The NHL free agent feeding frenzy begins tomorrow, July 1, at noon. A week of “discussions” between teams and agents will culminate in financial security for some players, surprise offers and buzzing fax machines. The free agent crop is thin, which creates an opportunity for the Penguins to make a bold move to fill their hole on defense–make a big offer to the St. Louis Blues Restricted Free Agent with Norris Trophy potential, Colton Parayko.
First, let’s dispel a dogmatic fan myth: GM’s don’t tender RFA’s because other GM’s will be mad and it will ruin relationships around the league. Like so many myths, that is at best spin, at worst flatly wrong. It is provably false. Did fellow GM’s shun Oilers GM Kevin Lowe when he snatched power forward Dustin Penner from Anaheim in 2007? Nope. You can read some vintage Puck Daddy here–Lowe had a pretty good 2008.
Did fellow GM’s shun Flyers boss Paul Holmgren when he slipped a 14-year contract in front of Shea Weber, in 2012? Or Sharks GM Doug Wilson when he offered Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2010? The answer to both is a resounding, NO.
So, let’s dispense with that argument.
Penguins True Need
The Penguins don’t simply need a defenseman. They need insurance against Kris Letang, who could return to the team sometime between October and December. A top tier defenseman who keeps getting better would allow the Penguins to breath easy…and win easier, too.
The Penguins were just the second team in this century to win a Stanley Cup without a bonafide top defenseman. The Penguins gutted through the Stanley Cup playoffs because their top two players carried them.
At times, the Cup run didn’t look good. The defense was under assault and survived more than thrived. Letang is easily one of the best defensemen in the league (and perhaps the most underrated, disrespected great player in the game), but his dynamic game leaves him susceptible to serious injury. Justin Schultz has become a valuable defenseman, but he’s not in the class of Parayko. None of the Penguins defenseman, except Letang, are in Parayko’s class.
Parayko–Emerging Norris Candidate
The Penguins could and should offer Parayko term and coin.
Eight years, $56 million. Five years, $35 million. If it takes a few more dollars, so be it. The prize is well worth it.
EDITOR UPDATE 11:53am: We have learned the CBA stipulates the contract AAV would not be calculated by years, but value divided by 5, which would put a $56 million dollar deal AAV at $11.2 million and yield four first round draft choices. The original story recommended an eight year, $56 million dollar deal. We apologize for the error.
The 6-foot-6, 24-year-old Alberta native moves well, moves the puck well, knows how and when to pinch, has a hard point shot and is able to shut down his own zone. The Blues rearguard racked up 35 points last season, which is impressive considering the Blues offensive struggles.
For those not familiar with the defenseman, think Victor Hedman. Last summer, Hedman signed an 8-year, $63 million dollar contract with an $7.8 million AAV.
On the high side for young defenders with huge upside is Aaron Ekblad, who earns $7.5 million per season. At only 24-years-old, Parayko may not want a full eight year term, which takes him to 32. There is some thought his camp would like a smaller deal, so the player may fully maximize his career earnings in a couple years.
Word out of St. Louis is a new contract for Parayko could cost the Blues up to $6.5 million dollars. The Penguins have nearly $20 million of salary cap space. If the Penguins up the ante and ink Parayko to $7 million over eight years, they could afford it, but the Blues, with just $10 million and a handful of spaces to fill, would be hamstrung. Would the Blues match it?
RFA Offer Sheet Compensation
|Over $1,962,986 to $3,925,975||2nd Round Pick|
|Over $3,925,975 to $5,888,960||First-round and third-round pick|
|Over $5,888,960 to $7,851,948||First-round, second-round and third-round pick|
|Over $7,851,948 to $9,814,935||Two first-round picks, second-round pick, third-round pick|
|Over $9,814,935||Four first-round picks|
If the Blues don’t match the offer, the Penguins would forfeit a first, second, and third round choice. It sounds steep, but those will likely be picks 25+, 56+, and 88+. Would you trade that for Hedman? PK Subban?
Heck yes. Parayko will soon be in that class. St. Louis knows it, too.
The Hockey News did a solid review of the situation and Parayko’s fit under the Arch, here.
Further, the Penguins have become the darling of the NCAA community. College free agents are looking to the Penguins. Player development which has produced Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel has college free agents and hoping to get a call from the Pens. Fewer picks would open the field for those players, just as the Penguins loss would be mitigated by the ability to add them.
The Penguins may have to replace Olli Maatta with a less expensive option, but that doesn’t seem so scary with top pairings anchored by Letang and Parayko.
With a pair of great defensemen, the Penguins would be able to ice a blue line crew who are even better than the Chicago Blackhawks Cup teams, which featured Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. In fact, it would be shot suppression heaven.
Matt Murray probably wouldn’t mind. It’s hard to lose when the other team can’t score.
So, the Penguins have a chance to think outside the box. They could solidify their blue line, with or without Kris Letang, for the better part of the next decade and upgrade while their Cup window is wide open. It would cost a few draft picks.
Fortune favors the bold. It is about time a General Manager broke the unwritten rule and bettered his team. The prize would be worth it, now and next June.