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Zulgad: Odd man out: Zach Parise being scratched could be sign of things to come

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
Feb 24, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) celebrates his goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Parise might return for a 17th NHL season in 2021-22, but it’s become clear that if the Wild have anything to say about it he won’t be back in Minnesota.

The latest step toward a divorce between the team and its high-priced left winger occurred Friday as Parise was scratched from the Wild’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Xcel Energy Center. It was the second time this season Parise has been a healthy scratch — the first two times that has happened during his nine seasons with the Wild — but the decision Friday was very different from the first.

That one occurred in early March after Parise overextended a shift late in regulation at Vegas, helping the Golden Knights tie the score in a game they won in overtime. Two days later, Parise was in the press box as general manager Bill Guerin and coach Dean Evason sent a message that no one was above punishment for what came off as a selfish act.

This time Parise being scratched sent this message: You aren’t good enough to be among the 12 forwards who dress. This came after Parise was demoted to the fourth line earlier in the season and saw his ice time drastically reduced. In the Wild’s 3-2 overtime loss to Vegas on Wednesday night, Parise played 7 minutes, 14 seconds, the fewest of any player on either team.

“We make decisions on our lineup, and that was just our choice for tonight,” Evason said when asked about Parise being scratched after Friday’s game.

There is little doubt Guerin would love to dump the final four years of Parise’s $98 million, 13-year contract this offseason. Parise’s deal carries a cap hit of $7.538 million per season but the base salaries drop from $6 million next season to $2 million in 2022-23 to $1 million in each of the final two seasons. The issue is who is going to want Parise? He will turn 37 on July 28 and has only seven goals and 11 assists in 44 games this season after leading the Wild with 25 goals in 69 games in 2019-20.

Parise hadn’t scored a point in nine consecutive games before being scratched, although he had goals in three consecutive games and four of five games before that drought. There is little doubt Parise would like to get out of Minnesota as much as Guerin would like to find him a new home. The Wild came close to moving Parise to the New York Islanders at the 2020 trade deadline — Parise waived his no-move clause — but the agreement fell through.

If nothing else, Guerin would want Parise to waive his no-move clause again, this time so he can be exposed in the Seattle expansion draft this summer and the Wild can protect a player they will otherwise have to expose.

While the Wild will attempt to downplay the Parise situation, this has the potential to be an issue behind the scenes in the playoffs, if he finds himself a regular scratch. That could happen, considering the Wild right now would face the high-flying Colorado Avalanche and Parise’s game in no way fits into the speed and skill of that series. (Neither does Victor Rask’s but that’s another story.)

Parise is likely to keep quiet publicly but we’re talking about a guy with a lot of pride and it’s not going to sit well if guys like Nico Sturm, Nick Bjugstad and Rask are playing and he isn’t. There also is the possibility the Wild will promote left winger Matt Boldy from Iowa of the AHL and plug the team’s 2019 first-round pick into its playoff lineup.

Guerin and Evason are unlikely to concern themselves with Parise’s feelings or anyone else’s. Long gone are the days when Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, who were both signed to massive contracts on July 4, 2012, ruled the home locker room at Xcel Energy Center.

The thought was that Parise and Suter could be the primary pieces on a Wild team that won the Stanley Cup and that might have made them the two most important people in the organization. But Guerin, who won two Stanley Cups as a player and two more as an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has changed that. Longtime captain Mikko Koivu and many others who once were key members of a franchise that disappointed for far too long have been jettisoned.

The Wild are now led by rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov and a core of players who have provided hope for a team that clinched a playoff berth two weeks ago and should have a chance to be competitive in the opening round given their much quicker and more entertaining style of play.

It’s that style that could cause Parise to be a spectator in the postseason.