Ramifications of the Zach Parise-Ryan Suter Signings

While six or eight scorned fan-bases (including Pittsburgh) want to bemoan the decision by both Parise and Suter to sign with Minnesota, NHL fans should be applauding the two; rather than just grafting themselves onto a Stanley Cup front-running roster such as Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Chicago, Parise and Suter have opted to forge their own legacy in Minnesota.

In retrospect, Minnesota was the obvious choice for both players. I believe NHL analysts everywhere underestimated the appeal of representing your home-state (or in this case, hometown) team. Parise is a Minneapolis native, and the idea of being paid to play hockey in your hometown must be thrilling. If I was an NHL free-agent, I would do everything in my power to get onto the Pittsburgh Penguins, money be damned; it should be easy for logical people to see why he went to Minnesota.

As for Suter, never underestimate the appeal of making your wife happy. Mrs. Suter is apparently a Bloomington, Minnesota native; while this on it’s own is probably not enough to dictate which team an NHL player wants to go to (unless you’re Chris Pronger), it certainly is a perk to not have your family one or more time-zones away from you for the duration of a nine-month NHL season. Beyond that, Minnesota represents the sort of market Suter appeared to be looking for (smallish, mid-west). Minnesota’s fan-base seems to be like a more-respectful and less-insane version of Toronto’s: everyone cares, but not so much that they’re Fatal Attraction-obsessed with their local professional team. Again, compared to a market like Detroit, Minneapolis makes all the sense in the world for a low-key guy like Suter.

(Note: Lauren Pronger is Hot Enough to have her own Wiki. No  marks against Chris Pronger for keeping his hot wife happy. If I was married to her, I would likely let her drag me out of a frozen hell like Edmonton to go play in sunny Anaheim, California, even if she wasn’t stunning.)

Additionally, I won’t have anyone bad-mouthing U.S. Olympians. Unless you’re reading this in Canada (and if you are, go away, the only Canadians I write for are the ones smart enough to live in the States), you should have a great affection for and vested interest in two key cogs like Zach and Ryan regardless of where they sign. If they want to infuse a team struggling for an identity with some American swagger, get off their case. I remind you:

Building something from the ground-up is the American Way. I think it’s commendable that these two opted to make the Wild their franchise rather than just assimilate onto Detroit or Philadelphia, or yes, Pittsburgh. Granted, Zach would have looked stellar in black-and-gold scoring 40 goals-a-year forever next to Sid, but over time their competitive-freak International rivalry would have made the two less-chummy.

Furthermore, the duo landing in Minnesota is what the NHL Salary Cap is intended to do: spread the wealth. Prior to the Lockout, the annual free-agency pillage consisted of veteran talents jumping to perennial Cup-favorites like Colorado and Detroit, with teams representing deep-pocketed franchises such as Dallas,Manhattan and Philadelphia over-paying for the Flavor of the Week. I remind you both Bobby Holik, Keith Tkachuk, and my boy Billy Guerin each made $9 million in salary in the early 2000s, which in part forced the Lockout and necessitated a Salary Cap.

Parise and Suter, two of the NHL’s upper-end talents, joining a mid-market team like Minnesota based on mostly non-monetary factors is what the Salary Cap system intended to accomplish. While it might be sour grapes in Nashville and New Jersey right now, it’s hard to begrudge either player for choosing human considerations like family, lifestyle, and personal comfort over the impressiveness of a particular team’s depth chart.

There is plenty to read on the internet about how Parise and Suter will fit into Minnesota, or rather how the Wild will be built around Parise and Suter. This article will examine the fallout for the teams that were trying to hitch their respective wagons to Parise and/or Suter, and what their moves will be from here.

In alphabetical order…

Chicago Blackhawks

The late-to-the-party Blackhawks apparently tried to bring Zach Parise into the fold, presumably to play with Jonathon Toews. While Parise would be an excellent addition to any team, he would not have really cured what ails the Blackhawks.

The team’s current flaws are A) lack of legitimate second-line center, B) depth on defense, and C) questionable goaltending. The addition of Parise would have addressed none of those needs, unless the team planned to sign Parise and then deal Patrick Kane (terrible idea).

The holes on the roster seem to indicate that the team will be looking to upgrade via trade. The Chicago Tribune and other detractors like to attribute all of the team’s shortcomings to Patrick Kane’s immaturity, but this remains a team just two summers removed from a Stanley Cup championship. While it’s obvious that they will be life-and-death in the West until they add an elite goalie or solidify the Center and Defense positions, their inability to reel in Parise or Suter is not apocalyptic. Expect them to aggressively enter the trade market, offering Kane and/or prospects in order to fill one of the deficiencies listed above.

Detroit Red Wings

The optimism has to be fading in Detroit, as the loss of both Nick Lidstrom and Brad Stuart on defense really thins out the group. This team could have really benefited from the addition of Ryan Suter, to say nothing of the joint-addition of Zach Parise.

