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Dealing With Zach Parise’s Restricted Free Agency

Lamoriello faces the daunting task of re-signing Zach Parise and making a new contract fit under a tight salary cap. Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

As the Stanley Cup finals begin and the off-season looms, the New Jersey Devils face several question marks. The team still has yet to formally interview candidates for their open head coach position. They need to determine whether they’ll hold their position in the draft (fourth overall) or trade out of the spot. They’ll also need to evaluate the 21 restricted or unrestricted free agents on their roster to determine whether or not they should stay with the organization.

The biggest question, however, surrounds just one player. Zach Parise enters the off-season a restricted free agent, seeking a raise from his $3.125 million salary. Despite battling a knee injury, he’ll still be the most sought-after restricted free agent forward on the market.

According to a report from Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record, the Devils have not contacted anyone in Parise’s camp about a new contract. It seems the team will file for salary arbitration, extending the period of exclusive negotiations for the player and team. While the move may damage the relationship, it remains the best option for the Devils. Player arbitration can help keep down Parise’s salary for this season, allowing New Jersey to adequately pay him when cap space becomes available in the 2012-13 offseason.

The term salary arbitration sounds dirty. It pits player against team in a dogfight over a new contract. The deadline to file a request is July 5, and cases are heard in late July and early August. The team and player can negotiate up until the hearing, and many cases end before a hearing takes place.

If it gets to a hearing, the team must pay the player at least 85 percent of last year’s salary. A ruling is made no later than 48 hours after the hearing. The team can walk away from the decision, but we all know the Devils wouldn’t do that. If they use the arbitration route, they’ll accept whatever decision the arbitrator announces.

It’s not a pretty process, but in this case, I believe it’s the best route. Parise missed all but one of the team’s 69 remaining games after surgery to repair his torn meniscus. Of course, his production before last season should earn him a raise. Hell, he’s one of the most important faces of the franchise. But salary cap issues continue to plague the Devils. General manager Lou Lamoriello will have just $7 million to sign players. It sounds like a ton of money, but Parise can – and should – command anywhere between four and six million dollars.

Taking the left-winger to arbitration guarantees two things: the Devils won’t lose him to an offer sheet they can’t afford, and he’ll be under team control next season. Any contract only be for a year, but the team can negotiate a larger extension with more cap space. It’ll keep him affordable for yet another season while giving him the chance to rebound and show the knee injury won’t hinder him throughout his career.

Arbitration cases don’t have to be nasty affairs either. There will be arguments, and ultimately things will be said that neither side wants to hear. But it’s a negotiation, and one that doesn’t need to get out of hand or nasty. I don’t think Lamoriello would walk into any case looking to personally attack Parise. The move is solely based on financial needs, and right now, the Devils’ cannot afford to upgrade their roster by significantly raising Parise’s salary. Arbitration seems like the necessary evil to keep him a Devil and keep the team competitive.

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