can expect tomorrow. There are stats I key on. Those stats are scoring chances for and against and some other areas of the game.
“The reason I look at that is it’s based on percentages, and I know what he’s going to give me the next game. I can count on him every game. That’s the biggest thing I can say. I know he’s going to go out here and compete and battle and lead and when you have a guy like that you feel good.”
That’s all true. Parise is an admirable player. He’s responsible on the ice and accountable off of it. He’s known as a world-class teammate and an excellent two-way player. He plays with intensity and intelligence. He just doesn’t score a lot.
Yeo doesn’t emphasize Parise’s goal scoring, perhaps because to do so would be to call his value into question. For all of Parise’s strengths, he isn’t particularly big, fast or prolific. Chicago is led by a great all-around player in Jonathan Toews, a speed skater in Patrick Kane and a gifted scorer in Marian Hossa.
Parise can’t stay with Toews or Kane in straight-line speed and lacks Hossa’s reach and touch around the net. It has become commonplace to refer to the Blackhawks as the deeper team in this series. It should also be said that the Blackhawks have the better high-end talent.
The dual 13-year, $98-million contracts signed by Parise and Suter mean that they will have to lead the franchise. Suter can be valuable, as he was in Game 1, by playing relentlessly and responsibly. Parise, to justify his contract, must produce points.
I asked Parise whether he needed to score for the Wild to win.
“You need a full team to win,” he said. “Trust me, we’re out there playing as hard as we can to score a goal. If I had scored that one in overtime, you guys would be saying how great we played defensively and how great of a game we played overall.
“But that’s the difference in the game. It trickled wide, and they ended up scoring a little later. I understand. I’ve been through this playoff scenario hundreds of times. That’s how it goes.”
He’s more right than he knows. Players shrug off narrowly missed goals as bad luck, but Cups are won and contracts are justified by goals, the one area in which Parise has not excelled.
This season, Parise finished 23rd in the league in goals (18) and 36th in points (38). He is the best scorer on the first line of a playoff team that is dependent on its first line, the franchise player for a franchise that needs him to hit it out of the park.