As much as Zach Parise wanted to play in Thursday's season opener at Detroit, the Wild winger said last week that he didn't want to be in the lineup until he was completely healthy. Monday, when it became clear he would not meet that threshold, General Manager Chuck Fletcher announced Parise will not make the team's opening road trip.
Fletcher said the team decided to "slow [Parise] down a little bit'' during his recovery from a back injury. The forward will skate on his own during a two-game road trip that ends Saturday at Carolina, with the goal of being ready to return to practice next Monday.
Parise participated in only a couple of practices during training camp and missed all seven preseason games. Fletcher called the choice to leave him home a "joint decision'' made in consultation with team doctors.
"Zach actually feels great, but he's having a hard time getting over the hump, having a hard time getting to 100 percent,'' Fletcher said. "So we're just going to pull it back a bit. The way the schedule sets up, we have two games each of the next three weeks, so I think it's smart to give him the time he needs to get closer to 100 percent and feel better.
"He's in great shape. He's been skating. He feels great. But we've just got to make sure we do the right thing here. It's a long season, and we all agreed there's no rush just to play Thursday.''
While Parise is experiencing less pain and has made progress in his recovery, Fletcher said the winger still is working to regain his strength and his full range of motion. The general manager confirmed that Parise had been training well all summer, then "had a little bit of a setback'' about two weeks before training camp began.
Fletcher would not address whether the injury is related to the herniated disc that kept Parise out of the playoffs in 2016. While the long-term prognosis is unclear, Fletcher noted Parise's back did not cause him any problems last season.
"There's no reason to believe he can't get back to 100 percent this year,'' Fletcher said. "The key is doing the right things so we can maximize the number of games he plays this year.''
The Wild sent forward Luke Kunin to its AHL affiliate in Iowa and put defenseman Ryan Murphy on waivers. Murphy will be assigned to Iowa if he clears.
That left 12 healthy forwards on the ice at Monday's practice, including winger Daniel Winnik. The veteran free agent still has not signed a contract and would have to take a pay cut to stay with the Wild. Winnik made $2.25 million last season with Washington, and as of Monday, the Wild is only $866,409 under the salary cap.
Fletcher said the Wild still has room to add a player, but he left open the possibility of picking up someone via waivers. The opening-day roster, with a maximum of 23 players, must be submitted Tuesday by 4 p.m. Twin Cities time.
"We're going to have to afford somebody,'' he said. "We're going to need a player to play. We will see what happens here in the next 24 hours. There are a couple different possibilities that we're looking into. So we'll make a decision here in the next day or two.''
Kudos for Kunin
Kunin received a warm sendoff from Fletcher and coach Bruce Boudreau before his trip south. Both lauded the 19-year-old's performance in his first NHL training camp, even though the Wild chose to start the season with Joel Eriksson Ek as its third-line center.
Fletcher said he sent Kunin to Iowa because he wasn't going to be among the Wild's top nine forwards. In the AHL, Fletcher expects Kunin to play on the top line and on special teams while getting about 20 minutes of ice time per game. The 2016 first-round pick played in six of seven preseason games, scoring one goal.
"He's a real important part of our future,'' Fletcher said. "He had a great camp. I think everybody sees why we drafted him and why we believe in him. [Starting in Iowa] is more of a long-term play for him.''
The Wild's roster will be finalized Tuesday afternoon.