Friday, June 29, 2012

How much is too much for Parise? And is Suter a better choice?

By Artistry and Finesse

How much is Zach Parise worth?  Whatever some team will pay him.  That's the way the free agency game works, but it doesn't mean the Penguins have to play.  It's worth asking - as observers casually toss about numbers in the $8 million a year range for a guy coming off a 69-point campaign - where should the Penguins draw the line on an offer? Where should a guy with Parise's pedigree fit in a salary landscape that will continue to evolve - unpredictably - through the fall?

The salary cap sits now at $70.2 million, but that's temporary. It could go up or down pending negotiations on a new CBA.  Right now, the Penguins are roughly $15 million under the cap.  Does it make sense to devote more than half of that to Zach Parise?  Or is Suter the better target? Thought, after the jump...

If the first part of your answer to this question is, "Why are we focusing on Zach Parise," you show great wisdom and should read The Finesse Addendum below because that series where the Penguins gave up 30 goals to the Flyers?  It really happened.  If you think a another marquee forward is the priority for this team, you probably also think Simon Despres and Joe Morrow are ready to step in and play like top-pairing defensemen.  It's not, and they're not.  But let's assume for the moment that Ryan Suter is not in play - because of his asking price, his desire to stay in the west, whatever - and try to assess the Parise situation. Take a look at this list of the top cap hits among forwards, via

What do you think of when you look at this list?  Mostly, that it's hard to see.  Then you probably think many things about this list, including: 1) With a few notable exceptions, this is a list of real difference-makers; 2) please don't trade for Rick Nash; 3) Glen Sather signed Scott Gomez, and then Montreal TRADED FOR HIM; 4) there are guys you could call bargains here (Toews and Datsyuk) and guys you would call Scott Gomez; and 5) it wouldn't offend your sensibilities to see Zach Parise on it.

If he'll agree to a deal that will get his cap hit into the $7.5 million range, it's a move the Penguins have to make.  The new cap allows room for a third player making this kind of money, whereas even a year ago no contender could reasonably afford more than two mega-money guys.  They should pay a premium for blue chip UFA forwards, because here is where we don't want the Penguins to be: in a position where they're left with the option of paying a premium for complementary players.  We're looking at you Dennis Wideman and PA Parenteau.  Some unlikely GM is about to lay a $4-5 million a year bet on Parenteau.  Jay Feaster just set Wideman up to be Paul Martin, part deux in Calgary.

Ruining everything for everyone
In short, with Parise, the Penguins are likely to get what they pay for, because Parise is actually good and they are not going to overpay.  But if the Minnesota Wild want to offer a front-loaded, 10 year, $100 million deal and Parise wants to take it, good luck to him.  Because if he wants to be here, he shouldn't expect to be on the top-5 in that list.

*The Finesse addendum* -- Why we need Suter instead

Let's throw out the Suter is not available premise and say that he might be.  Dejan Kovacevic is pressing the notion that the decision between Parise and Suter, assuming the Pens could have only one, is easy -- he says it's Parise all the way.

Here's what Kovacevic says:
Choosing between Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? Assuming that option actually presents itself to the Penguins, it shouldn't be close. It's Parise in every imaginable way, not least of which is commitment to the captain who just passed up about $5 million a year to stick around. The system is deep on D, and the opportunity Suter would get might be better for Simon Despres.

I actually agree with DK -- it is easy.  It's Suter all the way.

I love Parise's game and think he's a great player.  I would love to see him in a Pens uniform and think Sid has a legit shot at the 120 point mark next season if he's healthy and plays with Parise.  But unlike DK's argument, this is not about rewarding Crosby with a winger in exchange for leaving money on the table.  It should be about rewarding Crosby with the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

DK's point is that the Pens are loaded with young, talented defensemen.  That may be true, but never has a window been open for the Penguins like it will be next season, when the vast majority of those talented young defensemen are simply not ready to contribute at an NHL level.  Morrow, Pouliot, Dumoulin, Maatta, Harrington, Samuelsson -- nice prospects, but still prospects.  Credit Shero for stockpiling guys who are well-regarded prospects, but what are any of them going to be doing to help the Pens win the Stanley Cup next year, or even the year after?  Or, actually, ever?  Prospects are prospects for reason -- they haven't done anything yet.

The Pens led the NHL in goals last season, and they did it mostly without Crosby and entirely without Zach Parise.  Goal scoring is not a problem -- the Pens scored 26 goals in 6 games in the first round but skated off the ice absolutely embarrassed.   That's because the Pens gave up 30 goals in the first round -- the same amount the LA Kings gave up in the entire playoffs.

Parise may have to get used to this
Thankfully Ray Shero probably doesn't think like this, because if he did it would be terrifying.  Of course, as DK argued, giving Suter's opportunity to Despres would be better .. FOR SIMON DESPRES.  But it's not better for the Penguins.  Despres has played a total of 18 regular season games and 3 playoff games.  We like the guy, but he's not scaring anyone.

Shero can stockpile the puckmoviest of puckmoving defensemen until the end of time.  But at some point in the immediate future, those assets, or the cap space created by having a bunch of guys on entry-level contracts, need to translate into a Stanley Cup caliber defense on the ice.

Consider: Here are the 10 teams that scored the most goals in the regular season last year:

1. Pittsburgh -- out in 1st round
2. Boston -- out in 1st round
3. Philadelphia -- gave up 26 goals in 1st round, lost in 2nd round
4. Ottawa -- out in 1st round
5. Vancouver -- out in 1st round
6. Chicago -- out in 1st round
7. Detroit -- out in 1st round
8. Nashville -- beat Detroit, lost in 2nd round
9. Tampa -- didn't make playoffs
10. Toronto -- didn't make playoffs

Still think we need to load up on offense?

