By Sean Hartnett
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The Pittsburgh Penguins stole the show at the 2012 NHL Draft by making two trades that shed significant cap space, preparing them for a big moves once free agency opens on July 1.
It appears that the Penguins have their eyes focused on star left winger Zach Parise, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 should he not complete a deal with the New Jersey Devils prior to that date.
Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero dealt star center Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes where he’ll join his older brother Eric Staal. Jordan Staal previously rejected a 10-year, $60 million dollar contract from the Penguins.
In return, Pittsburgh received Brandon Sutter, who can fill Jordan Staal’s role as a third-line shutdown center, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Penguins used the pick to select 18-year-old Canadian defenseman Derrick Pouliot of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
Shortly after the opening round of the draft concluded, the Penguins sent Zbynek Michalek and his $4 million dollar salary to the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman prospect Harrison Ruoop, minor league goalie Marc Cheverie and the 81st overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Once the dust settled, the Penguins’ cap space increased to over $14.6M committed to their 2012-13 payroll.
This puts them in prime position to sign Parise and pair him with Sidney Crosby. Both played at famed hockey program Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota. Although they didn’t play there during the same years, Crosby and Parise have a long-standing friendship and mutual respect.
They competed on opposite sides at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the Gold Medal Game where Parise’s last-gasp tying goal for the Americans took the game into overtime, but Crosby went on to score the game-winner that earned the Canadians the gold medal.
Parise could soon be joining forces with Crosby and 2012 Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin in the near future. Perhaps Shero is attempting to copy the blueprint that won the Miami Heat their latest NBA title.
Should Shero add Parise to his already offensively-dominant roster, he might also make a run at top free agent defenseman Ryan Suter.
Shero will have to clear up additional cap space to land both Parise and Suter, while still having enough room to fill out his roster. He’s been dangling defenseman Paul Martin on the trade block but Martin’s $5 million dollar salary will be difficult to move.
Previously, many hockey minds including myself believed Parise and Suter were destined to join the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings have nearly a $10 million dollar advantage compared to the Penguins in cap space, but also have more needs to fill. Their defense has been weakened by the retirement of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart joining the San Jose Sharks.
All of these factors are playing into Shero’s hands as he appears to be on the verge of assembling a super-team.
Is Parise a lock to sign with Pittsburgh? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.