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Pens sign Niskanen as Parise lottery set to open

| Saturday, June 30, 2012, 1:10 p.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise waits for action to resume during his 500th career NHL hockey game, in the second period against the New York Islanders on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Newark, N.J. AP
The Penguins' Matt Niskanen on April 2011 at Consol Energy Center. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

The Penguins have attempted to secure a star, long-term winger for center Sidney Crosby for years without success. Sunday presents arguably their greatest opportunity.

New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise becomes a free agent at noon, and the Penguins are prepared to heavily court him.

Many of the Penguins have spoken among themselves about the possibility of Parise, 27, joining the team.

“It's hard to ignore all the talk about it,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who signed a two-year, $4.6 million contract with the Penguins on Saturday. “We've all heard about it. It's going to be an interesting day.”

The Penguins financially are positioned to offer Parise a wealthier deal than the one they presented to right wing Marian Hossa in 2008, as they are $12.2 million under next season's salary cap. Hossa turned down a seven-year, $50 million deal to accept a one-year, $7.45 million offer from the Detroit Red Wings.

The Penguins have historically served up mega-extensions to their stars — including Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin — but they have never landed a free agent in this price range. The most lucrative contracts the Penguins have given a free agent belonged to defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Paul Martin, both of whom inked five-year, $25 million deals.

Should the Penguins land Parise, his asking price will dwarf those. But it won't exceed Crosby's $8.7 million average annual salary. A team source said the only player who could receive a wealthier deal than Crosby's is center Evgeni Malkin, whose deal expires in 2014.

Still, the Penguins are expected to make Parise a competitive offer, thanks in part to Crosby not requesting a raise and the fact the salary cap jumped to $70.2 million from $64.3 million. Other teams interested in Parise, a former 40-goal scorer, are the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and the Devils.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero could not be reached for comment.

It is believed that Minnesota — Parise's home state — is positioned to make a more lucrative offer than the Penguins. However, the Penguins believe in their sales pitch: Parise and Crosby are close friends, dating to their playing days at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota, and would play on the same line.

Niskanen's new contract will not affect the Penguins' offer to Parise.

Note: The Penguins have decided to let unrestricted free agents Arron Asham, Steve Sullivan and Richard Park test the market, though they haven't closed the door on their possible returns.

Staff writer Rob Rossi contributed. Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1975.

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