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The Parise Premise

17/07/2012

Following the signing of Zach Parise for the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League, a certain consistency in the majority of recent free agency signings across all of sports occurred to me: the more money that is offered to a player in a contract, the less relevant money is in the decision of that player as to whether or not to sign the deal. I call this the Parise Premise, and I’d like to explore it in depth.

This summer, Zach Parise, an elite ice hockey player, decided to forgo renewing his deal with the New Jersey Devils in favour of testing the murky waters of free agency. In American sports especially, players are drafted by professional teams when they graduate from college, meaning that they have no choice of who to play for. The idea of going into free agency when their contract ends to be courted by multiple teams, who could all potentially bid each other up in their offers, is a mouth-watering, once-in-a-career opportunity for players. Despite having reached the Stanley Cup Finals with the Devils the previous season, Parise entered July 1st unsigned, on the open market. During the week or so of offers and counter-offers, there were thought to be three main competitors for Parise’s signature: the Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Minnesota Wild. Each team had its own lure to attract the star player. In New Jersey, Parise could be a star. The state had no other major sports teams; he would be a big fish in a small pond, and a hero to the local community. In Pittsburgh, he had the opportunity to play alongside two of the best players on the planet: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They would be perennial championship contenders. It appeared that Minnesota had no shot. They weren’t a particularly good team, having finished 4th in their division the previous season and hadn’t made the playoffs since 07-08. However, Minnesota did have one thing going for it: it’s Parise’s hometown.

In a move that took the media completely off-guard, Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Wild, rejecting a deal from the Penguins that would’ve made him more money per year. But why? Playing hockey isn’t a hobby, it’s a day job, some would say, the primary objective being to make money. However, as has often been the case of late with professional sportspeople, Parise had other factors to consider, such as the city in which he would be playing. He had played in New Jersey for seven seasons already. If he liked the area, and his future opportunities there, he wouldn’t have entered free agency in the first place. The Devils were on a downward slope, with goalie Martin Brodeur inching ever closer to retirement. In Pittsburgh, Parise would forever be in the shadow of Crosby, the face of the league, and ex-Penguin, current team owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. He’d never get a chance to shine and would always play second fiddle. Minnesota was perfect; his father being the captain for the now defunct Minnesota North Stars meant that Zach was born and raised there. He could follow in his father’s footsteps whilst creating his own legacy as the team’s preeminent player.

In the hours following Parise declaring his allegiance, fellow free agent Ryan Suter made his decision by signing a contract identical to Parise’s – also for the Wild. But why go there when he could surely make more elsewhere? Minnesota, after all, did not have unlimited funds. Again, it was not about money, despite the massive amount he received for his services. No, Suter could see the building of a dynasty in the north, and wanted to be a part of it. Such acts are becoming more and more commonplace these days. In the NBA, Steve Nash decided against going to his native Canada to play for Toronto in favour of pursuing an elusive championship in the company of Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston hero Ray Allen similarly rejected a new deal in order to sign with the Miami Heat for half the money, in an effort to make their Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh a Big Four. While greenhorns take any deal they can get, often getting paid league minimum salaries, moving their families cross-country if necessary, the rich take pay cuts to play where they want.

The Parise Premise. It’s gonna be a thing.

~Liam

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