NEWARK, N.J. - With free agency looming in less than three weeks, New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise has crossed the rival Rangers off his list of potential future employers.
Meeting with the media for the first time since New Jersey lost the Stanley Cup in six games to the Los Angeles Kings two days ago, the 27-year-old Parise reiterated that he would like to continue playing for the Devils and would even consider signing before free agency starts on July with the right deal.
When asked if he'd play for the Rangers, a team New Jersey defeated in the post-season, he was short and simple: "No."
"Don't try to get a headline out of this," Parise quipped Wednesday as the Devils cleaned out their lockers at the Prudential Center.
Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said re-signing Parise, who earned in excess of $5 million last season, would be a priority for the Eastern Conference champions.
Lamoriello also said it would be up to goaltender Martin Brodeur to decide whether he wants to return next season. If the 40-year-old goaltender is up for a 19th season, and he has indicated he is, the team will have a new contract for him.
Lamoriello will be busy in the off-season on the free-agent market. In addition to Parise and Brodeur, defencemen Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne (restricted), backup goaltender Johan Hedberg and forwards Petr Sykora, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter all need contracts.
Parise, who was called the heart of the Devils by coach Peter DeBoer, is the most important. Coming off a major knee injury that limited him to 13 games in 2010-11, he scored 31 goals in the regular season and added eight more in the post-season. He also was a penalty killer and relentless two-way player.
Parise, who refused to discuss his upcoming free agency in the regular season, does not have a timetable for getting a new deal. He also did not believe that his agent, Wade Arnott, and Lamoriello had contract talks during the season.
Lamoriello refused to comment on talks with Parise.
Arnott did not immediately answer an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on Parise's free agency.
"We're going to keep all that stuff between Lou and I, as we always have," Parise said. "I've said all along I love playing here. I've always appreciated everything that this organization has done for me. My feelings have never changed."
This is Parise's first go-around with free agency and he said he intends to listen to his agents and try to enjoy it. However, he added he will make the final decision and it all won't come down to money. It also will depend on being with a winner and getting along with a new coach and teammates if that is in the cards.
Parise often made comments during the season—as most of his teammates did—about how enjoyable an experience it was to work for DeBoer, who just finished his first season in New Jersey. Certainly that will play into the mix, as will the Devils' run to the Stanley Cup finals.
On top of all that, Parise is just the ninth player in franchise history to wear the "C'' on his jersey. He's often spoken on how proud he is of that honour, and many of those who came before him—Bruce Driver, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias, among them—have helped the organization to Stanley Cup titles. He's yet to do that, of course, so that carrot is still out there for him.
"I'll probably just shut off my phone and not talk to anybody and reflect on everything," he said. "Everyone has opinions and rightfully so. Everyone has been through different things, but this is a decision I have to make on my own."
Brodeur hopes the Devils will be able to keep Parise.
"I think he is the face of the Devils," the veteran goaltender said. "He is a kid that people, they see him, and they see a Devil. They see the type of work ethic he has. And I said this after the game, first year as a captain, not too shabby to bring a team like us to the Stanley Cup finals, so it's a big priority for the Devils to get him signed."
Brodeur wants to talk to his family before deciding to return. Despite not winning the Cup for a fourth time, he said this was an unbelievable season and he was happy with the team and his own play.
He said the only thing that might change his mind would be playing three rounds of par golf before July 1.
Brodeur quickly laughed.
In other news after the now clean-shaven Devils took a team photo, Lamoriello said New Jersey would use the 29th pick in the NHL draft later this month. Many thought the Devils would forfeit the pick. The organization was docked a first-round choice by the league sometime over the next three years for trying to circumvent the salary cap by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to what was ruled an illegal contract.
Lamoriello refused to explain the decision. The Devils might use the choice on a goaltender who Brodeur could mentor next season.
DeBoer confirmed that Kovalchuk had a back injury in the playoffs. The coach was not sure whether the 38-goal scorer would need surgery. He missed Game 2 of the second-round series vs. Philadelphia, and did not seem himself in the finals. He finished with 19 post-season points, best on the team, and third-highest in the league.
Salvador was unsure whether the Devils would offer him a new contract. However, he was happy to have played the season without missing a game just a year after sitting out a full season with a concussion. He is hoping for a multiyear deal.
Bernier said his teammates all came up to him and said he was not to blame for the loss in Game 6. He took a major boarding penalty in the first period, and the Kings all but decided the series by scoring three times on it.
Lamoriello said the hit was a penalty. Parise was still a little miffed about the penalty, saying it was unfortunate.
"Someone had an off day and that's it," he said. "It's too bad because we played so hard and worked hard to get to that position. Unfortunately, we're not playing today."
Game 7 would have been Wednesday in Newark.