I'm not suggesting that Shero and Bylsma over-react to the 2012 playoffs and go all Dale Hunter and turn the Pens into a team that can't score 2 goals.  But I am suggesting that given the trend toward defense, and the fact that the status quo from last year is unacceptable, the Pens should absolutely not double down on the offensive front if there's a chance to upgrade the defense with a rock like Suter who can play 30 minutes a night and actually prevent the other team from scoring.

Plays 30 minutes a night; recently stopped stopping people from scoring.
As it stands today, the Pens defense is even worse than it was last year because Michalek is gone.  This is what the D would look like today:


I hate to break it to you, but that's a really soft defense.  And, for all of Paul Martin's flaws, the defense gets even worse if we dump the Prime Minister to clear even more room for Parise, as Kovacevic suggested.  Then we'd have:


That's not just a really bad defense, it's borderline criminal.  But if you add Suter and keep Martin (or sign a different veteran to replace him), all of a sudden you go from a criminally negligent defense to an absolutely stellar top-6 of Suter, Letang, Orpik, Martin, Niskanen, Despres and you still have the two best offensive players in the league and a 40-goal winger (not to mention Dupuis, Kunitz and Sutter).  

Offense?  Covered.
The biggest problem in the Flyers series (other than Flower) was that the Pens were easy to play against.  Claude Giroux did whatever he wanted in the offensive zone whenever he wanted to do it.  And no one could do anything about it.  Joe Morrow and Simon Despres could grow into being great players, but ask yourself if you're confident having them on the ice against the Giroux line in 2013.  Or if you hate thinking about Giroux, ask yourself whether you'd be nervous if Deryk Engelland and Ben Lovejoy played for the Flyers and were stuck on the ice against the Malkin-Neal line.  Didn't think so.

By stockpiling all these young defensemen, Shero has done three great things: added talented players to the organization, accumulated valuable assets for trades, and opened up cap space to go get free agents.  He's left himself with enough cap space that he could sign Parise and a veteran defenseman not named Suter, and maybe that's a reasonable alternative.  But to suggest as Kovacevic does that "the Penguins are blessed with young defensemen. There's no need there" is completely detached from the reality of the Pens' embarrassing exit from the playoffs and the Kings run to the Cup.  

Thankfully, Ray Shero probably knows that.

"I know that."


  1. I think the truth is likely somewhere in between Finesse and DK.

    I think we need to add a defenseman outside of Despres (who should still get a chance to play with Nisky, ideally with both on a good third pairing). One of the most interesting articles I've read in a while is this:

    What the stats in the article suggest is:
    1) Brooks and ZM were just plain old not good enough for a shut-down pair. Neither could keep up with the competition.

    2) The flack PM is taking is more than excessive. Even if he was inconsistent at times, Shero made the right decision to dump Z instead. (And Brooks better pick it up.) PM and Tanger played fine together - playoffs not withstanding (since the entire team top to bottom was terrible). This is what my eyes told me and the stats confirm.

    DK is one of those PM haters that sees dumping him as addition by subtraction - which is stupid and makes me question his actual hockey knowledge (Sorry, between the stupid Sid "C" article, the even dumber Staal "disrespecting" the Pens article, and the unprofessional PM bashing I've heard from him on the radio, I can't understand why people take him seriously.)

    Given those two premises, I would be totally fine with Finesse's pairings that included: Suter, Tanger, Martin, Orpik, Nisky, and fill in the blank for the last 2. Suter and Tanger would have to be the shut-down pair.

    But I have serious concerns even with that:
    1) Sid has NO wing. They better give him back Kunie if they invest in Suter instead. And lets also bear in mind that our offense without Staal is not as good either. I also doubt that Neal will repeat a 40-goal campaign and would bank on closer to 30.

    2) Suter has already said he won't decide where he signs for days. I'm pretty sure that Shero has learned his lesson about getting screwed over by over-hyped FAs. Nobody is worth it, including a guy who will inevitably be overpaid. Suter's very, very good, but he ain't Nick Lidstrom.

    3) The deal would have to be huge - in length as well as salary. I still don't agree that the window is open now more than ever. Why? This is about long and short term planning. The youngins can't be waiting on the sidelines while Ryan Suter plays out a 10-year deal. I don't want him longer than 5 years. And I doubt he'd be okay with that.

    We need defense - but we aren't THAT desperate. The playoff series - bad as it was - was an anomaly born of a slumping goaltender, flawed systems, the incomprehensible collapse of what had been a stellar PK (12 GA! 12!),and a team in which no one felt comfortable in their role once Sid came back.

    Also, the horrific defense was partly on the defensemen and partly on forwards more interested in scoring goals than doing their job (cough, cough, Jordan Staal).

    I'm far less convinced than everyone else that one very good but not great defenseman is the answer. And while I would welcome his presence, I definitely don't think it's worth waiting around a week while Suter does the diva FA thing. If this is Parise's plan as well - screw him too. (If he is willing to sign quickly for a manageable price, then, dear god, you do it, regardless of your defense!)

    I would be fine with a lesser top-4 defenseman and/or top-6 winger. Patience might be a virtue in this FA market. Even if assets have to go the other way, Pens may actually be better off trying to swing a trade later. They're fine as they are for the regular season.

  2. I will laugh my ass off if Parise signs with the Pens. Jersey, NY, hell, New England will explode. But, the biggest bend-over moment for Jersey, the I walked in on my wife banging the neighbor in my bed, will be when Marty leaves.