As you all know by now, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have signed identical 13 year contracts to play for the Minnesota Wild. The two prize free agents of this year’s class have made their decision, and it was a somewhat surprising one. This move obviously makes the Wild the early winners of this year’s free agent sweepstakes, and off-season roster changes in general. However, what happens to the other teams that were clearly in on Parise and/or Suter? What about their old clubs? What do these clubs need to do to improve their rosters for next season? *Editor’s note, these teams are placed in alphabetical order*
Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks were rumored to be after Suter to upgrade the defensive core and after Parise up-front. With Suter, and now Matt Carle (signed in Tampa Bay), off the market, where do they turn next? There are some definite trade options, however I do not think Chicago’s defence is that bad. In Keith, Seabrook, Leddy, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya they have a decent group. Perhaps they could use another depth player as an upgrade, but it shouldn’t be a huge concern despite the push for Suter.
Meanwhile up-front the Hawks still feature Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa (who will hopefully be ready to start the season), Stallberg, and Bolland. This is not a bad group and still contains much of the firepower that helped the team win the 2010 Stanley Cup. The Hawks could use an upgrade at the 2nd line centre position but this will need to come via a trade, as there is little left in free agency. When Kyle Wellwood is the best centre available, you know there is just no true top-six guy there.
From my perspective, the Hawks biggest need is a goalie, as Crawford and Emery faltered down the stretch last year. I believe they need to go looking for a legitimate number 1 and should make some trade offers for guys like Roberto Luongo, and Jonathan Bernier who may be available.
Detroit Red Wings: The Wings off-season has been a tumultuous one. The team lost its captain, its most recognizable face, and its heart and soul in the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. They also have over $16 million in cap space. With such a sizeable hole on their blueline, and the cap space to make the deal, it was widely assumed that the Red Wings would sign Suter. While the team was rumored to also be bidding on Parise, it is obvious that the team’s big need is on the blue line. With Matt Carle off the market, a new top pairing defenceman is quite simply no longer available in free agency. I believe that the Red Wings should now explore trade options for players who are rumored to be available like Keith Yandle from Phoenix, or Jay Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames. There may even be others whose have not been speculated yet in trade rumors. The hole on the blueline is sizable and it is doubtful that the Wings can fill it internally, so the trade route must be explored.
Nashville Predators: The Predators have lost their number-two blue liner in Suter. This has seemingly come as a shock to David Poile who obviously believed that Suter would re-sign with the club. The attention must now turn to Shea Weber, a restricted free agent, and a player who is arguably even more important to the Predators. Poile can not allow this situation to repeat itself. He must work on signing Weber to a long-term extension this summer and cannot allow him to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. What happens next will be up to Weber.
If Weber signs an extension, then the Predators should use the cash and cap space they had earmarked for Suter on improving their offence. They should go hard after a player like Shane Doan in Free Agency, or a Bobby Ryan via trade in an attempt to score more goals. While Suter does leave a sizeable hole on the blueline, the Predators have been drafting and developing defencemen for years. In players like Roman Josi, Kevin Klein, Jonathan Blum, and Ryan Ellis they should have a number of pieces that will help them to mitigate the loss of Suter in many ways.
If Weber does not sign an extension, he must be immediately put on the trade market. The Predators should extract a king’s ransom for their number one defenceman and begin the process of rebuilding the blueline. While they might be able to mitigate the loss of Suter with their internal replacements, the loss of both stars would be too much. They would need to explore what is available on the trade market in terms of number one defencemen.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils are obviously smarting after the loss of their captain and emotional leader. However, it has never been Lou Lamoriello’s style to attempt to replace one star by signing another. The Devils did not go out in an attempt to sign the next big star after losing players like Scott Stevens, Bobby Holik, Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer, or Scott Gomez. The Devils have instead looked to replace the player internally, or through solid cheaper acquisitions. I believe that this loss will be no different. If anything I see the Devils potentially rolling the dice on a player like Wojtek Wolski, Peter Mueller, or Andrei Kostitsyn rather than going after a higher profile name.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers were another team said to be in on both players. The Flyers had plenty of offence this past season, and their only big losses up front at this point are 40-year old Jaromir Jagr, and the oft-injured James Van Riemsdyk. With Claude Giroux who is quickly becoming one of the best centres in the NHL, and young players like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, and Jacob Voracek continuing to develop I believe the Flyers will still have a formidable offence next season. This past season the defence suffered greatly from the loss of Chris Pronger, and has now lost Matt Carle in free agency. While the addition of Luke Schenn helps fill some gaps, it is not near enough for a team whose defence was exposed in the playoffs by both the Penguins and the Devils. The only reason the Flyers even beat the Penguins was that they quite simply outscored them in a series where defending was near non-existent. For this reason I believe that the Flyers should be exploring the same trade options as the Detroit Red Wings.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins cleared a ton of cap space at the NHL Draft in an attempt to go after these two players. They were rumored to be heavily involved in the Parise sweepstakes, and even had Sidney Crosby call Parise to try to convince the winger to come to Pittsburgh. With Cap space to spare and defensive prospects a plenty, I think the Penguins still need to find an effective winger to play with Sid. They should make a hard pitch for unrestricted free agents Shane Doan and possibly Alex Semin. If that doesn’t work the Penguins should look at Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan in the NHL trade Market. On the defence, a short-term stop-gap until the prospects are ready may be a better option than going for a big name.
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