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After Failed Parise Effort, What’s Next for Penguins?

Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero had it all planned out. pittsburgh penguins

Twenty-three-year-old center Jordan Staal‘s contract was set to expire after the 2012-13 season and he didn’t seem intent on signing a long-term deal to remain in Pittsburgh.

One-third of the “Three Center Model”that helped win the city a Stanley Cup in 2009 was going to bolt the town in a year at best, but it was alright.

Shero had it all planned out.

A day after Staal rejected a 10-year, $60 million contract extension offer from the Penguins, Shero traded the Thunder Bay native to the Carolina Hurricanes. That was a few hours before dealing defenseman Zbynek Michalek back to the Phoenix Coyotes for some prospects  who will likely never make the NHL roster in what was a clear salary dump.

The moves combined to free up $8 million in cap space for the Penguins. Combine that with the $7 million or so difference between the current temporary cap ($70.2 million) and last season’s cap ($63 million), and the Penguins had about $15 million to spend on a free agent forward/defenseman combination after a first round playoff exit to end the 2011-12 season left both the front office and fans more than disappointed.

This summer, former 45-goal winger and New Jersey Devils captain Zach Parise remained without a contract, while Nashville Predators Ryan Suter found himself in the same situation.

With enough cash to do it, Shero and the Penguins went hard after both players.

After all, what kind of moron would turn down the chance to play alongside the two greatest hockey players in the world and create the NHL’s version of the Miami Heat?

Apparently, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are each that kind of moron.

After days of deliberation, both players turned down lucrative long-term deals from Pittsburgh to become irrelevant- er, sign – with the Minnesota Wild.

We fans can sit and talk about the monstrous opportunity each of those players has missed out on, but it’s over and done with. Time to move on.

Move on to what, exactly? Move on to Plans B through G to fill at least the void on Sidney Crosby‘s wing(s).

Plenty of names are being tossed around the rumor mill as potential fits in Pittsburgh, but I’ll highlight the six most likely candidates: free agents Alexander Semin and Shane Doan, as well as contracted players Bobby Ryan, Rich Nash, Jarome Iginla and Devin Setoguchi.

If I’m Ray Shero, my first target is Iginla. Even at age 35, Iginla can play. The Calgary Flames captain is one season removed from an 86-point season and is in the final year of a contract with a $7 million cap hit. Calgary isn’t near competing for a Stanley Cup – and won’t be if they keep signing Dennis Wideman-types to deals like this. The Penguins are loaded with top blue line prospects and could certainly afford to part with one of them to bring in a player of Iginla’s caliber…

Or Rick Nash. Nash’s contract carries a $7.8 million cap hit for the next six years, which is $300k more than Parise will makes. Sure it’s an overpayment for the 28-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets captain, but pairing him with Crosby rather than Derrick Brassard could surely mean a huge production boost. The two played on Team Canada’s top line -with none other than Iginla – when the Canadians took Gold in the 2010 Olympics.

Unfortunately, word around the internet says the San Jose Sharks offered up impact forwards Joe Pavelski, Ryan Clowe and a first-round draft pick for Nash, only to have the offer rejected. That’s more than the Penguins could throw at the Blue Jackets, though Columbus may be more interested in Pittsburgh’s defensive prospect depth than NHL-ready forwards.

Bobby Ryan has expressed interest in heading to Philadelphia – the hockey market closest to his native Cherry Hill, New Jersey – while the Wild may look to keep Setoguchi around with their plans to copmete in the short-term. Neither player can officially be ruled out of a trade to Pittsburgh, though.

Finally, there are free agents Semin and Doan. The Penguins reportedly offered Semin a four-year contract with an average value of $4.5 million.

At age 28, Semin would be 32 years old by the end of that deal. I am by no means an Alex Semin fan, though the potential move has grown on my a bit as I’ve reviewed the Russian’s numbers – he led the Capitals in takeaways last season. I wouldn’t mind a one- or -two-year “tryout” deal for Semin, expecially if the Pens could land another gritty, responsible winger for Crosby’s other side. Say…

Shane Doan. While I believe Doan’s offensive talents are vastly overrated, there’s no denying the rest of what he brings to the table in terms of leadership, grit and experience. A potential Crosby / Doan combination could be defensively sufficient enough to offset Semin’s liabilities.

Though still searching for another defenseman, the Penguins have the cap space and/or trade pieces to bring in another impact winger or two.

Now they need to do it. While Sidney Crosby alone is enough to turn any line into one of the best in the NHL, there’s no reason to let $10+ million in cap space go to waste when it can be spent upgrading the team.

I expect Shero and the front office to reel in one or two of these wingers along with a shutdown defenseman in the near future to cap off what will be considered one of the more disappointing offseasons in recent memory.