Right now, all Penguins fans can think about is Zach Parise, the prize of free agency. But, as we saw with Marian Hossa four summers ago, crazy things can and will happen on July 1st, and you have to expect the unexpected. With Minnesota vowing not to be over-bid, and New Jersey desperately wanting to keep their captain, and Detroit having more cap room, and any other team potentially waiting in the weeds with some crazy offer, the odds are that Pittsburgh won't sign Parise.
So, if we have to embrace that reality, who else is on the open market that the Pens could bring back in a top six role. Reasonably, the Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal trio that combined for 116 goals and 261 points probably should be left alone. Which leaves Sidney Crosby on the "second" line. Pascal Dupuis is a natural and familiar fit on one of Sid's wings, leaving one opening. Sans Parise, who else could slot in?
#26 / Left Wing / Pittsburgh Penguins
Jul 06, 1974
2011-12 cap hit: $1.5 million
|2011 - Steve Sullivan||79||17||31||48||-3||20||5||0||1||140|
Sullivan played well with the Pens his first season. Despite an injury history, he made it largely unscathed through the season and seemingly got stronger through the year when he played with Crosby from March through the playoffs. Sullivan can also play the point on the power play and is pretty adept at rushing the puck through the neutral zone, a skill the Pens can use again. He'd also come faily cheap, probably near or at the same $1.5 million rate that he signed for last season. With the savings, the Pens could then dump more money into another higher-profile free agent (cough cough Ryan Suter cough).
On the downside, Sully is turning 38 in a couple of days. His legs, while not below NHL level, aren't at their peak anymore. And if 2011-12 was about the best possible season Sully could have, are you gonna bet on him (and that injury history) to be able to repeat 79 games played and almost 50 points again?
Some new faces, after the jump...
#19 / Left Wing / Phoenix Coyotes
Oct 10, 1976
2011-12 cap hit: $4.55 million
|2011 - Shane Doan||79||22||28||50||-8||48||5||0||5||226|
If the Pens can't get the Devils captain, why not set sights on the Coyotes captain? Shane Doan would add some size, muscle and determination to Pittsburgh's lineup and every team is looking for that plus the leadership, effort and battle level. Doan's got decent hands, knows how to drive the net and can dish the puck pretty well too. He also shoots the puck a lot, which will endear him to Pens coaches and fans alike. In short, he's about a perfect power-forward fit for Crosby and the Pens.
The issue would likely be getting him to leave the Phoenix organization. Doan is a loyal guy, and he's been there since they were the (original) Winnipeg Jets in 1995. And he hasn't left because they have a good setup there: Phoenix is very well coached, very well managed and competitive, despite being in a total mess of an ownership situation. Maybe Doan's about tired of all of that and wants a chance to go to an organization that doesn't have a cloud hanging over it, but it seems like that's probably a long-shot. Still, doesn't hurt for Ray Shero to find out if Doan makes it to free agency next week.
#25 / Left Wing / Los Angeles Kings
Sep 28, 1982
2011-12 salary cap hit: $4.25 million
|2011 - Dustin Penner||65||7||10||17||-7||43||1||0||0||119|
Speaking of power forwards, you've got Dustin Penner. He's not exactly the model of total consistency (and the last time a team signed him to a free agency contract they regretted it) but he's also very good when he's good. You can coach size, and Penner has it. And when he's on his game, he's getting that big body to the net and creating havoc for the other team, all the while opening up a lot of space for skilled teammates to operate. It's an intriguing thought to have.
#28 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals
Mar 03, 1984
2011-12 cap hit: $6.7 million
|2011 - Alexander Semin||77||21||33||54||9||56||2||0||1||183|
Being dead serious, you guys. Alex Semin, though often maligned for his brain-fart moments (not unlilke Malkin) can also be brilliant when he's dialed in. He's got sick hands, one of the best shots in the league and actually isn't bad defensively in terms of back-checking and penalty killing.
But, there are plenty of red-flags, just take your pick. The KHL factor, the perimeter play that is about as anti-Dan Bylsma as you could get, the inconsistency, total playoff disappearances, the out-right lack of effort, the offensive zone careless penalties. And, last but not least the remarkable (but true) fact that some other team (on this side of the world or the other) is going to give him a really serious, big time offer.
No? No. Ok, moving on.
#68 / Right Wing / Philadelphia Flyers
Feb 15, 1972
|2011 - Jaromir Jagr||73||19||35||54||5||30||8||0||2||170|
#15 / Left Wing / New York Islanders
Mar 24, 1983
2011-12 Salary cap hit: $1.25 million
|2011 - P.A. Parenteau||80||18||49||67||-8||89||6||0||2||167|
P.A. Parenteau came from a bad team, but he rode shotgun with John Tavares, a player who's not unlike Crosby in terms of style. Parenteau's still in his 20's (unlike most the players on this list), he's probably got the best hands and vision and is willing to pass a lot. Though not the biggest, he can play with an edge at times too.
Was it one big classic "pre-free agency" season, or is Parenteau the real deal? That's the question to ask, especially if he receives a big offer that the Pens would have to match or exceed.
What's your thoughts on back up plans to Parise? Anyone stick out as a good match for Pittsburgh? Did we omit any good possibilities?