It's come as no surprise that the calendar flipped to 2024, and Zach Parise has yet to make a decision about his hockey future. Parise, who spent the last two seasons with the New York Islanders, hasn't retired, and GM Lou Lamoriello has been transparent in saying that the door is always open for Parise to return at some point this season.
“I think he made the right decision for his family (right now), and then we’ll just keep the door open for him,” said Lamoriello in September. “As I said to him, we’ll keep the (sweater) number open, too.”
At the conclusion of the Islanders' playoff series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Parise said it would be "here or nowhere," referring to Long Island when asked where he would be playing if he decided to come back for a 19th NHL season.
However, last month, Chris Johnston of The Athletic reported the veteran forward was ramping up skating and that "multiple contenders" were vying for Parise's services. If Parise comes back, it's partly for the love of the game he surely missed come September but also because he's ultra-competitive and still chasing that elusive Stanley Cup.
That's where you have to wonder whether it's still the Islanders or nowhere for Parise.
Yes, he has a tremendous amount of respect and loyalty toward Lamoriello and is grateful to the Islanders organization for reenergizing his career after being bought out by the Minnesota Wild, but could there be offers from more likely Stanley Cup contenders? Probably.
The Islanders are currently in playoff position, so from that perspective, they've done their part during the first half of the season to make that an option for Parise to return. However, they are no lock to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and if they do, pundits won't expect them to make a deep playoff run. Could they? Absolutely. It's hockey; that happens all the time but would Parise risk his last shot at hoisting the Cup on those odds or want something more likely?
We should find out in a few weeks as to whether Parise is returning and if the Islanders remained the only destination that he was seriously considering. Although Julien Gauthier has played well on the third line, and the Isles have one of their deeper forward groups in recent seasons, Parise's versatility and consistency would be an improvement and add to the internal competition for ice time.