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Zulgad: Wake-up call: Wild send message with decision to make Zach Parise a healthy scratch

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Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer (31) and Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) in the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

How much have things changed with the Wild under general manager Bill Guerin and coach Dean Evason?

Zach Parise found out Wednesday as he was made a healthy scratch for the Wild’s second game against the Golden Knights after believing that different rules apply to him.

Parise, now a 36-year-old third-line winger who is looking like he has little left in the tank, decided to remain on the ice late in the third period Monday night as the Golden Knights pulled their goalie in an attempt to score the tying goal. Marcus Foligno, the other winger on Parise’s line, managed to get the puck in the neutral zone and leave it deep in Vegas territory. Foligno, who had two goals in the game and at this point is a better player than Parise, darted to the bench to get Jordan Greenway’s fresh legs on the ice.

Parise, however, made no move to follow. He glided back into the Wild zone and got his stick on (but did not break up) a cross-ice pass from Max Pacioretty to Mark Stone. Stone then fed Alex Tuch in front and the former Wild winger beat Cam Talbot to tie the score with 42 seconds remaining. Vegas won on Pacioretty’s overtime goal, costing the Wild a chance to move into first place in the West Division.

Evason did his best to avoid criticizing Parise when asked about the length of his shift during the postgame, but Evason and Guerin had to be livid. Parise has only three goals and six assists and is a minus-1 in 19 games this season. He is in the ninth season of a 13-year, $98 million contract.

The falloff isn’t surprising. Parise was once worth the price the Wild paid him because he combined excellent skills with an outstanding work ethic that often led to injuries and was certain to cause a physical decline. Guerin was able to get Parise to waive his no-move clause around the NHL trade deadline last season but a deal with the Islanders fell apart at the last minute.

The reason for making Parise a healthy scratch for only the second-time in his 16-year career and the first time as a member of the Wild, goes beyond his declining play or even the selfish decision he made. It has everything to do with the fact that Guerin, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and former NHL captain, has gone to great lengths to clean up the Wild locker room and eliminate the players who put themselves before the team.

It started with one-and-done GM Paul Fenton trading Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle in 2019-20. It continued last season with Guerin dealing Jason Zucker to the Penguins during the season, then trading Eric Staal to the Sabres and saying goodbye to longtime captain Mikko Koivu during the offseason.

All of this was done to eliminate what had been the Wild’s hidden motto for so many years: Me First.

It’s why Guerin wanted to replace Koivu as captain — giving the assignment to standout and hard-working defenseman Jared Spurgeon — and also signed Foligno to a new contract and acquired center Nick Bonino and defenseman Ian Cole, who each won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins.

Guerin (and Evason) saw a need to change the culture and keeping around the “Me First” crew wasn’t going to do it. That’s why Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, another member of the 13-year, $98 million club, had no chance of being named captain of the Wild. Nonetheless, Parise thought he remained in a VIP club that never should have existed when he made the executive decision to remain on the ice Monday night.

In doing so, Parise sent a message to Guerin and Evason that their rules do not apply to him and that, in his mind, nothing had changed. On Wednesday morning, that duo sent an even more important message back to Parise: Do it your way, and you’ll end up watching games in a suit and tie.

It’s the type of move the Wild brass should have made long ago. It’s also the type of move that is the latest indication that things finally have changed in St. Paul.