It is odd how a sports team can go from a bottom feeder to a title contender in as little as one season, but as we saw with the New Jersey Devils this year, sometimes the difference lies in the leadership on the playing field.

In the 2011-12 season the Devils fell short of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 1995-96 season, where the team finished with a record of 38-39. This was a club that had reached the Conference Quarterfinals just one year earlier, but somewhere along the way the team had lost a vital piece to its success. Much of this team’s failure can be attributed to the loss of the 2010-11 Team MVP, Zach Parise.

Paraise was, ironically, sidelined in a match against the Los Angeles Kings on October 30th 2011. A torn meniscus forced the one the Devils’ top producers to miss 51 of the teams games that season. Zach was coming off of an 38 goal and 44 assist season. His injury shortened season only saw him produce three goals and assist, leaving an infallible gap in the Devils’ offence.

As fans, it gives us great pleasure to watch the rebirth of our heroes as they return to the ice after what could have been a career ending collision. Zach took over the Capitan role once again, almost equaling his output from his Team MVP season. A total of 31 regular season goals, with the addition of 8 more in the playoffs, saw Paraise return to the ice not only as one of the teams top scorers, but as one of the league’s best comeback stories of the year.

After leading his squad to the Stanley Cup Finals this season, Zach has decided to sign with the Minnesota Wild for 13 years with a $98 million contract. While many feel that the loss of Parasie spells disaster for the Devils, many believe that the 2010-11 season had given the team a chance to work around his absence from the ice.

New additions, like former Panther Krystopher Barch, have been added to fill in for the departed Capitan, and the Devils still look to be a threat in next year’s title race. While the Minnesota Wild have definitely moved up in the eyes of the odds makers, this loss does not mean that you should take the Devils off of your list of NHL picks for next season’s Stanley Cup.

Zach Paraise currently ranks 9th on the all time points list for the New Jersey Devils, with a total of 194 goals, 216 assist, and 410 points.