After Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero traded Jordan Staal during the first round of the NHL Draft last month, he reportedly attempted to acquire the negotiating rights to Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators.
Having dealt defenseman Zbynek Michalek at the end of the first round to Phoenix, Suter would have been a long-term replacement on the blueline. A deal never materialized and when the free agent market opened on Sunday, Shero began his pursuit both Suter and Zach Parise.
On a conference call Wednesday with reporters, Shero said that it quickly became clear that Suter wasn't coming to Pittsburgh, having told teams he prefers to play in the Western Conference, so the focus shifted solely to Parise. Despite what Shero called "strong" offers to both, Parise and Suter chose the Minnesota Wild and separate 13-year, $98 million deals.
While Parise said his choice boiled down to the Wild and returning to the New Jersey Devils, the Penguins were aggressive in expressing their interest, but the feelings weren't reciprocated.
"You needed one of these players to come back and say, 'Pittsburgh's the place I want to play'... but it certainly never got to that point," said Shero.
After a first round performance against the Philadelphia Flyers where the Penguins allowed 30 goals in six games, the Pittsburgh defense could use an upgrade. Other than dealing Michalek at the draft, restricted free agent Matt Niskanen was re-signed earlier this week and Paul Martin, who's $5 million cap hit made him a whipping boy this season, has seen his name floated in trade rumors. It's only July 4 and with over two months until training camp, there's still plenty of time for change. But if nothing fruitful comes his way, Shero is still confident in his blueline despite missing out on Suter.
"You're not going to find a Ryan Suter out there," said Shero. "He's available as a free agent and a lot of teams were after him. We like our defense the way it is."
Parise was looked at as a long-term solution to finding a winger for Sidney Crosby. After acquiring James Neal in Feb. 2011, he jelled with Evgeni Malkin last season scoring 40 goals and was named an NHL First Team All-Star. With just over $10 million in cap space, Shero has the room to spend on upgrades at both ends if he wants.
"We'll go with what we have at this point," Shero said. "Same thing up front and we'll see exactly what might be available, whether it's trade-wise or we kind of know what the free agent market is."
What now is Shero's Plan B? Do the Penguins go after Alexander Semin, or Shane Doan, or Matt Carle, or another unrestricted free agent to fill their needs? There are plenty of in-house candidates, but better upgrades might be found on the free agent market or, given the number of high-quality prospects in the Pittsburgh system, the trade route.
"If there's a trade that would make sense for us... you never know what's going to come your way," said Shero.
"If you would have asked me Tuesday before the draft if we'd be trading Jordan Staal three days later, I'd probably say, 'no way', but it happened."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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