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|
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.