As of now, Detroit looks to be going younger, with prospects Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith expected to play full-time on defense. The group still needs a body or two as protection against injuries, so expect a veteran signing or two as July wanes on. A veteran such as Brett Clark may have appeal to Wings’ GM Ken Holland. Rest assured, his player personnel evaluators are among the best in the League, and Detroit will find competent fits for the 2012-13 season. It should come as a shock to no one if they are leading the Atlantic Division next February, despite their seemingly-thin roster.

The team has plenty of NHL bodies at forward, but adding an elite player like Zach Parise would have taken much of the offensive pressure off of Hank Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Again, woe be those ready to write-off the Red Wings; Parise or no, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are both capable of 85-95 point seasons, and the supporting cast (especially Johan Franzen) certainly over-produce relative to their skill-sets. The Winngs, even with no further personnel upgrades, are steeled to endure the loss of Lidstrom (and the inability to replace him with Suter) because of the culture of winning set from Ownership on down.

The Wings will squeeze every drop of potential out of everyone on the roster, and will once again be a Western Conference playoff team. The additions of Parise and/or Suter would have simply made this task less-daunting.

Nashville Predators

The worst part about Suter moving on for Nashville is that this is very certain to entice Shea Weber to greener pastures. Like Suter, money isn’t the main consideration for Weber, because whoever employs him is going to back a vault up to his house and do whatever gymnastics are necessary to keep him content and productive. Weber seems motivated by playoff success, which seems less likely now that Suter is out of the fold.

Smashville has been drafting and producing NHL Defensemen at a University-like pace for some time now, and they will mitigate the on-ice loss of Suter with Jonathon Blum or Ryan Ellis. But from a perception standpoint, General Manager David Poile knows that the loss of Suter was a red flag to other prospective free-agents (including Shea Weber). Nashville has long-fought the perception of being a “feeder team” for the Big Dogs of the League, and the loss of Suter exacerbates this problem.

Nashville will plug holes will internal promotions and shrewd signings, and claw for a playoff spot like they always do. However, the loss of Suter, a drafted-and-developed player that Poile was ready to compensate handsomely, is as much an emotional and psychological blow as it is an on-ice subtraction.The real repercussions of the Suter loss will come later, if Shea Weber forces the team to deal him by the 2013 Trade Deadline (not wanting to lose him for nothing as they did Suter).

New Jersey Devils

Devils fans are not in a good way right now, but they need to remember that this is an organization run by the Machiavellian Ruler of All He Surveys, Lou Lamoriello.

Lou will do anything to keep his team competitive; he is an innovator, and a ruthless one at that. The current free-agent market is thread-bare, so Devils’ fans may expect a major trade for a forward, as Lou has no qualms about sacrificing the future for the present.

The NHL Internet Rumor Mafia has Bobby Ryan already on a flight to Philadelphia, but under the same logic, why not New Jersey? He would look good on the same line as Kovy and Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique, and could easily be expected to make up the goals lost in Parise’s defection. Rich Nash is another option, though his no-movement clause may make things tricky.

Even if Lou can’t land an elite-level forward, the Devils will again be surprisingly-competitive, even if it takes Smoke-and-Mirrors. It’s the Devils’ way. New Jersey, better than many other franchises, can withstand the loss of a Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermeyer, or Zach Parise and be expected to see little on-ice drop-off.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers entered the Parise-Suter Sweepstakes because they love to lavish money on big-ticket free-agents, often at their own detriment. The contracts Philadelphia was rumored to have offered Parise and Suter, each of course approaching the $100 million-dollar mark, would have meant the AHL burial or small-market exile of someone like Danny Briere. But much like bringing a slingshot to a gunfight is the Devils’ way, signing players to absurd deals and then ruthlessly disappearing them is a Flyers’ tradition (along with incompetent playoff goaltending and perpetual disappointment).

The Flyers’shouldhave just offered the money they were giving to Suter to Matt Carle, who signed for six years/$33 Million ($5.5 Million Annual Cap Hit) with Tampa Bay. Chasing Suter, who had no intention of coming to the Eastern Conference, was folly.

As it it, the Flyers’ defense corps is now in shambles. Assuming Chris Pronger is unavailable to play, the team is looking at Kimmo Timmonen, some out-of-place top-four candidates, and a bunch of third-pairing types (Marc-Andre Bourdon, Nik Grossmann, Bruno Gervais, Andres Lilja, etc.) There have to be concerns about puck-moving if Brayden Coburn, Andrej Meszaros, and Luke Schenn are going to round-out the top-four.

