Penguins not done making moves yet
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, June 24, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Armed with salary cap space — and a captain they believe can serve as hockey's finest pitchman — the Penguins aim to go nuclear when NHL free agency opens July 1.
Their plan is to pursue the two top players on the market, Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey winger Zach Parise, sources told the Tribune-Review this weekend at the NHL Entry Draft.
Team sources said Crosby soon will sign a new contract in the range of 10 to 13 years with an average annual salary of between $9 million and $10 million and will try to recruit Parise, his longtime friend, and Suter.
The Penguins' pitch will focus on the standard set by Crosby with his current deal, which is set to expire after the upcoming season. Crosby took less than market value — for him, the league maximum (20 percent of the salary cap) — to provide the Penguins room to build a championship nucleus.
That worked once, with the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. They will try to make it work again by using Crosby's willingness not to max out on salary as a benchmark for future contracts.
In the wake of the Jordan Staal trade Friday, the Penguins have identified their nucleus as Crosby, reigning league MVP and scoring champ Evgeni Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, winger James Neal and defenseman Kris Letang.
Fleury, 27, is the oldest of those players. Neal and Crosby, both 24, are the youngest.
Any deals by the Penguins to add Suter, 27, and Parise, 28, would be made with the idea of keeping Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Neal and Letang through at least the expiration of Fleury's contract in three years.
The Penguins won't consider signing a player to a salary higher than Crosby's, and they will not front-load deals to lure free agents.
The Penguins are aggressively shopping defenseman Paul Martin. His contract, which has three years and $15 million remaining, must be shed to make a serious run for Suter and Parise.
Trades of Staal (to Carolina) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (to Phoenix) on Day 1 of the draft opened $6 million in annual salary-cap space for the Penguins. They are nearly $15 million under the projected $70 million upper limit for next season, pending terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Though defense is the organizational strength at the prospect level, including four defensemen selected in the first two rounds of the most recent drafts, the Penguins crave a top-pairing partner for Letang.
Suter is the target, though there are contingencies to add a defenseman this offseason — most likely via trade — if the Penguins fail. They are open to including defensive prospect Simon Despres in a potential deal to land a top-shelf defenseman.
General manager Ray Shero is the former top assistant to his Nashville counterpart, David Poile. They spoke often on the draft floor during the two-day draft, which wrapped Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins believe Suter is intent on testing the open market. They also are confident there is no short list of teams for which he is willing to play.
A conditional trade could be worked out this week with Nashville if Poile concludes that Suter will not re-sign with the Predators on or after July 1. The Penguins would move a low-round pick for Suter's rights, and that pick would become a likely first-rounder if the Penguins are able to reach terms with Suter.
One of the pitches made to Suter is that he would deal with less media scrutiny playing for the Penguins because of the high profiles of stars such as Crosby and Malkin, who has told management he is willing to accept additional off-ice responsibility next season.
The Penguins do not believe New Jersey would deal Parise's rights to a division rival, but they are banking on a couple of selling points when he hits the market.
Fresh off a run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Devils, for whom he served as captain, Parise prefers to play for a title contender, the Penguins believe. The Penguins are favored to win the Cup by Las Vegas bookmakers.
Also, Parise and Crosby are good friends and share ties to a Minnesota prep school, Shattuck-St. Mary's. Crosby is already in the ear of Parise about the possibility of playing together.
Though confident they can land Parise in free agency, the Penguins believe he will receive a heavily front-loaded offer from at least one club, most likely the Minnesota Wild.
Parise is a native of Minneapolis.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5635.
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