Ray Shero can wonder what might have been.
And there likely will be times when he does.
Times when Shero, the Penguins' general manager, will think about what it would have been like to have Zach Parise skating alongside Sidney Crosby for the next 13 winters.
Or what it would have been like to have a top defense pairing of Ryan Suter and Kris Letang anchoring the blue line for a decade or so.
No one ever will know, however, because Parise and Suter -- easily the headliners of the NHL's free agent class of 2012 -- agreed Wednesday to matching 13-year, $98-million contracts with Minnesota.
"It's a good day for Minnesota Wild hockey," Shero said on a conference call.
Not a particularly good one for the Penguins, though, because they lost out on a couple of players who could have solidified their place atop the early list of contenders for the 2013 Stanley Cup.
It wasn't an especially disappointing one for Shero and his staff, however, if only because their hopes of landing either, let alone both, had been ratcheted down before Wednesday.
Shero said he had doubted for several days whether he had a realistic shot at signing Suter, and that he grew pessimistic about the chances of getting Parise Tuesday night.
Fact is, he said, even though the Penguins submitted formal proposals to both, there was none of the give-and-take or interaction that generally leads to a settlement.
"We never got close to anything like that, in terms of any sort of verbal agreement," he said. "Or any negotiation."
Being rejected by Parise and Suter isn't necessarily as significant a setback as it might seem at first blush -- losing a quality player, as New Jersey and Nashville did when Parise and Suter moved to the Wild, is far more difficult than simply losing out on one -- but the Penguins have the same two significant holes in their lineup they did before free agency began Sunday.
Despite a bounty of defensemen who can play at this level -- they have no fewer that eight who will require waivers in 2012-13 -- the Penguins have only one cut out for duty on a No. 1 pairing. And the interminable search for a winger with superior offensive talents to complement Crosby's goes on.
Steve Sullivan, who finished last season on Crosby's left side, accepted a $1.85 million offer from Phoenix Wednesday, one day after the Penguins had decided they would not try to re-sign him.
"We just made the internal decision that [Sullivan] should probably take one of those offers [he'd gotten from another club]," Shero said.
He added that waiting for Parise and Suter to decide where they wanted to play did not cost the Penguins the opportunity to sign any other free agents they were pursuing.
"We didn't miss out on anybody," Shero said.
The free-agency pool has been effectively drained by the removal of Parise and Suter, so if the Penguins are to plug those holes before next season, it likely will have to be done with trades.
Trouble is, locating an exceptional defenseman whose team is willing to part with him is almost impossible, which might explain why Shero gave a mild endorsement to the group he already has.
"We like our defense the way it is and, if there's a chance to upgrade, certainly we're going to do that," he said. "But there is a number of teams looking for defensman now, and they're difficult to find.
"We'll go with what we have at this point. Same thing up front."
There are some quality wingers available on the trade market, although the Penguins would be hard-pressed to meet the asking price for either, even if they would decide to pursue one of them aggressively.
Columbus left winger Rick Nash, a premier power forward, is coming off a soap-opera season that included a request to be traded. Blue Jackets management is trying to accommodate him -- the Columbus Dispatch reported that the Penguins are on a list of teams to which Nash would approve a trade -- but Columbus is hoping to add goal-scoring forwards, and the Penguins have none to spare.
Anaheim, meanwhile, would like to get a second-line center as part of any package for Bobby Ryan. The Penguins have a pretty fair one of those -- whether it's Crosby or Evgeni Malkin who carries that label depends on who you ask -- but they aren't planning to part with either anytime soon.
Still, situations can evolve, and deals that seemed unthinkable can come together with a single phone call.
"We'll continue to do our homework here and see if we can upgrade our team at some point," Shero said. "We'll see what the summer brings us."