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By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor - Archive - Email
Busy free agent market short on excitement
Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter's decisions still loom largest this offseason.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If you tuned into TSN's coverage of "Free Agent Frenzy" on Sunday afternoon expecting to see your team add a major piece, chances are you were left disappointed.

Since the annual free agent market opened on July 1, it's not like NHL teams have been quiet. Dozens of players have signed with new teams, others have inked extensions with their old clubs, and the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres even pulled off a trade of some note.

Yet, despite that flurry of action, the free agent season really won't feel like it's begun until the biggest prizes -- Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter -- decide where it is they want to go.

As NHL fans, we've been spoiled in recent years because in the post-lockout era the biggest free agents usually have signed on July 1 or shortly after. Simply put, when the marquee talent goes on the first day of free agency, it makes it more exciting for the fans. However, as the top names wade further into the free agent waters, the most exciting part of the offseason can't help but suffer.

It also seems the NHL's free agency period has become more about landing the absolute biggest name than picking up several assets that could help get your team lift the Stanley Cup next spring.

There is no question Parise is the top forward available or that Suter is the best defenseman on the market, but that has a great deal to do with their age, as both are 27 years old and presumably entering the primes of their careers. That means Parise and Suter offer the best return on a long-term investment, but who's to say a player of lesser stature won't make the difference in a championship run next year?

After all, the Stanley Cup playoffs are full of unlikely heroes and many of them are acquired in under the radar offseason moves. Who knows, maybe Ottawa's signing of Guillaume Latendresse, a talented but oft-injured winger, to a one- year, $1.25 million contract will have a bigger impact on next spring's playoffs than either Parise or Suter.

Of course, Parise and Suter's decisions still loom largest this offseason. The kind of contract those guys land will set the market for other free agents like forwards Alexander Semin and Shane Doan or defensemen Matt Carle and Carlo Colaiacovo.

Judging by the money being thrown at guys like Ray Whitney and Olli Jokinen, who each earned two-year, $9 million contracts from Dallas and the Winnipeg Jets, respectively, teams are not shy about spending this summer.

With the salary cap moving up to $70.2 million for next season, there are several teams that may have to overpay for free agents in order to get above the cap floor of $54.2 million before the 2012-13 campaign. It seems that is having a bigger impact on the way teams are spending than the impending fight over the league's collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire on Sept. 15.

That could explain why the Stars and Jets, who are currently under that floor, seemed to pay above market price for Whitney and Jokinen.

The same could be said for the Colorado Avalanche, who agreed to a shocking four-year, $16 million deal with P.A. Parenteau. Sure, Parenteau was coming off a career-best 67-point season with the New York Islanders in 2011-12, but his previous contract was a one-year, $1.25 million extension with the Isles. It's safe to say few people outside of Parenteau and his agent saw that kind of raise in his near future.

Deals like the one Parenteau signed obviously is a good sign that Parise and Suter are in for enormous paydays whenever they make a decision. Parise said through his Twitter account on Monday evening that he has not imposed a timetable for making his decision. There also are rumors that Parise and Suter, who have been teammates for Team USA at various tournaments throughout their careers, may be trying to coordinate so they land on the same team. A package deal of that magnitude would seem only to delay the process.

Even though the 2012 offseason does not seem like a deep year for free agency, it certainly offers more than two valuable assets, but that's not the impression one would get by glancing at the headlines.

Come to think of it, maybe it's better that Parise and Suter take their time making their decisions. Otherwise, who else would we have to talk about?