The biggest piece of the puzzle for the Pittsburgh Penguins in free agency may not be Zach Parise, but on the defense. It was absolutely shredded by the Flyers in the playoffs, and changes are already in the works. Zbynek Michalek was dealt back to Phoenix for prospects and picks, clearing up his $4 million salary. Paul Martin is the subject of constant trade rumors, and possibly not far behind him. So, basically at this point we've got:
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen* (RFA)
Simon Despres / Brian Strait / Deryk Engelland / Ben Lovejoy / Robert Bortuzzo
This lineup is not the lineup that will open the season, however. Ideally, the Pens can add one top 4 defenseman (to team with or replace Martin). The rumor (and hope amongst fans) is that Ryan Suter will be that guy and solidify a potentially potent defensive unit.
But Suter will be the most coveted name on the market and lots of teams will be hot on his trail. And, if you're to believe some, his preference is to stay in the Western Conference where he has played his whole career. So, if the Pens can't make the big splash and sign Suter, let's take a look at some other potential targets.
#5 / Defenseman / Carolina Hurricanes
Aug 21, 1980
2011-12 cap hit: $2.9 million
|2011 - Bryan Allen||82||1||13||14||-1||76||0||0||1||87|
The guys at the Pensblog have carried the flag for Allen, and it's not tough to see why. Last season he blocked 188 shots and had 111 hits. Last season Michalek lead the Pens with 144 blocked shots, so Allen would provide that dimension very well. Allen played 19:09 minutes a game last season, including an average of 2:30 on short-handed units.
His advanced stats were strong as well. Allen had the 2nd toughest competition of any Hurricane defenseman last year at even strength, had strong Corsi numbers and a very low 2.12 GA/60 mark. Plus, on a weak Carolina team he was the only defenseman to be on the ice for more goals for (53) than against (51) at 5 on 5 play.
Allen seems like a great fit for a guy who can play second pair minutes, block some shots, kill some penalties and give a little grit and do a tough job for a team.
See more potential targets after the jump...
|2011 - Jason Garrison||77||16||17||33||6||32||9||0||3||168|
The big thing that pops out is the goals total (which placed him 3rd league wide among defensemen, behind only Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber). There is a wonder if Garrison is a one-hit wonder, before this year he had just 7 goals in 113 career games, then this big season.
But the advanced stats don't back that theory up: Garrison's PDO was 1008 - meaning he was a little above average but no red flags for being really lucky. Garrison also played against strong competition relative to his team at 5v5 and had a very impressive 1.80 GA/60 at even strength.
Food for thought in thinking that he just had a big shot and scored a bunch of goals (like I admit I did before doing research) Garrison played huge minutes (23:41) and actually averaged slightly more time per game playing short-handed (2:34) then he did on the power play (2:31).
He's also relatively young for a UFA defenseman (27/28 this season) and a late-bloomer having played college and developing in the minors. The price may be too high, but if it isn't, Garrison could be an excellent look for the Pens.
#6 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Mar 20, 1983
2011-12 cap hit: $3.9 million
|2011 - Dennis Wideman||82||11||35||46||-8||46||4||0||3||175|
If you're a Pens fan who hates Paul Martin, you're really gonna hate Wideman. At his best this season, Wideman was the Caps all-star rep: he's a good skating defenseman that can move the puck, has a great shot and good passing ability in the offensive zone.
At his worst, Wideman's a defensive liability and a complete trainwreck. Coverage, in front of the net, positioning, failing to clear the zone, you name it. And that's probably putting it nicely. Despite having a lot of tools, Boston let him go, and now the Caps are not going to put up much of a fight as he walks.
Wideman, to me, doesn't fit Pittsburgh's needs. For a team that could use an offensive-minded, puck mover type, he might be worth a shuddering amount of money, but the Pens shouldn't be one of them.
#17 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Dec 29, 1976
2011-12 cap hit: $3.85 million
|2011 - Filip Kuba||73||6||26||32||26||26||3||0||2||78|
Filip Kuba was defense partners with Erik Karlsson this year, playing the steady man to the flashy younger defenseman. It's easy to imagine bringing that calming veteran presence to Pittsburgh a teaming him with another flashy, smooth-skating right handed defenseman in Kris Letang.
The issue here could be term - Kuba turns 36 in Decemeber and any contract he signs is subject to the 35+ clause in the CBA (basically, the cap hit stays for the duration of his contract, even if he were to retire). And there's time- defensemen in their late 30's almost always hit a wall suddenly and irreversably. Kuba's camp will surely be looking for a 2-3 year deal if they can get it, but those terms aren't really favorable to a cap-tight team like the Pens that can't afford to over-pay for an aging defenseman.
#74 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Jan 10, 1990
2011-12 cap hit: $846,000
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT
|2011 - John Carlson||82||9||23||32||-15||22||4||0||0||152|
Easily the most scandalous move available, and there's really just one reason to do it.
Washington, certainly, matches any offer, so really this would just be an exercise in driving the price up. (And really, really, really piss off George McPhee). According to our friends at PPP, an offer of up to $5.046 million would be compensated with a 1st and 3rd round pick, if it wasn't matched. So offer something in that range and then watch the world burn. McPhee is an RFA wizard - he signed presumed starting goalie Michal Neuvirth to two-year $1.15 million per contract, and Carlson's d-partner Karl Alzner only got $1.285 million for two years.
Carlson is a stud and would be worth the money, if in some bizarro Earth that the Caps let him go. Despite something of a sophomore slump this past year, the 22 year old defenseman crushed the toughest of minutes against good competition, can play in all three zones and is only improving in all areas and facets of the game.
This would be pretty much an open declaration of war on an already rival team, so it'd have to be weighed carefully by Shero. But Pittsburgh doesn't really have a single RFA of importance coming up in the forseeable future, so it's not as if they can turn around and do the same trick next summer. Though, rest assured, the Caps would find a way to get back at the Pens for this one.
It's pretty much an unwritten rule to not sign another team's RFA's, and the amount of crying and hand-wringing when it happens makes it seem at near collusion type levels from team management. And, for the sake of league politics and perception, it might not be worth the blowback. But, in a vacuum, if you're running the Pens, why not throw Carlson a three year $15 million offer and see if he signs it. Best case, you could have a stud defenseman. But, of course, you wouldn't. Washington would cry (always fun) then take their lumps and have to give a bigger raise than they were expecting.