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By Steve Silverman
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The New Jersey Devils may still have felt a tad depressed after losing the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings in six games, but that didn’t stop them from injecting a bit of humorous irony into the first round of the NHL draft last weekend.
Stephane Matteau, of course, authored one of the greatest moments in Rangers’ history when he scored a double-overtime wraparound goal in the 7th game of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. While Rangers fans still get shivers over that moment, Devils fans still wretch. Or at least they remember feeling sick to their stomachs.
Now, Matteau’s son will soon play for the Devils. He appears to be the kind of prospect that will have a chance to advance up the ranks quickly. There’s nothing fancy about the younger Matteau’s game. He is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound tough guy who will drop the gloves and take the body. He’s not going to get the job done with finesse, but he is an effective offensive player. Matteau skates with a powerful stride, will knock over the defender to get the puck and make the pass or shot that leads to a goal.
He may remind hockey fans of Boston’s Milan Lucic, a marauding left winger who is as good with his fists as any non-goon in the league.
But while the Devils added a potential impact player in the first round of the draft, they have serious issues in the off-season. The biggest revolves around their best player, forward Zach Parise.
Parise is non-stop energy when he is on the ice. He finished third on the team in scoring with 31 goals and 38 assists for 69 points. Both Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias finished with more points, but when it comes to all the aspects of the game, Parise is clearly the Devils’ best all-around player on the ice. He hits, he skates, he passes, he shoots and he plays a leadership role.
There’s not a team in the league that he wouldn’t make better and that’s why he’s likely to get a blockbuster offer from at least one team and possibly more on July 1, the first day teams can sign free agents.
Despite their financial troubles, the Devils will have enough money to make Parise a good offer. However, if a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Parise’s hometown Minnesota Wild blow him away with a $10 million-plus offer, it would be hard for him to stay in New Jersey no matter how much he loves it.
The Penguins are hungry to bring in a new offensive star after trading Jordan Staal to the Carolina Panthers to play with his brother Eric. The Penguins had offered Jordan a six-year, $60 million contract and he turned them down. General manager Ray Shero knew that Staal was not going to change his mind, so he traded him on Draft Day.
That gives the Penguins plenty of scratch to make offers to free agents. The Flyers got bowled over by Parise in the postseason and they are likely to make a push for him as well. In addition to the Wild, the Detroit Red Wings are going to push hard for Parise as well.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Devils could pay Parise more than $9 million per year. If the difference between the Devils’ offer and a team like Pittsburgh is less than $1 million, it seems quite possible that Parise could return. If it’s more than that, they will have to move on to Plan B.
That could include the second-most valuable free agent in Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. While Suter has said that his preference is a Western Conference team, he could be the big man on a team that just played for the Stanley Cup. While it would be better to re-sign Parise, Suter would be an excellent consolation prize.
How much of an impact will Matteau make? Be heard in the comments below…