With some of my thoughts and feelings out about the “Shero Draft Strategy,” I wanted to discuss a few thoughts I’ve had regarding the Pens going forward into free agency.
I, personally, don’t buy into the Ryan Suter stuff. I honestly think it’s a bunch of smoke and mirrors from Camp Shero to get teams like Detroit to bite first and hardest on Suter, leaving Parise to the Pens. Believe me, there are going to be plenty of suitors for Suter and Parise. In my heart of hearts, I think the Pens win the Parise sweepstakes as long as Shero doesn’t try to grossly low-ball him. Crosby and Parise being friends helps matters, certainly, but Parise really seems to fit the mold of what Shero and Bylsma have said the team needs – aggressive, skilled forwards with size.
Suter has stated he wishes to remain in the Western Conference, and I don’t think he’s going to bend for that. More importantly, I feel it would be folly for Shero and the Pens to go after him at the expense of the rest of the team. To land Suter, it will, according to most reports, take somewhere between 6 and 8 million per season. For ANY person who has been paying attention to the lunacy of the general Penguins’ fandom this season, paying a defenseman more than 4 dollars is apparently akin to genocide and will be met with scorn. Unless that player has a kitschy nickname or luxurious hair, in which case those players are safe. Paul Martin has become public enemy number 1 among the majority of (thoroughly uneducated, ignorant) Pens fans. Without fail, the first thing they mention about Martin is his $5M price tag. When pressed, the vast majority are unable to define WHY Martin “sucks,” but will gladly, gladly tell you time and again how “he needs to be better for $5M.”
Hold on to your hats if the Pens sign a guy like Suter for 6-7M/year. He’ll make one questionable turnover and the Consol Energy Center will burn to the damn ground. With that said, I think it’s clear that the Pens should not pursue Ryan Suter. I do, however, feel they should go after another defensive free agent…
In a perfect world, the Pens will be able to free up just a little more salary to be able to make a move and stabilize the blue line AS WELL AS sign Zach Parise to a deal. I do feel that Ben Lovejoy will be given his walking papers and Engo will be given the 7th defenseman treatment. With the departure of Michalek and the diminished game of Brooks Orpik, there will be a need to fill a top-4 defensive position. Sure, the Pens COULD go after Suter, but I don’t think they will. I think Shero will go big after Jason Garrison from the Florida Panthers.
Garrison has an absolute beastly shot from the point and is not afraid to use it. His shot is strong and accurate, which could really, really play well on the top PP unit with Letang manning the other point. Garrison also fills some need in having a big, tough d-man, as he’s 6’2″ and 220 lbs.
With the Panthers last season, Garrison trailed only Erik Gudbranson in hits with 127 (for sake of comparison, only Engelland (174) and Orpik (259) had more hits on the Pens), 124 blocked shots (again, would place him 3rd on the Pens behind the now-departed Michalek (144) and Orpik (139)), and 20 takeaways (and, again, would be 3rd on the Pens, behind Letang (28) and Martin (27)).
Offensively, Garrison had something of a coming out season in 2011-2012. Garrison’s stat line:
GP: 88, G: 16, A: 17, P: 33, +6, 32 PIM, 9 PPG, 0 SHG, 1 SHA, 3 GWG, 168S, 9.5S%, 23:42 TOI
Really, pretty impressive for a guy only in his 2nd full-time season with the Panthers. FLA finished with the 7th best PP in 2012, in no small part because of Garrison.
I know that statistics don’t tell the whole story, but he really seems like the type of player who could thrive with the Pens. That said, I have NO clue about where and how to value his contract. Garrison was making less than $1M/season with Florida. He is relatively inexperienced and no team is going to pay huge dollars for a guy with only 4 years experience, 2 of which in a major role, but this is a thin free agent class for defensemen under age 35.
Numerous teams, I feel, will be in on Garrison and he will have the luxury of choosing between two or three legitimate contenders. Garrison is young and can eat minutes. I think he would be a more-than-suitable replacement/upgrade over Michalek and could slide right in to the Pens system.
If Garrison comes aboard, and I hope he does, I could see the defensive pairings being as follows:
Engelland (7th D).
There’s no promise that Garrison would work with the Pens or that he will sign here (or that he’s even a target), but I like to think he could be a really great pick-up to solidify the blue line for the next 3-4 years.