By Chaz Bolte
As the fans cheered GM Ray Shero’s announcement of the first blockbuster trade of the NHL season during the annual entry draft, 23-year-old checking line center Jordan Staal was getting married. It was the start of a new chapter in both his personal and professional life for Staal, a pivotal player in the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup run, who was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes where he joins his older brother and team captain Eric. In exchange for the former number Six overall pick the Penguins received two-way center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin, and the 8th overall selection in the draft which was used to select elite junior defenseman Derrick Pouliot.The trade came just days after Jordan Staal allegedly rejected a 10 year contract extension from the Pens. He was set to become a free agent at the end of next season. Rumors have swirled around the league since they entered it that the Staal brothers all wanted to play for one team at some point in their careers. The Hurricanes now have 3 of the 4 Staal’s (Jared, Jordan and Eric), however it is highly unlikely the Rangers will trade defenseman Mark Staal, a key component to their playoff run.
Also traded yesterday was Penguin defenseman Zbynek Michalek, who rejoined his former team the Pheonix Coyotes. In return the Pens received young defenseman Harrison Ruop (a Third round pick last year), minor league goalie Marc Cheverie, and the Coyotes third round pick in this years draft (81st overall). While Michalek was popular in Pittsburgh, his departure is a sign of more trades to come for Ray Shero, who looks to rebuild the dynasty that went astray over the past two seasons. With a surplus of young defensive talent the Penguins could afford to trade away veterans for prospects, a move that will open up cap space for the Pens to get a top six winger to play along side of team captain Sidney Crosby. According to CapGeek.com, the Penguins now have $15 million under the cap to work with.
While rumors of Devils superstar Zach and Brandon Sutter’s brother, highly coveted Nashville defenseman Ryan
Sutter, on the way to the burgh are tempting to touch on, the real story is that this move or more specifically the move that can happen because of it, puts the Penguins back onto the short list of perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
While Staal will be missed and is likely to blossom into a star in Carolina now that he can escape the shadow of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, he was just one part of this team and Sutter is a more than serviceable replacement. The problem with having three elite centers is that you only need two and when there are glaring needs on a team, an elite third line center is simply a luxury. Ray Shero traded Jordan Staal at his highest possible value and down the road this is likely to be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of the Penguins second dynasty.
This trade in many ways reminds me of a trade the Pirates made in 1987 when they traded popular catcher Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for three prospects. An unpopular trade at first, just 3 years later those three players (Andy Van Slyke, Mike Lavalliere and Mike Dunne) were a core part of the Pirates early 90’s success. To get someone good in a trade you have to give up someone good and the Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford admitted it was hard for him to give up Sutter, a promising and durable prospect who is part of one of Hockey’s most famous families. he told ESPN.com:
“No question, I really think a lot of Brandon as a person, and I think he’s one of the best two-way centers in the league,” Rutherford said. “That was a very tough part of this deal, to give him up, but when you’re looking at acquiring an elite player, you usually end up giving something that you don’t want to give.
“We gave three good pieces to Pittsburgh in order to get Jordan, but it’s hard to find a Jordan Staal in the National Hockey League.”
This is true, but it’s much harder to find a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, and the writing has been on the wall since they were all drafted that one of them wasn’t going to be around forever. With Malkin’s emergence as one of the premier offensive weapons in the sport of hockey and Crosby’s ability to dominate the game like no one since Mario Lemieux, the versatile Staal was the third wheel and the cost that would be endured to keep him in the black and gold would have had a chilling effect on the upcoming decade of Pittsburgh hockey.
With the first two trades of what is likely to be a busy offseason for Ray Shero, the Penguins restocked the defensive cupboard and ensured that Marc Andre-Fleury will have plenty of talent in front of him for the second half of his career. They also
created more enticing scenario’s in their quest for finding the scoring winger to compliment Crosby that they have had only once (Hossa) throughout his career. With Simon Despres knocking on the door and Robert Burtuzzo not far behind the Pens can now trade Paul Martin or Brooks Orpik, who at this time last year were considered keystones of the franchise. Martin has fallen out of favor after a poor showing in 2011-2012 and Orpik is on the decline. Injuries and age are rapidly catching up with the fan favorite and although a defensive titan, he is not the Hal Gill type needed to compete in the league now that referre’s are swallowing the whistle on interference and hooking.
The future is bright for the Penguins who have made early exits from the playoffs after two straight Stanley cup Finals appearances. The fans who sat through the Rico Fata Generation neXt era in the early 2000’s were promised a dynasty and one Stanley Cup does not a dynasty make. For the fans who are upset by this trade my only advice is to actually look at it, think about it, and get over your crippling fear of change. In other words if you think this was a bad trade go root for the Steelers, the Penguins are one of the elite franchises in the NHL and have a superior front office to others, such as the Hurricanes, who greatly overpaid to get Staal one year early. This trade, much like the ones that are about to come should serve as proof to the Pens loyal that this team is still heading in the right direction after two disappointing and injury filled years.