Without Parise, Pens turn focus elsewhere

| Wednesday, July 4, 2012, 12:28 p.m.

Plan B might have to wait.

The Penguins failed to land Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the prizes of free agency. Coupled with power-play specialist Steve Sullivan departing — he signed with Phoenix on Wednesday — a top-six vacancy at forward is clear.

A lackluster free agent market doesn't figure to make general manager Ray Shero's job easy.

“If we could (find center Sidney Crosby) a winger, that would be fantastic,” Shero said. “It would make my life a lot easier, (but) Sid does pretty well whoever he plays with. I'd love to get a winger for Sidney, but those guys don't fall off trees.”

The Minnesota Wild made the biggest splash of free agency, landing left wing Parise and defenseman Suter with matching 13-year, $98 million deals. The Penguins' offer to Parise was believed to be about $8 million per season.

The Penguins, who also had interest in Suter, were confident they could acquire Parise. Now they're left to ponder what's next.

Shunned by a top winger for the second consecutive offseason — Jaromir Jagr passed on joining the team a year ago — the Penguins' best bets in free agency could be Phoenix's Shane Doan and Washington's Alexander Semin. Anaheim sniper Bobby Ryan and Columbus captain Rick Nash could be available via trade.

Shero is ruling nothing out, nor is he tipping his hand.

“They're under contracts with those respective teams. There's not much I can say about them,” Shero said of Ryan and Nash.

“If there's a trade that makes sense ... you never know what's going to happen.”

The Penguins, who historically have spent to the salary cap, find themselves in an unfamiliar position with $10.5 million of wiggle room. Shero has permission to spend to the $70.2 million limit.

He has the financial flexibility and assets — young defensemen Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot figure to draw a hefty return if any of them are moved — to acquire a high-priced player in a trade.

“We'll go with what we have at this point,” Shero said. “We'll see what's available. ... If you can improve your team, you're going to do that. One thing that we have now that we haven't had in a while is cap space.”

The trades of Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek gave the Penguins that wiggle room. Center Brandon Sutter will replace Staal, but the Penguins haven't found a veteran replacement on the blue line for Michalek.

“You're not going to find Ryan Suter out there,” Shero said.

“We like our defense the way it is. If there's a chance to upgrade, certainly we're going to do that. But there are a lot of teams looking for defensemen. They're not easy to find.”

Shero did not rule out the possibility of giving a current forward — he mentioned Tyler Kennedy — a chance to replace Sullivan on the top two lines.

“We're going to have to wait and see,” he said. “If we don't fill that hole via free agency or a trade, then somebody's going to get an opportunity. We've always talked about TK having the ability to move up. Maybe it's his time to do that.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com.

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