Schenn likely needs a confidence boost after his regression in Toronto, and while the Flyers’ environment will foster that (especially being on the same team as his brother), default placement in the top-four is probably not ideal. Coburn and Meszaros can certainly log big minutes, but it remains to be seen if the unit is stout enough to mask goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s inconsistent play in net.

The Flyers will once again be an offensive juggernaut, perhaps an improved one given the maturation of forwards like Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and Wayne Simmonds. The inability to sign Suter does not cripple the Flyers, but his addition would have made the team the preseason Cup favorite.

Pittsburgh Penguins

You may not have heard, but I am a bit of a Penguins’ homer. I wrote several articles scheming ways to get Zach Parise into a Penguins’ sweater, and it comes as a mild disappointment that it won’t be happening.

As with Philadelphia, the addition of Parise and/or Suter would have made an imposing team even more formidable. After it became known that Ryan Suter wished to remain in the Western Conference, the Penguins focused all of their efforts on signing Zach Parise. While he would have been a great get for the team, it’s hard not to look at the roster as currently constructed and realize the team continues to have an Embarrassment of Riches.

The most-glaring hole on the team right now is on Sid Crosby’s left wing, which Parise would have nicely filled. I strongly suspect Ray Shero is working on a trade scenario in which the team acquires a top-line scoring threat to pair with Crosby, allowing him to leave the Geno Malkin-Chris Kunitz-James Neal line intact. I’ve read mixed reports, but my suspicion is that the team is at least kicking the tires on both Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan.

On defense, the team could really use a #2 Defenseman to allow them to shift everyone else down one spot on the depth chart. The team has a wealth of defense prospects that they would like to integrate into the lineup, but most of them would probably be better served in a part-time role or with another year of seasoning at the AHL level. I suspect Penguins’ GM Ray Shero is also on the lookout for a trade in which team whipping-boy Paul Martin is sent out of town in return for another veteran defenseman who better suits the team’s frenetic style of play.

Worst case scenario, no further improvements are made to the team, and Shero rolls the dice up-front with a healthy Sid Crosby and the reigning Hart Trophy winner, Geno Malkin. They are certainly worse alternatives. On defense, the team will likely take on a younger look, as I anticipate them moving out Martin to a team struggling to meet the Salary Cap floor or in a trade for a scoring winger. Simon Depres was pressed into service during the playoff series against Philadelphia, and by no means looked out of place. Older defensemen Brian Strait and Robert Bortuzzo are also lower-ceiling (but safe) options for smoothing out the kinks in the Pittsburgh blue-line.

Conclusions

No one outside of Minnesota wants to hear this, but Parise and Suter made the right call. Minnesota deserves to have an exciting team, and the decision by Parise and Suter to sign in Minny further validates the effectiveness of Gary Bettman’s plan for NHL parity. Any team, even a floundering non-playoff squad, can add big-money free-agents if the circumstances are right. Ideally, the lack of free-agent depth beyond Parise and Suter will force desperate General Managers into being much more aggressive on the trade front, leading to a more-entertaining off-season.

BK

JF

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2 Responses to Ramifications of the Zach Parise-Ryan Suter Signings

  1. Mike F says:

    I stopped reading the second you took a dump all over Canada. People like you don’t make it easy being an American.

    • True, people like me do not make it easy to be an American, what with the free, exquisitely-written entertainment I provide. Thankfully, there ARE things that make it easy to be an American, such as public transportation, pizza delivery, a plethora of food and entertainment options on every corner, free internet porn, the enduring glory of the Red, White, and Blue, strip clubs where touching is not only allowed but encouraged, smart phones, cars that basically drive themselves, giant superstores that sell both MP3 Players and Twizzlers, electricity, running water, etc. We Americans have our share of problems for sure, but I could go on all day about how great America is.

      Mike F. is obviously not a regular reader, as I make fun of all sorts of things in addition to Canada. These include: the French, the Germans (especially Nazis), Women, the Philadelphia Flyers, former Penguins’ GM Craig Patrick, the cost of gasoline in the U.S., emo kids, teenagers in general, the festering sores of the Wilmington Ice House, the Kardashian sisters, reality TV in general, Mike F., Mike F’s parents, and Mike F.’s ancestors. I pretty much hate everyone but Dara Torres and Sid and Mario (both of whom incidentally hail from Canada), but in fairness to myself, I’m pretty transparent and unbiased in my contempt.

      I would hope that intelligent readers would realize I speak in jest when I taunt Canada. I thought the use of South Park and Team America: World Police clips (plus a nice assist from the Hulk Hogan theme song) really drove that point home, but some people reading this are extremely obtuse and likely live in Ontario. Tell you what I will do: when Canadians-at-large stop condescending American hockey players and stop making insane arguments like “The Penguins should have traded Evgeni Malkin to keep Jordan Staal because Russians have no heart”, I will give Canada a break. Good luck corralling Don Cherry.

      Cheers!
      Jack

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