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Q&A: Are the Pens better off without Suter and Parise?

We take some twitter questions on what could have been with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise as Penguins, potential trade targets and the playing time for Marc-Andre Fleury.

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We asked for some tweets and got some good ones, let's dive right in:

Interesting outlook. And yes, I think the Pens are lucky to have lost out, especially in the first case.

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were basically a package deal in the summer of 2012, where one went the other would follow. They ended up going to a near-hometown situation with the Minnesota Wild- for identical 13 year contracts with a yearly salary cap hit of $7,538,462 per year with full no movement clauses. That’s a combined cap hit of $15.076 million for 13 years that would be completely unmovable, practically speaking. Had they joined the Penguins for at/about that same amount the team that we know would look very differently right now.

How so? Well Kris Letang would priced out, there definitely would not be room for the $7.25 million contract per year he signed in summer 2013. Letang probably gets traded away in 2012, just like Jordan Staal did after the Pens couldn’t get him to sign long-term. Losing Letang’s contract basically makes room for Suter, which isn’t a bad deal, however Suter is 2+ years Letang’s senior and KL58 might have the chance to be better for longer.

To make room for Parise, the Pens would have had to jockey pieces up front. Chris Kunitz signed an extension in 2013 for $3.85 million per year for four more years. Pascal Dupuis also signed that summer for $3.75 million for four years. Combine those 2 cap hits and you’ve got $7.6 million, or Parise’s hit. Of course, that also is 1 player pushing out 2 other players….Which would lead to more of the same depth problems we saw the Pens struggle through in recent years under Ray Shero with a couple of really good players and then a bunch of really, really bad ones.

Those are of course just rough projections on the back on an envelope. More drastic movement may even have been needed to be cap compliant for the 2013 season. A lot of the trades that season (Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murrary) probably don't happen either. Which, probably would actually be a blessing.

At this point, any of the above sounds pretty good as long as it’s a legitimate NHL level top six forward!

Realistically, I suppose it would depend on who is available and perhaps more importantly- available at a trade cost that makes sense short and long term.

A guy I’m keeping an eye on is Jiri Tlusty in Carolina. Obviously GM Jim Rutherford (and Pens front office member Jason Karmanos) know all about Tlusty- they brought him over from Toronto in 2010 and watched him really blossom into a solid NHL, point producing player. Tlusty is an unrestricted free agent after this season and Carolina might be in a position to trade him and rebuild being as the playoffs look out of reach for them. I like Tlusty because of his skill with the puck, his creative play seems like it would fit with Mike Johnston’s system, he can play either wing and I could see fitting in with either Crosby or Malkin.

I also think there could be an opportunity to take a chance on a young player like Jeremy Morin – who hasn’t gotten a chance in Chicago but potentially could be an instantly become a contributing member if given the chance. And since Morin requires waivers and Chicago hasn’t figured out what to do with him in a few years, they might be ready to move on too.

Great question. Fleury started 64 games last season- the exact same number he’s on pace for this year. This is somewhat surprising since Thomas Greiss is a lot more established than no-experience Jeff Zatkoff was this time last year. Greiss is proving to be just as capable in Pittsburgh (.923 save % so far) as he has been last season in Phoenix (.920 save % in 25 games), better output than Zatkoff provided too. There’s an upgrade to the backup G position, so why no increased playing time?

The answer lies with how Fleury himself is playing. Fleury is at a .925 save % currently (which would be career high) and has an uncharacteristically high 5 shutouts in 21 games. Further, Hockey Reference says MAF has 11 quality starts in the 21 outings. That’s really good. Greiss, for his part is no slouch with 3 QS in 6 starts.

Still, every year recently Fleury’s shown he’s capable of playing 65-67 games each season, and this year appears no different. As long as Fleury continues to play so well and the team continues to win games, there’s not much reason to play the backup. Luckily though, the Penguins can be confident that they have a very capable backup like Greiss who even hasn’t looked bad in games after sitting on the bench for weeks at a time too.