Tonight's preseason game for the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Minnesota Wild got me thinking about the past. Specifically, summer 2012. With a labor stoppage impending, teams were scurrying to throw tons of money at the two biggest free agent prizes. One was Zach Parise- native of Minnesota, but reluctant to leave his professional home of New Jersey. The other was defenseman Ryan Suter- formerly of Nashville and a Wisconsin native.
The Penguins wanted them both. They leveraged Sidney Crosby being friends with Parise to help the case. They had just tried to sign Jordan Staal to a ten year, $57 million contract, and when he refused, they had to trade him while he still had value. But they wanted to grab two more franchise cornerstones, Suter 27 and Parise 28, while they were on the market.
In the end, Parise and Suter decided, in tandem, to go home to the Wild, for matching 13 year, $98 million dollar deals with a cap hit of $7.538 million a piece, with front-loaded contracts to give them a lot of money early.
The Pens, for their part, held tight until the trade deadline when they traded for Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla- two veteran rentals.
But what if Pittsburgh had been the choice of the Parise/Suter duo? How would things be?
The biggest item would be the added $15 million in salary per year to the cap. Had this happened, there would have been no room for the contract extension Kris Letang signed in summer 2013 that kicks in this year, paying him $7.25 million.
That in itself is an interesting debate. What would be better- having Suter (who played a ridiculous 29:24 per game last season) or Letang, a younger, more talented offensive player- but one prone to injuries? Any team would love to have either, but Suter has definitely had less injuries and made more of an impact in the past two seasons.
The Parise debate is more interesting. Would the Pens have signed both Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis to contract extensions? It seems unlikely they would need both or be able to keep either, really.
It would boil down to performance. As we know, with Morrow and Iginla, the Pens bowed out in the Conference finals in 2013, getting swept at the hands of the Bruins. In 2014 they suffered a meltdown in the second round, losing to the New York Rangers in seven games.
Would Parise/Suter have helped? Possibly, but we'll never know. Either way though, for a team that was way too top-heavy in terms of talented top-end players (but little depth behind them), adding those salaries wouldn't have changed anything. Plus when you look at the Stanley Cup champions for the past two years, it's a big stretch to think that the Pens with Parise and Sutter (but minus Letang, Kunitz/Dupuis and Jussi Jokinen, who they wouldn't have afforded to pick up) would have a chance at winning it all.
So, by that token, the Penguins seem to be very lucky that they didn't add those two players. Both are nearing age 30, and still will count $15 million on the books for the next 11 years (until they retire, anyways). Pittsburgh instead has Crosby, Letang and Evgeni Malkin (all younger) carrying a total of $25.45 million on the cap, signed long-term.
This seems more on Ray Shero- who's roster building trended towards chasing stars and failing to add the depth and quality deeper in the lineup to be a competitive all-around team. Maybe the Pens would have done slightly better in the past two playoffs (although, again, probably without winning the Cup) and they would be in the same position they are now. With even less flexibility if they kept the Crosby/Malkin/Parise/Suter group with a combined cap hit of $33+ million that would eat up about half of the salary cap. Or, perhaps, they would have looked to trade Malkin/Letang, like they did to former team cornerstone in Staal to make all the numbers add up. Either way, the Pens with Crosby/Parise/Suter isn't any better than the reality that we actually have now.
It never hurts to chase free agents, but in the case of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Penguins probably dodged a bullet in the future that they chose the Wild. For all the fun of #PariseWatch, things worked out for the best for future flexibility and enabling the Pens to build around the enviable core they already has in place.