Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal has never scored more than 50 points in a NHL season. And yet speculation that he could hit the trade block this week has several teams showing great interest.
Staal could some day become a 40-goal scoring center like his brother Eric Staal. Jordan assumed a bigger offensive role this season during Sidney Crosby’s long-term absence, scoring 25 goals in 62 games.
He has the size and skill set to become a strong No. 1 center. He is a terrific two-way center and a great penalty killer.
Teams lacking such a cornerstone player – such as Toronto – figure to explore this option. Carolina has a top center in the elder Staal, but the Hurricanes are looking to add firepower and might favor a family reunion.
(Let’s not forget that the Hurricanes acquired minor league winger Jared Staal from the Phoenix Coyotes earlier this year. This could turn into quite the get-together. )
Here are the reasons the Penguins may entertain offers for Staal:
- Crosby and Evgeni Malkin form the NHL’s top 1-2 punch at center. That relegates Staal to the No. 3 center role or time on the wing – where his considerable defensive skills are wasted. The Penguins have $17.4 million in cap dollars committed to those top two centers next season.
- Like Crosby, Staal is a year removed from unrestricted free agency. Sid the Kid is not going anywhere. Other teams would line up to pay Staal No. 1 center dollars, so Pittsburgh would have to dig really deep to keep him.
- With power forward James Neal eating up $5 million per year in cap space until 2018 with his new deal, there is little chance the Penguins could fit Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Staal under the salary cap for the long haul.
- Pittsburgh’s quick playoff exit signaled the need to reshape the roster. The addition of goaltender Tomas Vokoun (for two years and $4 million) was a big step in that direction. Vokoun offers substantial protection in goal after Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff flop. The team could use an impact defenseman and some better depth up front.
Jordan Staal can dictate what, if anything, happens this summer. Any team acquiring him will want to lock him into a long-term contract extension.
If that can’t be arranged ahead of time, why would a team offer Pittsburgh a premium package for a player with one year left on his deal?
The Staal camp knows the UFA bidding could get crazy. Jordan won’t commit to a new deal unless the money, market and playing opportunity suited him.
That leads us back to speculation about Toronto (where he could become The Show in a hockey-crazed market) and Carolina.
If Pittsburgh can't engineer a Staal trade this summer, then the team could be forced to deal his UFA rights for a modest draft pick next summer. The Penguins may accept that scenario if they believe Jordan gives them the best shot to win it all next season.
But after their postseason failure, isn't major change in order?