PITTSBURGH -- What a night for the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Not only were they the host team for the 2012 NHL draft, but they were also the busiest team on the floor by making two major trades and two selections within the first 22 picks.
Just hours after sending Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Penguins followed that up by sending defenseman Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for defenseman Harrison Ruopp, goalie Marc Cheverie and a third-round pick in this year's draft.
Michalek signed with the Penguins as a free agent two years ago and had been viewed as a disappointment, including this past season. Prior to joining the Penguins he spent a number of years with the Coyotes, playing what was perhaps the best hockey of his career.
The two deals cleared about $6 million in cap space for the Penguins this upcoming season and gives them around $16 million in space below the projected $70 million figure.
That would allow them to be major players for just about any of the top free agents on the market.
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There were already rumors starting to swirl around the Consol Energy Center that the Penguins tried to swing a deal for the free agent rights to Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter and may have an interest if he hits the free agent market.
It's also possible they could be players in the Zach Parise sweepstakes if they're looking to add another top forward.
Suter and Parise are, by far, the two best free agents available this summer.
Either way, the Penguins did quite a bit of work on their franchise on Friday. They continued to stockpile defenseman by adding four of them (the two added as a result of the Staal trade, Ruopp, and the No. 22 overall pick, Olli Matta), they found a replacement for Staal as their third-line center (Brandon Sutter) and opened up a ton of cap space for a potential big score on the free agent market. Or perhaps a trade.
The Penguins are coming off a disappointing first-round playoff exit this past season and will definitely be coming back with a different team in 2012 thanks to their moves on Friday night.