Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 7/12/12

The New Jersey Devils began life after captain Zach Parise wondering how they replace the leadership, grittiness and production of the guy who had been the heart and soul of their team.

Parise, 27, signed a 13-year, $98 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

Two seasons ago, Parise played only 13 games because of a knee injury, and, after he had scored 146 goals over the previous four seasons, his absence was a major key in the Devils missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996.

Now, he will score no goals for New Jersey. And you really have to wonder about how the Devils replace what he brought to the ice game in and game out.

You also have to wonder about the team losing another marquis free agent, extending a track record that has to be the worst in the league. While there have been built-in excuses for stars leaving New Jersey, reasons that take general manager Lou Lamoriello somewhat off the hook -- and Parise going home to Minnesota is just the latest -- one would think that a more aggressive approach on Parise during the season might have produced a different result.

Regardless, now he's gone.

Parise had 31 goals and 69 points last season, 194 goals and 410 points in his New Jersey career. Numbers like those aren't easily replaced. And that says nothing about having to name a new captain and find more emotional leadership after a thrilling run to within two wins of capturing the Stanley Cup this year.

Lamoriello usually makes the right decisions, and his teams have won three Stanley Cups. But the visit to the finals was the first since 2003 and marked the first playoff success of any kind (past the second round) since 2003, and losing Parise is a major blow.

"There's no question we're disappointed," Lamoriello said after Parise agreed to join Ryan Suter in Minnesota. "It's a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that's come right through the ranks and then, at this given time, a decision is made to go elsewhere. You just go forward."

Winger Alexander Semin, the top name remaining on the free agent board, could help the Devils replace some of the Parise's scoring. New Jersey also lost left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky, who signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal with Winnipeg.

The Devils did re-sign their two goalies, Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, and defenseman Bryce Salvador.

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