To really appreciate how uncomfortable the relationship between the Wild and Zach Parise seems to have become this season, consider this:
It has driven me to think that a team that has had surprising success that almost certainly will lead to a playoff berth would be best off trading a player who led the Wild in goals each of the past two seasons and who has 35 goals and 77 points in 101 career postseason games. I talked about this on today's Daily Delivery podcast.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Parise was almost traded last year at the deadline, so thinking about this notion isn't new. But last year's Wild team was languishing in 11th place in the West, five points back of the No. 8 spot, at the deadline in late February. The Wild was more in "sell" mode.
A deal was reportedly in the works to send Parise to the Islanders but it fell through. Not long after that, the COVID shutdown happened. The Wild made it to the play-in part of the playoffs and lost in four games.
Then this year rolled around. Parise was playing the customary 17-18 minutes per game that he had settled into each of the previous four seasons. But he has seldom been used on the power play.
As the year progressed, his minutes dipped: 17:07 per game in his first 15; in the last 15 games, that has dropped to 13:45; in just the last seven, it's down to 12:37 — with two games under 11 minutes, the lowest totals of his Wild career other than games in which he had to leave with an injury.
Along the way there was a healthy scratch — a decision Parise said he did not agree with in talking to reporters. There was a game in which he was glued to the bench for the latter part of the third period. And recently there was an admission from Parise that dealing with a reduced role has been "frustrating" and "challenging."
"You don't really have a choice but to accept it," Parise said. "You just accept what you're given and do your best when you are out there. Most importantly, too, is [to] practice the right way and work on my game as much as I can so if there is an opportunity to get on the power play, or there is an opportunity to get out there more, I'm ready to go."
Sometimes frustrated players can give diminished effort. Parise's best attribute is his work ethic, so the Wild shouldn't be worried about that.
But if you add everything up, you get a team that has clearly decided — at least in this moment — that Parise is not even close to the face of the franchise any more.
Trading him now would carry some risk. Even though Parise has just three goals and 10 assists in 30 games this season — a function in part of having no goals and two assists on the power play — he tallied 25 and 28 the last two seasons to lead the Wild. Of those 53 goals, by the way, 22 were on the power play.
After not getting traded last season, Parise played some of his best hockey with four goals and five assists in eight games before the shutdown, helping the Wild surge with a 6-2 record in those games. He had three assists in the playoffs.
And dealing Parise would almost certainly involve taking back a long and expensive contract in return, since he still has four more years after this at a $7.5 million cap hit left on that original 13-year, $98 million contract. That was always going to be a lot of money, and it certainly feels like even more now that Parise's role and place in the organization has been diminished.
But would a "change of scenery" type trade help the Wild and Parise? It sure might.
It's strange to think that about a player who led the team in goals the last two years and is third all-time in franchise history in both goals and points — and now plays for a team who could use the best of Parise's skills in the playoffs — but that's where we are right now.