#PariseWatch, #SuterWatch and the end of sanity.
In today’s age of micro-news down to the second with Twitter, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, 24 hour sports networks you’re never too far removed from the action, if you chose to tune in. And all the twists and turns can be enough to drive the normal person crazy, especially when they’re excited about the prospects of adding a big time player like forward Zach Parise and defensemen Ryan Suter who hit the free agency market on July 1. The original teams of these players, New Jersey and Nashville respectively, were hot on their trails and hopeful their best offers would keep them in toe. Detroit eyeing a replacement for the retired Nicklas Lidstrom targeted Suter. Philadelphia, in their fruitless summer effort to make the biggest splash, wanted Parise. Pittsburgh, fresh off some salary dumps, wanted ‘em both. So too did Minnesota.
Though the general hockey-fan public was annoyed when July 1 passed with no decision, looking back on it, it’s understandable. These are young men with young families and have a lot to consider. They’ve been tied to their original NHL organizations since the age of 18, now suddenly they’re “free”, but they also are free to take a little while and consider their options when almost every team in the league at least reaches out to check their interest level. And in signing a decade-plus contract, it’s easy to see why a player definitely wants to take some time and think and make sure they choose the best option. No matter what, they’re going to be rich. What’s the best choice in terms of style of play, city to play in (dealing with media & fans, climate), location to family, strengths/weaknesses of organization, and on and on.
At the end of the day both decided they would try to sign somewhere together if they “flew the coop” from their first NHL homes. Suter desperately wanted to stay in the Western Conference where he was comfortable with the cities, style of play and in general lesser media spotlight then what you’d find on the East Coast. Parise determined if he was to leave New Jersey, his home-state team of the Minnesota Wild would be the best fit for him.
So they went, leaving the rest of their suitors snubbed on July 4th.
For the Pens, it was a loss. They were hopeful to add both all-stars, especially Parise, who’s style would have been terrific to pair with Sidney Crosby. The Pens also traded Zbynek Michalek and didn’t make an offer for Steve Sullivan, leaving them with big holes to fill. But, as Mike Colligan said recently, GM Ray Shero and co. definitely had some method behind their madness in personnel decisions with the unknown climate of the post-lockout world. Flexibility is always good, and by not signing two (more) super long-term deals, the Pens will at least have that going for them in the years to come.
7. Mario Lemieux statue unveiled [March 7th, 2012]
We all know the story- superstar center saves team in a city where hockey was floundering, wins 2 Stanley Cups, ends up saving the team in bankruptcy and emerging with ownership after being its biggest creditor, secures new arena to keep team around indefinitely. It’s simply sensational and no one person has done more for one franchise in American sports history.
After all that, of course you get a statue. Lemieux, ever one to shy from the public eye, didn’t push for this honor and it’s definitely a nice gesture that his co-owner and friend Ron Burkle took the lead on making sure the day came when the man who made it all possible, got his shrine outside of Consol Energy Center. Thanks Ron, and oh man thanks Mario.
6. Falling just short of Rangers for Atlantic Division top spot
Down the stretch in late March the Pittsburgh Penguins were fighting to catch up to the New York Rangers. At stake was the Atlantic Division championship, but more importantly it would represent the likely #1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs- meaning the winner would get to play the #8 and final seed in the playoffs. And the loser would get flung into the usually super-competitive #4 vs. #5 matchup, which was likely to have been filled by division rivals in Philadelphia or New Jersey, depending on how they shook out their own race for the 5th seed.
The Penguins dropped two games they should have had; 8-4 loss at Ottawa on March 24th and a 5-3 loss at home against NY Islanders on March 27th. To make matters worse, the Rangers won two road games on those nights, one in Toronto 4-3 (in a shootout) and in Minnesota 3-2.
From there the Rangers won three out of four to compile enough points to make an April 5th Pens/Rangers matchup irrelevant to the standings. Pittsburgh won the game 5-2, and their last game to get some momentum heading into the playoffs but the Penguins finished up 51-25-6, good for 108 points and the Rangers would end up 51-24-7, for 109 points.
The Pens would go on to lose 4-2 to the 5th seeded Flyers, the Rangers would beat the 8th seeded Ottawa Senators in 7 games in the first round of the playoffs, showing that the race for playoff seeding can make or break a first round matchup and season.