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 Capgeek.com:
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|
*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|
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.|
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).
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."|