Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild today, disappointing Devils fans (and fans of a few other teams) but doing nothing to elicit the kind of anger and bitterness that some seemed to experience. I heard New Jersey fans call Parise disloyal today, and that is just patently ludicrous. Parise’s choice to return to his home state, live closer to his and his fiance’s families and play alongside his close friend demonstrates absolute loyalty, especially when you consider that he clearly left money on the table to go to the Wild.
What bothers my fellow Devils fans is that Parise’s 7-year stint in New Jersey didn’t produce in him a strong enough loyalty to the team that drafted him. It’s silly. Parise did not choose the Devils in the first place; he was plunked down in New Jersey by powers beyond his control. Throughout his time here he was a humble, hard-working, team-first guy. He was named captain because he demonstrated all the qualities you would want a teamful of players to emulate. He didn’t whine or grouse or project anything but a mature, positive attitude toward pretty much everything that came his way (the stray questionable ref call notwithstanding). Devils fans loved him, and for good reason.
But then, this week, he committed the sin of taking an extra day or two to decide the direction he wanted the rest of his life to take. Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve become a prominent enough member of your profession to have all the top employers in the country falling over themselves to woo you. They’re all desperately trying to hand you more cash than you’ll ever be able to spend, so much money that the minor variations in amount are rendered all but meaningless. More importantly, you know that you will be making a long-term commitment to whichever organization you choose, and consequently to the city in which that organization is located. You and the person you’re set to marry have to decide where you want to raise the family you’re about to start. Do you decide that within hours of hearing each potential employer’s initial offer? This is no time to be impulsive or lazy in your thought process. Two days is far from an unreasonably long amount of time in which to make a life-altering choice, even if the extra 36 hours or so of mulling might inconvenience a bunch of strangers, or even a few colleagues.
Parise made a reasoned, thoughtful decision. And let’s be honest – had he come back to New Jersey, Devils fans would have instantly forgotten about the slight wait they endured before Parise made that commitment. Instead, though, some fans feel he was stringing them along, which demonstrates a disheartening level of egocentrism on their part. Worse still is the idea that New Jersey fans and the Devils organization somehow deserved a greater degree of loyalty from Parise than his own family did. Parise said today that the last two teams in the running for him were Minnesota and New Jersey. Basically, it was a choice between the only team he had ever played for and the place where he grew up and where his parents still live. How could anyone view his choice of the latter over the former as a betrayal?
Many people across North America are snidely comparing Parise/Suter to James/Bosh/Wade, and that’s just as unfair (although I have no problem with James/Bosh/Wade, either. But that’s for another time). The big three players for the Heat collectively decided to form a superteam in Miami with the idea of establishing a dynasty there; Suter and Parise are friends who just wanted to play together. It’s hard to imagine that these two signings have rocketed the Wild – a non-playoff team since 2003 – into Dream Team territory. Parise wanted to play close to home and he wanted to play with his buddy. He had the ability to realize both of these desires, so he did. Given the same opportunity, who wouldn’t?
Scott Niedermayer made a very similar decision seven years ago, except it took him much longer to decide to play alongside his brother than it too Parise to decide to go home. In both cases the then-lifelong Devil said New Jersey was the runner-up, in both cases family won out over team colors and in both cases many Devils fans acted as though the departure was a slap in the face to them rather than an expression of preexisting love for someone else. I’m guessing those same fans have no problem with Stephane Matteau instantly becoming a Devils fan, team baseball cap and all, as soon as New Jersey drafted his son. The difference is that Matteau was a Ranger before his child was born, whereas Parise’s parents were at his side when the Devils called his name at the 2003 NHL draft. Is it really so unforgivable for a son to move toward his parents rather than the other way around?
This wasn’t about greed, spite or machiavellian scheming. This was all about loyalty – loyalty to the people who earned it long before the Devils entered Zach Parise’s life. I wish him and the Wild well and I hope that, after the initial sting of loss wears off, the rest of Devils nation will join me. He’s earned our admiration and appreciation. He’s earned our respect and understanding. He’s earned our loyalty.