Friday, June 22, 2012

Pens trade Jordan Staal to Carolina for Brandon Sutter; GTOG Reacts

By Finesse

The Pens traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and the #8 pick (used to draft defenseman Derrick Pouliout).  Sutter will be the Staal replacement on the third line.  Dumoulin is a 20 year old defensive prospect, and Pouliout is reportedly a Letangesque prospect.  The Pens opened up about $2 million in cap space by dropping Staal's salary ($4 million) for Sutter's ($2 million through 2013-14).

Rumors on TV are that the Pens are gearing up to make a big run at a big time free agent....maybe even Zach Parise.  Dear God.

It's going to take a lot of reflection to really process this trade, but here are the initial thoughts...

I can't help but have really good memories of Jordan Staal.  He scored some of the biggest goals in Pens playoff history, never complained about his role, always did exactly what was asked of him, and just generally was a huge beast.  There were times when he was maddeningly unproductive, but if you look at any of the Pens' biggest wins in the past 6 years, Staal was prominently involved.

At the same time, the longer this saga dragged on, the more ridiculous the romancing of Jordan Staal became.  He's not a "superstar" in this league -- he never has been, and it's impossible to say for certain that he will be.  His career high in points?  50.  He did that this year in only 62 games, but before you get all "that's a 66 point pace over 82 games!" on me, pause and think about 3 things:

1) That's a 66 point pace over 82 games.  It's not even a point-per-game pace and it's not even that close.  If 66 points is sounding familiar to you, that's because it's how many points Crosby had in 2010 before his concussion.  In 41 games.

2) Staal played a lot of those 62 games as the Pens #2 center, the exact role he will be playing (maybe) in Carolina behind his brother Eric.  He got power play time, he got to play with second-line quality wingers ... and he produced 50 points.  That's not bad, but it's not great.

3) Jordan Staal is going to be 24 when the season starts and he's been in the league for 6 years.  There are two ways to look at that -- one is that he's young, and maybe his best years are in front of him.  The other is to say that you forfeit the "potential" label, or at least can't rely on it so much, after you've been in the league for 6 years and played around 20 minutes every night.  There's an argument to be made that if you're actually point-per-game guy and you play 20 minutes a night, you'll produce at that pace, regardless of whether you're the first, second, or third line center.  And the history of the NHL is full of guys who peak statistically in their early 20s.

None of this is meant to suggest that Staal isn't an extremely unique and valuable player, or that he doesn't have room to continue to grow.  It's to reinforce the point that we just don't know.  So when Staal turned down a extremely generous 10-year, $60 million dollar contract (reportedly), it became a hostage situation and the Pens weren't holding the gun.  Staal had to go.  Once you start paying over $6 million to a guy who averaged 0.8 points per game in his best offensive season, you've become Glen Sather.

So while the Pens are not going to have a better 3rd line center than Staal next season, a lot of teams win the Stanley Cup with 3rd line centers that aren't as good as Staal.  Jordan Staal has a unique game, but in terms of the value he brings to the Penguins -- scoring from the third-line, great penalty killing, general toughness -- those are eminently replaceable traits.  We can get that from someone else.  Hopefully, it's Brandon Sutter.

Sutter pedigree > Staal pedigree
As for the rest of the return, we're not going to pretend like we know.  It all depends on how Dumoulin and Pouliot turn out.  "Experts" are going to talk about their potential, but the truth is that we just won't know for at least a couple years.  And that's the really scary part of this trade.  Until we know what those guys become, the truth is that we just gave up Jordan Staal for a third line center and some cap space.

Again, I completely understand Staal's desire to not spend the prime of his career behind to sure-fire first ballot hall-of-famers.  But it's a little curious that he's so intent on going to Carolina to play not with his brother, but behind his brother.  I always figured that if Staal was intent on leaving Pittsburgh, it was because he wanted to embrace the challenge of trying to be THE guy.  By going to Carolina, he's stepping out of two shadows, but into a bigger one.  And he's also going to have to worry about another center, Jeff Skinner, who scored more points in his rookie season (63) than Staal has ever scored in a single season.  With the opportunity to play with Eric and his family moving to NC, it's an understandable decision.  But a curious one.

We'll have a lot more reaction as we continue to process this trade and whatever other moves the Pens make.  We will look back fondly on Staal's time as part of the Pens' "core."  But in the salary-cap NHL, you can't have The Situation's abs.  You're not going to have an 8-pack, a 6-pack, or even a 4-pack.  Sometimes, you have to be happy settling for just 2.  And that's ok with us.


  1. Love the Sather line.

    Though you raise some good points, I'm sad about this. Hard not to see it coming six years ago when the Penguins first iced the 87-71-11 combo. How could any team be so lucky to have such young talent through the middle? And long term, how could anyone make it work under the cap? Even if you had the money, how could you give that much talent enough ice time to satisfy?

    Well, you can't. But man, I wanted it to go on for 15 years. Three solid centres, a relentless Penguins attack, a truckload of Stanley Cups, and some rainbows & unicorns thrown in for good measure.

