We're about 48 hours away when the NHL free agency market opens up at noon Eastern time on Sunday, July 1st.
The two premiere players in the unrestricted market have to be Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils and Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators. There have been whispers and rumors the Pens want both players. But, so, of course, would 29 other teams like to have these guys sign for them.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have, currently, $14.5 million in cap space under the (temporarily) agreed to upper limit of $70.2 million. They have a few of their own restricted free agents to still sign- most notably Matt Niskanen, but also Eric Tangradi, Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo.
And there is Paul Martin, the defenseman with a $5 million cap hit and is often mentioned as a possible trade target. Martin has clauses in his contract that allow him to list teams he will not accept trades to, and he also can not be sent to the minor leagues.
The Pens also have Arron Asham and Steve Sullivan in limbo, both would probably be interested in returning for similiar low-key salaries, but it remains to be seen just how much interest the team has in them. (The fact they're still FA's at this point without much negotiating though speaks for itself).
Now, let's weigh the pros and cons for Parise and Suter....Plus a poll, if you had to pick one, which would you add to the Pens..
|2011 - Zach Parise||82||31||38||69||-5||32||7||3||3||293|
Parise has spent his entire career with the Devils, and captained them last year to the Stanley Cup final. For that alone, you can tell he's heavily invested in the only franchise he's ever known and that, combined with the fact his father was a long-time New York Islander led Parise to say he'd never play for the New York Rangers.
There's been a lot made of the friendship between Parise and Pens center Sidney Crosby, but has it been over-blown? The two know each other, but contrary to popular belief they did not attend Minnesota hockey-high school Shattuck St. Mary's at the same time (Parise is three years Crosby's senior) and though they've played against each other for several years in the NHL and internationally for USA/Canada, they've never really been teammates. There's reports Crosby sat in Parise's seats for the SC Finals, but Crosby did that in Los Angeles, where he has been training. Again, a lot of smoke, not necessarily fire.
Skill-wise, though, there's no doubt Parise would be a great boost for the Penguins. If you could customize a winger for Crosby's style of play, Parise might be that mold. He's relentless, a good forechecker, can work along the boards well to battle for pucks. He's got good hands, will drive to the net, is a creative player with the puck on his skill and a willing passer. He thinks the game well, has great instincts and is a team leader. Forgetting Crosby for a second, Parise would be about the perfect winger to play for anyone.
But, Crosby would be the reason to sign Parise. The Pens found an excellent line of Chris Kunitz and James Neal centering Evgeni Malkin while Sid was shelved with concussion symptoms for much of the 2011-12 season. Those wingers were intended to line up with Crosby. Regardless, they found Malkin and found chemistry with Malkin to become the NHL's best offensive line.
Crosby has the ever-dependable Pascal Dupuis pencilled in as his winger now, but with Sullivan approaching FA, there's a big hole on the other side. There's also the fact that Crosby is foregoing $5 million a season in the 13 year contract he signed with PIttsburgh, and what better way to reward the player for that self-less action than going out and plucking him the first all-star caliber winger since he had a brief time with Marian Hossa back in 2008.
#20 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Jan 21, 1985
2011-12 cap hit: $3.5 million
|2011 - Ryan Suter||79||7||39||46||15||30||3||1||1||134|
Suter, like Parise is 27 years old and has only known playing for one NHL team in his career. The blueliner from Madison, WI has made a name for himself being the steady partner for now annual Norris trophy nominee Shea Weber. But many fans of the Predators have been openly questioning for a while now which of the two players is actually better or more valuable, with many believing Suter is just as good (if not better) than Weber.
As Parise is probably an ideal an archetype of an offensive winger, Suter is the same for a defenseman. He's in his prime- experienced but not worn down. Though not big, Suter's got an excellent stick and is willing to use his size and muscle effectively. Suter skates well, makes really excellent outlet passes, can lug the puck if require, takes few penalties, is an effective setup man on the power play, a viable part of short-handed unit, has an accurate and strong shot from the point. You name the skill, and Suter is probably above average to quietly excellent in it. He might not have flashy plays or numbers like a Weber, but Suter is an excellent defenseman in his own right.
Aside from just the (astronomical) price of the contract, personal preference may hinder the Pens in the process. Suter has always been a Western Conference guy and is said (but not confirmed) to prefer to stay in a Western market, where things off-the-ice can be a little less hectic than the East coast. However, Pittsburgh is a lot like Nashville in terms of friendly people away from the rink, it's a good hockey market but not an over-powering media like you might find in a place like New York, Philadelphia or Toronto.
As currently constituted, the Penguins have three "top 4" defenseman under contract: Martin, Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik. They also have significant professional depth with Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, Simon Despres, Bortuzzo and Strait all factoring in for an NHL roster spot this season. Signing Suter, likely means a trade- and trading Martin would result in pressing Niskanen (and others) into tougher minutes.
Up front, the Pens have five "top six" forwards with Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Dupuis. Matt Cooke, Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy figure to be the 3rd line, with various parts and pieces competing for 4th line duties. If they re-sign Sullivan, he's the 2nd line skill player. If not, they need a replacement.
Given this, and the cap space situation, which key free agent would you prioritize as signing. Obviously, adding both would be the #1 best-case-scenario, but at 12 noon when Parise gets that $10 million offer from the Minnesota Wild and at the same time the Detroit Red Wings are making a call to Suter, where should the Pens primary focus be in the heat of the moment when it starts up fast and furious? Your reasoning, in the comments.
(Also - we're assuming an unknown price to pay. Perhaps Parise's market would be $7 million to sign with Pittsburgh and Suter's price would be $8.0. Or vice-versa. Do not assume the same price for the choices, since it will be different. Likely close to about the same price, but it's not CHOICE A or CHOICE B.)