Zach Parise will not be with the Islanders when they take the ice for training camp on Thursday.
Barring something unforeseen, he won’t be present on opening night against the Sabers either.
But in December, or after the All-Star Break, or in the playoffs?
The best the Islanders can offer is a collective shrug, but they can — and do — hope he’ll be with them at some point.
“Zach, if you’re watching,” Mathew Barzal joked at the team’s annual golf outing Monday, “come back here.”
Without Parisé, 39, spending time with his family as he contemplates his future, the Islanders are trailing their third-leading scorer from last season and their most durable player from the past two campaigns.
His absence sets up a training camp competition for the position he occupied to Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s left last season, primarily between Oliver Wahlstrom, Simon Holmstrom and Julien Gauthier.
Wahlstrom, returning from a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2022-23 campaign, is likely a slight favorite, but it will take a critical few weeks for him to establish that he hasn’t lost a step and he must be part of the Islanders. ‘projects this season.
“I knew the (Wahlstrom) game was going on and we were going to miss him and we did,” coach Lane Lambert said. “It’s going away, I guess it looks like a major injury.” He had a great summer. The schedule for him has been good. I can not wait to be there.”
No matter who ends up in that spot, the Islanders will face an experience deficit.
Parise and Josh Bailey – who was traded as a salary cap casualty and signed a professional tryout contract with Ottawa – had a combined 2,281 NHL games and 33 seasons in the league.
None of Wahlstrom, Gauthier or Holmstrom played in more than 161 games.
Not only do the Islanders have to replace Parise’s on-ice production, but there will be a sizable void to fill in the room, since Bailey was an alternate captain.
“It’s going to be different,” captain Anders Lee said. “Bails has been the cornerstone and foundation of this room and this team for a long time and has had a very notable career on the island.”
Barzal added: “These guys have been great for the locker room. I’ve been with Bails since my first day here. He’s a friend of mine for life. And it’s going to suck not seeing him in the room.
Bailey, however, was not included in the team’s on-ice plans for this season.
Parise — if he ultimately returns — would likely be in the lineup every night and could play on either special teams unit.
Despite his age, he proved to be a vital piece for the Isles last season.
Wahlstrom and Holmstrom in particular are both young players with some offensive potential. But ultimately, neither proved they could produce in the NHL at the same level as Parise last season, when he recorded 21 goals and 13 assists. Gauthier only scored 11 goals over four seasons and failed to make three different NHL pit stops.
What Parise ultimately wants – and when – will determine a lot here. But if one of these players breaks out, the Islanders’ need for him to return would, at least in theory, be alleviated.
This makes the situation a delicate balance for everyone involved, with the unpredictability of a possible return hanging over everything.
The Islanders will happily respect whatever Parise chooses to do, whenever he chooses to do it.
But there’s no doubt that right now the best-case scenario would be for him to return as early in the season as possible.
“That would be awesome,” Barzal said. “Zach had a great year last year. In addition to being a good player, he also brings his off-ice work ethic and professionalism every day. He’s fun to be with. … We would love to have him back.
New York Post