    I was hoping to watch these three blossom as huge talents and play as a core until they were ready to retire their numbers into the rafters in Pittsburgh. But I always had a sense this would be temporary, which is why I made a point of travelling from my Toronto home to Pittsburgh to see them play in early '07, and then to Manhattan later that same year. I wanted to see them young. As a Penguins fan, I felt blessed to have the Mario era, and didn't think I could enjoy another era nearly that much until these big three were put together. AND PLEASE LORD, DON'T EVER TEAR THEM APART.

    Oh well.

    So now, something has given. We won't see the young three grow old as teammates. And hey, we got six years out of it. Four of them were actually pretty good, until the injuries started to pile up, and the playoff exits became maddening and baffling.

    When the Penguins bowed out gracelessly a few months ago, I was grinding my teeth in frustration. I didn't know why a team with this talent lost their minds and lost their way, but they did. Changes had to be made, and given the way Jordie was talking after the final game, it seemed that we now knew which of the big three was going to be the one to exit. So, now 11 is out, and it seems that a retool of an era I never wanted to end becomes possible and necessary and even exciting.

    We won't know for a few years who wins this, and it is quite possible Jordie will slay as the #1 centre in Carolina with his bro on the wing. But let's recognize that Shero was dealt a crap hand with Jordie not only sounding like he was already packing his bags after the Flyers debacle, but also after a highly-publicized contract refusal. One year to go before he was off to Carolina anyway, and the Penguins pick up a Sutter and a couple of promising defenders. Not bad, Shero. Especially in an era when blockbuster hockey deals usually mean trading a 7th-rounder for a chance to talk a player who is a week away from unrestricted free agency and already knows where he wants to go -- somewhere else.

    And let's give Staal his due. His rookie year was actually kind of jaw-dropping. He broke records for rookie shorthanded goals, became the youngest to record a hat trick, the youngest to score on a penalty shot, and he was constantly surprising the opposition in both ends of the ice. He was a steady presence in a lot of situations over the years, probably turned the momentum in the '09 final, and just had a knack for stepping up when someone had to.

    He didn't get the chance to be all he could be in Pittsburgh, and I don't blame him for wanting out. Chances are, he would have always been in the shadow until his best years were done.

    May he do well against every team except the Penguins.

    I'll miss you Jordie -- I really will.

    But it's time for the Penguins to determine what the core really is, lock it in, and actually get back to winning when it matters.

    -Backup goalie taken care of.

    -Staal mess sorted out.

    -Expensive defenceman sent home.

    We certainly can't accuse Shero of sitting on his hands after his team bowed out and watched inferior teams do much better.

    But really, enough stumbling. Retool, and go get another Stanley Cup.

  2. What a night. My thoughts:
    1) We didn't trade J. Staal for a third line center and some cap room. We traded an asset that was going to walk in a year for a guy that looks like an ideal 3rd line center - and cap room for a winger for Sid. I think the same thing I thought when news broke yesterday on the deal: it had to be done. And we got a pretty good return, all things considered.

    2)Let's hope our PK holds together.

    3)Rutherford already said that Eric will likely move to Jordan's left wing. And he'll get PP time. He did just walk into a first line center gig - regardless of who's "the man".

    1. I think Shero may have gotten as much in return as possible, given the situation. My point is that we can't really judge yet. We have to see what he does with the cap space, and whether the prospects are any good. I'm more confident that Shero will do something smart with the extra cash than the prospects will pan out.

  3. CouchPenguin you almost made me cry. Staal's roars will be missed.

    Great analysis, Finesse. Shero offered Staal more than he would get on the open market (although with the ever-increasing salary cap, 6 mil in 2013 is way less than 6 mil in 2009). Thursday's news about the offer and the rejection told me two things: that Shero is willing to spend ridiculous sums not specifically on Staal but on the 3 center model, and that Staal wants out. I don't think he could get a deal like that from Carolina or from any other (sane) team, but this was about more than money. The way I see it, like Alex Goligoski, Staal wanted to elevate his role and realized he would never be able to do that in Pittsburgh.

    I'm not salivating over the saved cap space as others are. Now that Staal is gone, Shero still needs to resign Sid this summer, and Geno and Letange next summer. While it's hard to imagine Sid and Geno getting raises of more than $2 million a year, Letang will not sign another contract for $3.5m. True, these contracts won't kick in for two years, but the big time free agents are looking for long-term deals so you would have to take that into account.

    Man, the NHL can be so much fun even without any hockey being played...

  4. Please realize that Jordan is only (about to be) 24 and played on the Pens 3rd line. Your assesment of him is just so far off. I compare you gals to the Kings fans. They expect sweeps in every round otherwise they're dissappointed. Staal will be a HUGE asset to the Canes and such a bigger fish in the NHL due to this move.

    God only hopes 87 remains healthy.

    1. Great spelling of "disappointed" by Anonymous.

    2. Well while it may be true that Jordan will be huge with the Canes, I can't help but look at it from the Pens side of things. Shero made little attempt to make any gains when trading him and I am sure that had nothing to do with Ron Francis and his familiarity with this organization. I hope I am wrong but I can see this coming back to bite the Pens and dispite having the best players in the league at center on the top two lines, they will go down in the standings and not go far if they make the playoffs. I feel that strongly about losing the contribution of Jordan and his line.