Zach Parise did not expect the Devils to honor him, but as the one-time franchise cornerstone explained Thursday morning, it’s not personal. It’s just the Devils’ way.
“I’m not expecting anything,” Parise told reporters at the Prudential Center following the Wild’s morning skate prior to Thursday night’s game against the Devils. “That’s just not the way they do things, so I’m not expecting anything.”
The game Thursday night was Parise’s first against the Devils since leaving the franchise in 2012. Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million on July 4, 2012, to play for his hometown Minnesota Wild.
Parise agreed to the deal weeks after captaining the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings. The Devils lost the series in six games, but Parise called the run his “best memory, hockey-wise,” of a tenure with the Devils that saw the left wing record 410 points in 502 games.
In 102 games spanning a season and a half with the Wild, Parise has 83 points (41 goals and 42 assists).
“Anytime you’re on a team like that and you go to the [Final], it’s special,” Parise said. “You remember things like that. It’s my last memory so it’s the freshest. That was the most fun.”
The run to the Cup Final — the Devils entered the playoffs as the sixth seed and eliminated the Panthers (seven games), Flyers (five games) and Rangers (six games) before losing to Los Angeles — was the culmination of a season in which Parise’s free-agent status was a near-daily topic of discussion.
Parise has said his decision to sign with the Wild — who also signed longtime friend Ryan Suter to a 13-year, $98 million deal on July 4, 2012 — wasn’t about cashing in. It is believed that Parise passed on deals with the Flyers and Penguins, and he reiterated yesterday his choice boiled down to the Devils and Wild.
In the end, the lure of plying his trade in front of family and friends was the final determining factor for a player whose departure — and those of Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson the next season — have left a gaping void the Devils have yet to fill.
“You never want to see one of your own players go somewhere else,” Parise said, when asked how he anticipated the fan reaction to him. “I understand that.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.