Wild

Zach Parise is No Longer a Crunch-Time Option

Photo Credit: Harrison Barden (USA TODAY Sports)

Mark Stone was the story in the Vegas Golden Knights’ comeback win against the Minnesota Wild last night. He dished five assists, none more important than this pass to Alex Tuch* with 42 seconds left.

Stone put on a clinic last night, and that pass to tie the game was brilliant. However, the 90 seconds that preceded the assist laid the groundwork for Stone’s magic moment. With 2:15 remaining and the Wild holding on to a 4-3 lead, Zach Parise hopped the boards and Minnesota got pinned in their zone by a relentless Golden Knights attack.

With the Wild tiring out on defense, a goal seemed inevitable. Then Matt Dumba cleared the zone, allowing three of the Wild’s five players to be replaced with fresh legs. A fourth, Marcus Foligno, grabbed the puck along the boards and tried to buy time for Minnesota to change. Once Vegas got possession, Foligno headed to the bench.

The fifth guy was Parise. Instead of letting fresh legs on the ice, he went to support Foligno for a potential empty-net chance. Not a bad decision in itself, but he elected not to come off along with Foligno. Tired from his long shift, Parise couldn’t clear the puck when pressuring Alex Pietrangelo at the point, nor could he fully break up the cross-ice pass from Max Pacioretty that gave the puck to Stone. Just 17 seconds after Parise elected to stay on the ice, Tuch scored.

Just like that, a statement win over a Stanley Cup contender slipped through their hands.

We can’t know whether Vegas would have scored had Parise swapped himself out for a fresh player. However, we do know that Parise is about the last person you want out there defending a close lead. Evolving Hockey rates his even-strength defense as being worth -1.7 goals above replacement through 19 games. That’s bottom-15 among NHL forwards this season. Compound that with a long shift, tired legs, and a 6-on-5 situation.

Parise’s defense in crunch time didn’t pass the eye test either, even early in his 93-second shift. With about two minutes remaining, William Karlsson got a point-blank chance in Parise’s face that fortunately missed that net. He also failed to clear the puck twice before Dumba was able to.

Maybe it’s piling on to put his entire shift under the microscope. Still, there’s no doubt that if Parise allowed a fresh defensive ace like Joel Eriksson Ek on the ice, they’d have a better chance to win.

It’s not necessarily news that Parise’s defensive value has cratered; it’s trended downward for the last half-decade or so. What’s alarming is that his offense is slipping away. Parise’s nine points in 19 games doesn’t seem like such a drop-off, as he’s started slowly before.

This time is different. Usually, Parise generates tons of chances, even when he doesn’t score. A look at his expected goals year-by-year through 19 games shows his decline is on both sides of the ice.

2012-13: 8.98

2013-14: 11.60

2014-15: 11.71

2015-16: 7.38

2016-17: 8.05

2017-18: 4.94 (return from back surgery)

2018-19: 8.23

2019-20: 6.13

2020-21: 5.17

In fairness, he’s still getting chances on the power play. Sometimes, though, an aging player loses a small amount of hand-eye coordination and quick-twitch reflex and they’re able to still get chances, but not score. Call it the Jason Pominville Effect. There’s time to right the ship, but we’re issuing a Pominville Effect Warning on Parise.

To be clear, no one expects Parise to be the all-situations scoring threat he once was. He’s 36, and the fact he would decline while under contract was baked into his 13-year deal. Everyone involved knew this day was coming. It was just the going rate for a scorer like Parise at the time, and he delivered for eight years.

Now that the bill has arrived, though, everyone needs to get on board with the new reality. A younger Parise absolutely should be playing crunch-time minutes defending a one-goal lead. Today’s Parise shouldn’t. In 2014, it was a good idea to let him extend a shift to hunt for an empty-net goal. The Wild left a point on the table and gave Vegas two for making the same decision last night.

Dean Evason has a 20-10-1 record as the Wild’s head coach, but he made a rookie mistake last night. The most important thing a coach needs to know is who they can trust in crunch time. Parise showed last night that he’s no longer that player. Evason needs to proceed with the rest of this season — and the remaining four years of Parise’s contract — accordingly.

*Minnesota State Law mandates we inform you Tuch was a Wild draft pick.

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