In Adam Oates, the Washington Capitals undoubtedly got a popular players coach. It's hard to find someone who played under him with the New Jersey Devils or Tampa Bay Lightning saying anything negative.
"Honestly I'm happy, I guess, for Washington, but a little bit disappointed because I liked him," Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said. "I liked him a lot. I liked having him here."
So did Zach Parise, the high-scoring left wing considered the top free agent available when the market opens at noon July 1.
"All the guys loved playing for him. As an assistant coach, he taught a lot of us, forwards and even defense, he taught a lot of us a lot of things," Parise said on NHL Home Ice this week. "I think he developed a lot of players."
Oates can't talk about the possibility of bringing Parise with him to the Caps; that would be tampering and the 49-year-old freshly minted coach is too smart to bite on the question. But given Oates' strong connection and his team's need for another top-notch offensive weapon, general manager George McPhee should take a swing at Parise even in light of the cost and risks involved.
"If there's a way to do it and if the Caps were serious about doing something like that, you have a guy that he understands the player, the player understands the coach, where he's coming from," Comcast SportsNet analyst Alan May said. "There's not a team in the National Hockey League that doesn't want Zach Parise on their team."
Parise is the beautiful and intelligent girl every guy wants to take to the prom. The Minnesota Wild, Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings seem to have the flashiest tuxedos and best stretch limos and are considered the favorites to land the 27-year-old.
But the Caps, with Oates behind the bench, bring the element of familiarity. Parise thrived in an aggressive system under Peter DeBoer in New Jersey, and Oates made it clear he wants his team to do much of the same.
Parise would fit perfectly on the Caps. Yes, Alex Ovechkin has starred at left wing, but so did Ilya Kovalchuk until this past season when he stepped up his game on the right side playing alongside Parise. If Oates wants to "push the pace," there's no better example out there.
"It's just a matter of whether they can afford it, whether they can do the right contract," May said.
Parise won't come cheap. It's likely that he'll cost upward of $7 million per season for what could be a 10-year term.
That's a calculated risk, but Washington should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million under the cap of $70.2 million, even factoring in new deals for restricted free agents Mike Green, John Carlson, Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perreault.
"But it doesn't mean you have to use it all now. You can use it during the season or at the deadline," McPhee said. "It's expensive to use it now. If you do something, it's always more than the guy's worth. The question is how much more. The question is, are you trying to trade him by November because he cost so much?"
In his prime and playing on a line with Nicklas Backstrom or Mike Ribeiro, McPhee would have no kind of buyer's remorse with Parise. Eight years from now, he might not put up the same numbers, But with this core in its prime, it's worth the gamble.
Parise has scored 30 goals or more in each of his past five healthy NHL seasons. Beyond Ovechkin and Backstrom and assuming Alexander Semin does not return, the Caps don't have a 30-goal scorer on the roster.
Over the past week or so, McPhee hasn't sounded like a general manager in need of overhauling his roster.
"I think we're in pretty good shape," he said. "We've got good young goalies, the 'D' is complete, we added a skill guy. We'll get into it like everybody else does, but if we don't do anything, I wouldn't be disappointed. And if there's something there that makes sense at the right price ..."
Parise makes too much sense, and the price is right even if he winds up being the most expensive free agent signing of the summer. But he told NHL Home Ice he and his representatives have talked about "different scenarios," and teams will be lighting up his agent's phone the second it's allowed.
One thing Oates noted during his crowded introductory news conference was how much more media attention there is for hockey in Washington than during his playing days. When he was named captain in 2002, the event was held outside the White House and passers-by wondered what was going on.
With the spotlight on Oates and the Caps, this is a destination for players.
"I think anytime a team looks like they've turned the corner and they're winning and they're trying to win every year, that guys will look at that as yeah, I want to play there," Oates said.
If that's Parise, the Caps should look at him as the centerpiece of their offseason.
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