What A Weekend
It seems as though every time I go to the beach on vacation, the Pittsburgh Penguins make a significant roster move.
This year, they made two. And with the cap space created through these moves, they made a statement that there are big moves ahead.
Not exactly the best time to be stuck without internet access, eh?
None-the-less, I had a great time, and was excited to get texts from Jesse Marshall and several other friends keeping me posted on the excitement in Pittsburgh.
So with Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek gone, and just one roster player — Brandon Sutter — added to the mix, Penguins general manager Ray Shero opened up $6 million in cap space for next season, bringing their total space to roughly $15 million, assuming the $70 million mark announced recently holds steady under the next CBA.
That’s a price hefty number, considering the Penguins currently have 11 forwards, 5 defensemen, and 2 goalies under contract.
While not all of those players are guaranteed to be on the team come the start of the season, it’s also important to note that there are two notable restricted free agents — forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Matt Niskanen — who likely will be re-signed and at least one, but more likely two, AHL defensemen to be added to the mix in Simon Depres (who has earned his chance) and Robert Bortuzzo (who now is waiver eligible).
That looks darn close to a full roster, despite having that $15 million in extra cap space sitting around, but there are two glaring holes: a scoring winger for Sidney Crosby and a top-pairing defenseman to replace Michalek and skate with Kris Letang.
Given the tendency of Shero and owners Mario Lemieux and Rob Burkle to spend close to the salary cap, it’s all but a foregone conclusion Shero will be looking to add one, if not two, of the best free agents available this summer.
Currently the Penguins have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis on their scoring lines. That’s a group of five that every team in the NHL would covet, but why not make it better?
Enter current New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise, who will be a free agent on July 1. He’s a left winger with a pedigree like few others in the league — and he just so happens to be good friends with Crosby.
Parise will have no fewer than 30 teams interested in his services next Monday, but one would think the Penguins are, at the very least, on a short list of teams with a legitimate chance of offering him a good contract and a significant chance at winning the Stanley Cup — something he came painfully close to accomplishing with the Devils this year.
Considering the Penguins have the top pair of centers in the league in Crosby and Malkin, adding Parise would put the Penguins at the top of the list in terms of left wingers, as well, pairing All Stars Neal and Parise. Combined, those four, along with bangers Kunitz and Dupuis, the Penguins would have the most feared offense in the league.
This possibility alone is exciting, but Parise won’t take up the full $15 million of cap space remaining. Instead, he’ll probably account for half of it, leaving a hefty chunk of space to fill that other need: a top pairing defender.
Enter current Nashville Predator alternate captain Ryan Suter, who also will be a free agent on July 1. He’s the lesser-known of Nashville’s top-pairing, which also features superstar Shea Weber, but just might be the better of the two players. While not as talented as Weber offensively, he represents the stay-at-home stud the Penguins covet.
Given that he’s spent his career in Nashville’s non-traditional hockey market, it’s fair to assume he would welcome the opportunity to play in a hockey-crazed city. There are plenty of those in the NHL, but few offer the unique blend of a crazy hockey town and a private city the way Pittsburgh does. And, of course, few offer the caliber of stars and the realistic shot at the Stanley Cup that Pittsburgh offers.
To make a long story short, losing Staal is a major disappointment — one that I suspected was a realistic possibility, but never truly thought would happen — but the doors his departure, along with that of Michalek, opened are far more exciting.
With Tomas Vokoun already added to the mix, this is proving to be the summer of change in Pittsburgh, and with significant rumors of Shero fielding offers for Paul Martin, it appears likely the excitement is just beginning!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride of the next week. It promises to be fun!