Big-name free agents on pickup list?

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The Penguins haven't said a thing about trying to sign potential free agents Ryan Suter or Zach Parise if, as expected, they go on the open market Sunday.

Good idea.

Unless, of course, general manager Ray Shero is eager to pass along some of that money he saved by trading Jordan Staal and Zbynek Michalek to the league office to settle a tampering charge.

There really isn't much need for the Penguins to spell out their intentions, anyway.

Shero's actions of the past few days, along with management's vision for the makeup of its 2012-13 roster, make it clear what the Penguins have in mind.

They would like a top-shelf defenseman to work alongside Kris Letang on the No. 1 pairing. A guy such as Ryan Suter.

They would like a goal-scoring winger who can take full advantage of Sidney Crosby's playmaking abilities. A guy such as Zach Parise.

It all ties together very nicely, with just one complication: There should be numerous teams, including the ones for which they still work, lining up to throw bags of money at both guys.

Teams that have as much, or more, salary-cap space to work with as Shero does. Teams that can offer professional settings -- player-friendly working conditions and a chance to consistently compete for championships -- that rival the one the Penguins have.

It can't hurt the Penguins' chances that Crosby and Parise are friends or that Suter has known Shero since Shero's days as assistant general manager in Nashville, but Crosby isn't Parise's only pal -- he probably has quite a few among his teammates in New Jersey -- and Suter has been separated from Shero for more than six years.

Suter figures to be the Penguins' primary target, because their team defense was mediocre in the regular season -- they gave up an average of 2.66 goals per game, tying for 15th place in the league -- and almost nonexistent during much of their first-round playoff series against Philadelphia.

Adding a guy such as Suter, who is solid at both ends, will hit and has spent his entire career in a defensively responsible system, would help to upgrade the Penguins' play in their own end.

Clearly, a lot of important pieces -- the Penguins' cap space, the personal connections, the nature of Suter's game -- that could bring him here fit together quite nicely.

Not all of them do, however, which is why Shero shouldn't be asking Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to cut a check to Suter just yet.

Suter reportedly prefers to stay in the Western Conference; the Penguins are in the East. What's more, Detroit has even more cap space available than the Penguins, and is looking to fill the enormous void on its blue line created by the retirement of future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.

If it becomes a matter of money, Detroit can offer as much as the Penguins. Probably more.

If not changing conferences really matters, well, the Red Wings are based in the West.

If it's about joining a perennial contender, Detroit has been one for longer than the Penguins.

None of that means the Penguins should resign themselves to not getting Suter. Simply that they shouldn't be stitching a nameplate onto a sweater for him just yet.

The same is true of Parise, who might attract even more interest than Suter.

Minnesota, Los Angeles and, yes, the Red Wings are high on the long list of clubs expected to try to lure Parise. The Penguins' sales pitch should be as good as that of any other team, but that doesn't mean it will be appreciably better than the others.

What has to concern the Penguins is that, after Suter and Parise, the free-agent pool is incredibly shallow.

If they don't get Suter or Parise, the niches those two would move into couldn't be adequately filled by any other unrestricted free agent. Forget Plan B; the Penguins would have to settle for something closer to Plan F.

In that case, their best option would be to explore trades.

They showed strong interest in Phoenix's Keith Yandle over the weekend, as did clubs such as the Red Wings and Philadelphia. All found the Coyotes' asking price, which is believed to include a quality forward, to be too steep, but Yandle could become a fallback position for teams that lose out on Suter.

Clubs spurned by Parise, meanwhile, could try to deal for Anaheim right winger Bobby Ryan, whose relationship with the Ducks might result in small-arms fire if it gets much worse. The cost would be high, though, as befits a consistent 30-goal scorer.

How aggressively Shero will explore trades before free agency begins isn't clear -- and might hinge on how confident he is about landing Suter or Parise -- but there are other issues to keep him occupied this week.

Ironing out the details of Crosby's next contract. Shopping one or more of his surplus defensemen. Deciding which unrestricted free agents to keep (Steve Sullivan probably is the best bet). Extending qualifying offers to the restricted free agents he wants to keep, which must be done by 5 p.m. today.

But what shapes up as perhaps Shero's most critical task -- luring Suter and/or Parise here -- won't start until Sunday. And it might be a lot more challenging than some people realize.


Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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