Before I start discussing the upcoming NHL free agency period which is set to begin this Sunday, I wanted to first introduce myself. My name is Robbie Naugle and joined the site as a writer at the end of the season. I wanted to thank Jesse for giving me this chance and I look forward to working with everyone here at the site and sharing my hockey opinions with all of the readers at the site. I love feedback and good hockey discussion so please leave your thoughts and comments on my articles. I look forward to interacting with all of you.

Now on to free agency…

Free Agency may be the equivalent to Christmas for the NHL and its fans, at least that’s how I feel about it. I would say many of the players would also agree when general managers are throwing money at them like children in a candy store. This year will be no different, even if the talent pool isn’t as deep as it has been for the past few years. In fact, due to the shallow talent pool a lot of average players could wind up with very big pay days from teams who are trying to meet the cap floor or who are looking to add a piece to fill out their roster. Last year the Florida Panthers spent money from the opening bell and built a team who won the Southeast division and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils to double overtime of Game 7 in their first round series. So the question is, what does this year have in store? Let’s take a look.

I’m sure everybody knows who the Pens will be targeting come July 1. It was made very obvious with the moves the Pens made during the first night of the draft in trading away Jordan Staal to Carolina and clearing a huge chuck of cap space when they shipped Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix. These moves were no coincidence, Ray Shero has a goal in mind and he is going to try and make it very clear in free agency that this team is willing to go all in for a Stanley Cup. He is willing to ship out two of the team’s most popular players, one being a former second overall pick, to make a run at Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. Shero being able to sign either player would be a massive acquisition and a huge boost for a team who is already the odds on favorite to win the Cup next year. If he could land both then I would no longer be able to formulate words to describe it. Something like the Miami Heat of the NHL or something like that. Shero’s intentions for free agency are clear and he has the best salesman in the league to make the pitch to either Parise or Suter.

My gut instinct at the moment is that Zach Parise is at the top of the Pens list for July 1. With Shero making it public that Paul Martin is not being shopped at the moment and with the likelihood that Matt Niskanen will get a new deal done and return to the Pittsburgh it seems that Shero is ready to take the chance with this defense core and throw a lot of money at Parise to play along Crosby. The pool for free agent defenseman is also deeper than what is available at forward. If Suter doesn’t land in Pittsburgh, there is always Jason Garrison from the Panthers or Matt Carle from the Flyers who could be affordable options for Shero. Suter would obviously move to the top of the Pens’ list if Parise decides not to sign here. Personally (though I lean towards signing Parise), either of those two players would make the Pens very, very good. One last thought on why I lean towards Parise, it was no accident that the Pens decided to announce the Crosby extension three days before Parise hits the open market. They have a goal in mind and they want Parise (and any other player) to know that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win a Cup and it gives him the guarantee that he will be playing on a line with Sidney Crosby for the rest of his career.

To wrap this up I wanted to point one thing out that I feel a lot of people may be overlooking when it comes to Parise signing with the Pens. This may be a reach or just me dreaming but I think it really does mean something. There will obviously be a lot of teams in on signing Parise. The Devils are obvious but financial problems with the franchise may prevent them from being able to offer Parise a long term deal which he wants. The Wild are another team that will throw big money towards Parise and they gain some leverage since Parise is from Minnesota. The Red Wings will also be involved but it is unsure if they would prefer Parise or Suter come Sunday. All of these teams have a lot of money and cap space available that they could offer Parise much more money than the Pens may be able to. However, there is one thing those teams cannot offer them that the Pens can and that is Sidney Crosby. There is no player like Crosby in the league and he is the best hockey player in the world. That is something money cannot give Parise. It’s up to him to decide, take the highest offer or take less and play alongside the best. For the Pens sake I hope he chooses option number two. Only time will tell and that time is coming fast. Buckle up folks.

Let me know who you think the Pens will be signing on sunday or who you would like them to sign.