So there it is, the Staal boys united at last.
In the same week that Jordan Staal turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins - and got married - he also found a new hockey-playing home in Raleigh, Carolina for next year.
On a Friday night blockbuster that shook the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh, the hometown Penguins sent Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes in a deal that had been anticipated for months, or ever since the Penguins went crashing out of the playoffs in the opening round.
In exchange for Staal, Pittsburgh received centre Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin and the No. 8 selection in the 2012 entry draft, which they immediately used to select Portland Winterhawks defenceman Derrick Pouliot.
It was a deal involving two of the first families of hockey in Canada - the Sutters of Viking, Alta. and the Staals of Thunder Bay, Ont.
In a perfect world, the Penguins wanted to hold on to all three of their high-end centres - Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal. But the NHL world is wildly imperfect, governed both by a salary cap and by player ambition. At some point, at the intersection of those two factors, Penguins’ general manage Ray Shero knew he had to make a move.
If Staal had agreed to that contract extension, the Penguins were prepared to make the dollars work as best they could, even as Crosby is down to the final year of his contract (worth $8.7 million per year now) and Malkin, the league’s reigning MVP, two years away from unrestricted free agency.
But complicating matters was Staal’s desire to spread his wings, and see where his career could ultimately go.
Whenever Crosby or Malkin (or sometimes both) were out of the Penguins’ line-up, Staal played up the depth chart and showed enough of a scoring touch to suggest that he could do much more, if cast in a top-six roll. However, when they were both healthy, he dutifully played the part of good soldier and played down the depth chart - although to coach Dan Bylsma’s ever-lasting credit, he would roll Staal out 20 minutes per night, and put him in a variety of different roles.
Jordan Staal is a natural centre, as is his brother Eric, although at different times in his career, including his stay with Canada’s 2010 men’s Olympic team, Eric Staal has played the wing and been comfortable over there. Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller could pair them together, or maybe use them together on the power play and run them out as his No. 1 and 2 centres. Either way, it provides the Hurricanes with a strength down the middle that they haven’t had since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, where they had Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Culllen and Dough Weight.
The timing of the deal was interesting. Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford had notified Shero of his interest in acquiring the younger Staal soon after the Penguins season ended, but the conversations didn’t start again in earnest until Friday afternoon, after Staal rejected Pittsburgh’s contract overtures. In Sutter, the Penguins get a player more suited to playing the third-line centre’s role. He is just 23, the son of former Calgary Flames’ coach Brent Sutter, and scored 17 goals for Carolina last season, three of them shorthanded.
If Crosby stays healthy, then Pittsburgh still has nice depth down the middle. If he misses any significant amount of time, however, it is unlikely that Sutter can move up the depth chart the way Staal did and be as effective. But there is risk involved in all sport and Shero made the best possible move that he could have under the circumstances.
There were a couple of other interesting deals - the Anaheim Ducks shipping Lubomir Visnovsky to the New York Islanders, the Dallas Stars unloading Mike Ribiero to the Washington Capitals - but nothing to compare to the Staal deal.
Staal was the first player Shero drafted soon after he took over from Craig Patrick as the team’s rookie general manager. A number of his freshly minted peers wanted to relieve Shero of that pick at the time, but he ultimately resisted - and it is hard to imagine that the Penguins could have won the 2009 Stanley Cup without Staal’s work, especially in the final game, much of which Crosby watched from the bench because of an injury.
"The reality of the salary cap and having three centres this good, at some point, Jordan Staal, he’s 24 years old, he’s ready for a more expanded role," Shero told TSN. "It was time for him to go."