After the Islanders’ season came to an end this past Friday night with a 2-1 overtime loss to Carolina, Zach Parise sat at his locker inside UBS Arena lamenting that the season, but also pondering that this could be it for his NHL career. Kyle Palmieri came over to console him, as did other teammates, but Parise didn’t speak to the media that night.
Parise finally did so on Monday on Islanders exit interview day at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, and was asked if he’s thought about what lies ahead.
“It’s going through my mind but I haven’t decided anything,” said Parise. “I’ll take a couple of weeks and get away from stuff a little bit and see where it’s at, but I haven’t decided.”
After getting bought out by the Minnesota Wild following the 2020-21 season, Parise joined the Islanders on a one-year deal and recorded 15 goals and 20 assists in 82 games last season. He re-upped this year and scored 21 goals, the most goals he had scored since he tallied 25 for the Wild in 2019-20.
If the 38-year-old decides to return in 2023-24, it certainly sounds like he wants a third season with the Islanders.
“I think it would be here or nowhere,” said Parise. “I just feel like that’s how it would be. I can’t tell you this for sure, but I feel like it would be up to me and my decision, but I don’t know that for sure.”
Parise could have, and perhaps should have, been an Islander a long time ago.
The Islanders had the 15th pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, and when they were on the clock, Parise was still on the board. He had been a star player for the University of North Dakota, and there was a feeling the Islanders might take him; after all, his father, JP Parise, was a former Islander and scored the overtime goal in Game 3 in the opening round of the playoffs in 1975 to eliminate the Rangers.
But the Islanders chose right wing Robert Nilsson, and two picks later, Parise went to the Devils.
Better late than never, Parise finally became an Islander and has loved every minute of the last two seasons, playing on Long Island for the same team his father played for.
“It’s been great,” said Parise. “When (JP) got traded here, he was dreading coming here, and then he said he fell in love with the place and then was devastated when he had to leave. I understand what he was talking about. This is a great place to play. A great community. The organization is outstanding. For us to be able to share something like that is pretty neat.”
It was current Islanders President and General Lou Lamoriello who drafted Parise back in 2003. Parise played seven seasons in New Jersey and captained the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final against Los Angeles in 2012. Following that season, Parise signed a 13-year free agent deal to play for his hometown Minnesota Wild, and played eight seasons for them before getting bought out in 2021.
Ten years after their separation, Parise was happy to be reunited with Lamoriello.
“I had an old teammate of mine tell me this a while ago: for everyone that comes in the league, it should be a requirement to play for Lou for at least one season,” Parise said. “You learn how to be a pro. Everything is done professionally and the right way. It was a blessing in disguise being able to get bought out and come back and play for Lou again, because it’s unbelievable.”
If Parise wants to continue playing, he would be welcomed back with open arms, as he is one of the most respected players on the team as a result of his hustle, leadership, and professionalism. He is a perfect role model for the younger players.
“Zach is a special guy,” said Captain Anders Lee. “We all know his work ethic is unmatched, and for him to take care of himself the way he has all these years, and playing the way he is at his age, is extremely impressive and admirable.”
“Zach is great,” said forward Mat Barzal. “I think every guy in that room is taking a little piece from Zach’s work ethic.”
Each and every player in that group loves Parise and would love to see him return, and the feeling is mutual, because if there’s one thing that would keep Parise around for another season, it’s the fact that he has so much respect for his teammates.
“We always talk about what type of players we have on this team. I love all these guys,” said Parise. “It’s a great group of people and I’m very fortunate to get the chance to play here. It’s been awesome.”
The word “been” would suggest that Parise was referring to his time with the Islanders in the past tense, but the Islanders and their fans should be hoping that Zach decides to come back for another season. He’ll turn 39 years old in July, but the 18-year veteran has the work ethic and the motor of a 20-year-old.
The Islanders do have to upgrade the roster, but it would be wise to have Parise back, because it’s clear from this past season that he can still be a productive player.
I’ll say this: if I was the coach of a youth, middle school, high school, or college team in any sport, I would want Zach Parise to talk to my players about hustle, what it takes to be successful, and why it’s important to practice hard and prepare for the games the right way.
Follow Peter Schwartz on Twitter: @SchwartzSports
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