Before I get fully underway, I first want to apologize upfront for the title being slightly misleading. I want it to be clear, from this moment forward, that I am a big supporter of the “do whatever you have to in order to land Parise” line of thinking. Keep that in mind as I walk through this. The points are a little…scattered and can possibly be accompanied by someone making a farting noise. Just some thoughts I have on the matter. Take them for what you will.
Here we stand, on the eve of one of the great hockey holidays – free agency. Tomorrow at noon many players across the NHL will become unrestricted free agents and can gleefully sign with any team willing to grossly, grossly overpay for their “services.”
Of course, some teams have already started the holiday. Yes, I’m looking at you, Calgary Flames and Dennis Wideman.
The Penguins have their own free agents needing taken care of, but there is one name most associated with the Penguins and tomorrow’s potential frenzy: Zach Parise. I’ve written before about the Pens’ pursuit of Parise, and I feel that the Pens WILL sign him. The signing, however, comes with plenty of risks, but also plenty of rewards.
Many have said that the Pens should put all of their respective eggs into the basket of signing Ryan Suter. While I agree with those people insofar that Suter is a tremendous player, I don’t feel he is the “answer” the Pens are looking for. Granted, neither is Parise, but there isn’t one singular player that can “fix” the team. It is my belief that the Penguins, generally speaking, have the correct defensive personnel currently on the roster and within the system to achieve success. With Niskanen signing his two-year deal, the defensive depth is solid. Additionally, with the likes of Strait, Bortuzzo, and potentially Despres being ready for a major role with the team, there is no “need” spend ~7 million for one defender. Even less reason to do so when the team is so deeply stocked for the next decade with skilled, potential star defensemen.
That said, goal scoring was NOT the team’s weakness during this year’s playoffs. What ultimately lead to the Pens’ demise was a movement AWAY from defensive play. The 2012 Penguins went the route of the 2008 and 2009 Washington Capitals. All offense all the time. And, much like the Caps, the Pens went down in laughable fashion. The forwards stopped backchecking. The defense was constantly (and preoccupied with) moving north and pinching. The goaltending, while left hung out to dry regularly, was abysmal. It was a complete team failure on so many levels, and that doesn’t exclude the coaching and front office.
So, it brings us to Parise.
Zach Parise is a rarity in the modern NHL. He’s an elite talent (and current captain of a team) going into free agency during the prime of his career. Parise holds all the cards, too. It truly is a dream spot for a professional athlete (and his/her agent).
Reports have been circulating all day that the Pens are preparing to offer Parise a contract of 10-years at approximately $8M/per. An 80 million dollar contract to a guy who has never before played a game for the Penguins is a huge gamble. Is it a necessary gamble?
Well, that’s all a matter of perspective. The way I look at it, I think it is. The contract is a little longer and a touch richer than I feel the Pens can afford, but I also see it as the price that must be paid for ignoring offensive depth for the last half decade. It isn’t simply the issue that Shero doesn’t draft forwards. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a major factor, but the answer to that is “sign Parise for 10 million/per for 5 years.” Looking beyond the next few years leaves the cupboard completely and totally barren in terms of Forwards, especially those who can fill top-6 roles. I’m as excited as the next guy to see what Bennett, Kuhnhackl, Uher, and *gulp…again* Tangradi can do, but there isn’t a whole lot beyond those 4 who look to be maturing into NHL caliber players. The continued, borderline defiant drafting pattern of the Pens has put them in the position to need to sign high-priced free agent forwards OR orchestrate massive trades from the organizational depth at defense.
On paper, though, the Pens have nothing left in the pantry at forward beyond the next 2-3 years. The window is closing fast on Eric Tangradi. As of this writing, he has not signed a new deal with the Pens and could, potentially, walk tomorrow. This, too, can change with one or two offense-first drafts and/or some savvy trades. As I am not Ray Shero, I’m seeing things in a different light.
At the conclusion of the upcoming season the following roster players will enter UFA/RFA status:
For those playing at home, that’s 2/3 of the 3rd line, a top line player, the leader of the PK (and valuable 4th line player), and Jeffrey…don’t even know where to place him.
The following season, these players become UFA/RFA:
Within 2 seasons, only James Neal and Sidney Crosby are on guaranteed contracts from the current top-6. There are currently -two- forwards under contract beyond the 2013-2014 season (the above mentioned Neal and Crosby). This will change, but it is not a good position to be in.
Hopefully guys like Bennett, Kuhnhackl, and Uher will be able to fill some of those roles, but that’s a LOT of personnel to be losing over the next two years to only have 3 or 4 players in development. Defensively, it’s less of a concern because of the organizational depth…unless we need to trade some of those guys away simply to refill the roster at forward for the next 5 years.
It is a fixable position, certainly. It isn’t a good position, but absolutely can be fixed. And, for better or worse, I think it starts with signing Parise long-term. Guys like Kunitz and Dupuis have been absolute warriors for this team and still have a few seasons left in the tank, but they are getting up in age. They will come cheap(er) as they get older, which works to the Pens’ benefit, but there’s the inevitable trade-off of skill. Crosby and Malkin are entering the primes of their respective careers, too. Malkin has been given the gift of James Neal, also entering the prime of his career. The window of opportunity for this club, as I see it, stays open for another 4-7 years, depending on different variables. Assuming that Malkin is given the extension he has earned (possibly more than Sid, but that’s a different argument) and Parise is signed…that gives you 4 of your top-6 set for at least 5 more years. Not a bad position to be in.
Adding a player like Parise, even if he costs a little more or wants a few more years than the Pens are comfortable with, helps alleviate some of the burden of ignoring offense in the draft AND allows Shero the flexibility to promote and trade defense from within the system to fill the necessary holes.
And, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room…Parise is a phenomenal player who has been a team captain in New Jersey. We all love Sid, but the spectre of major injury looms large. There is concern that he’s one hit away from needing to retire (yes, the same can be said of any player, but not all players are Sidney Crosby). Should Sid find himself out with concussions, or any major injury, over the course of the next ten years, Parise could fill that hole along with Malkin and whatever other pieces have been added admirably. I know it’s something that not everyone wants to think about, but it’s something to consider.
For a variety of reasons, I feel it is imperative for the Pens to sign Parise. Failure to sign Parise, I fear, could be truly devastating. Rarely does a player of this quality come along during free agency. Not only would his signing somewhere else make THAT team infinitely better, it would, by contrast, weaken the Pens because of continuing to need to plug holes and/or play guys above their abilities. I love Tyler Kennedy, but do any of you really want him to get a new contract worth even more money and need to play a top-6 role out of sheer necessity?
Of course, the last time Shero offered a huge contract to a UFA forward, he signed with Detroit and the Pens were left with Ruslan Fedotenko and Miroslav Satan. Oh, and the Pens won the Stanley Cup.
Things will happen as they will happen tomorrow. I firmly believe that signing Parise is the right move, but there are other options if that doesn’t happen. Not signing Parise forces Shero’s hand to make trades from the deep defensive pool. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but it requires Shero to actually make the trade. Failure to act in a major way over the next 12 months will result in many more lost seasons for this team. Parise is one of many options right now, but also what I feel is the best option.