New Jersey Devils fans have become accustomed to seeing some of their biggest stars walk away.
It happened first with Scott Niedermayer. A staple of the vaunted Devils blueline, Niedermayer was named captain during the 2004 season, and won the Norris Trophy. After the lockout, he walked away from New Jersey, choosing instead to play for the Anaheim Ducks with his brother, Rob.
That move wouldn't compare to the summer of 2007.
On July 1st, the first day of free agency, both Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez bolted from New Jersey. Rafalski, a Michigan native and one of the few players remaining from the Devils dynasty defense, signed a five-year, $30 million dollar contract with the Detroit Red Wings.
Gomez broke a cardinal rule for Devils fans, signing a seven-year, $51.5 million dollar contract with the rival New York Rangers.
Those past experiences make the Zach Parise signing even more important for the Devils organization. It's watched many of it's stars walk away, and some of them have become integral pieces to a championship run.
Parise is the biggest Devils free agent since Niedermayer, and the priority to re-sign him isn't lost on his teammates.
"It’s tough for an organization when you get to groom players like him, make him who he is," Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "A lot of it has to do with the way he plays. He’s a pretty good athlete. You invest a lot of money over the years and there’s a decision to be made. I hope the Devils will be able to keep him because I think he’s the face of the Devils, a kid that people, they see him, they see a Devil, they see the work ethic that he has. First year as a captain, not too shabby to bring the team to the cusp of the Stanley Cup finals. It’s a big priority for the Devils to get him signed."
"I said all year long that’s our first priority of the off-season to sign him," right wing Ilya Kovalchuk told Gulitti. "He’s our captain He’s our leader."
Parise became one of the most successful captains in recent memory, leading the Devils to their second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. His play through the first three rounds helped push his team to wins over the Philadelphia Flyers and Rangers, and into the organization's first Stanley Cup Finals in nine years.
He's a product of the Devils system, and one of the best two-way forwards in the game. Parise said he's hopeful the teams can work out a contract.
"I’ve always liked playing here," he told Gulitti. "That’s never changed. We’ll see where this takes us right now, but this is a great place to play and I love playing here. I love being here."
The organization needs to re-sign their star left wing. If he walks away, it'll once again spell heartbreak for a franchise still smiting from its Stanley Cup Finals loss.