When it is “Stanley Cup or bust,” bowing out in the first round will bring consequences.
After winning 18 of their final 23 games and finally having a completely healthy roster, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to be a shoo-in for a third trip to the final in five years. Losing in the first round to archrival Philadelphia, however, those lofty dreams hit a brick wall.
Less than three months later, the rumor mill was swirling at the NHL draft, mostly about Columbus and whether they were going to deal superstar Rick Nash. When word spread that Staal had turned down a 10-year extension with Pittsburgh, it grabbed everyone’s attention and armchair GMs began to speculate where Staal was headed.
Before the draft began, Jordan was joining brother Eric as a member of the Hurricanes (via ESPN). Pittsburgh received young two-way center Brandon Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick which they used to draft defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
After regaining consciousness and pinching themselves to make sure this isn’t a dream, Pens fans will ask, “What did this unexpected blockbuster trade do for the team?”
First and foremost, it frees up cap space. Sutter will make roughly $2 million less a season. He will drop into the exact role Staal occupied in Pittsburgh’s lineup. While maybe not as talented offensively, Sutter is big, gritty and very good in his own end. His ability to center the third line and play on the penalty kill, all for less money allows the Pens to potentially take a run at other free agents or explore other trade options.
Adding Dumoulin and Pouliot shores up their defensive prospect deficiency. It’s no secret that the team was not happy with their defensive play this year. In the regular season, they averaged 2.7 goals against per game, good for 15th in the league.
While not horrible, New Jersey and Los Angeles were eighth and second, respectively. Both players are very skilled and scouting reports have them billed as potential top-four defensemen. The team is rumored to be exploring immediate fixes, but this trade addresses the defensive issue long term.
Lastly, the team and GM Ray Shero will avoid a huge distraction this season. While Staal had one year left on his deal, turning down a 10-year contract extension and leaving your GM hanging doesn’t make for blue skies and fuzzy feelings. Rumors and misinformation would have followed Shero, Staal and the rest of the team all season, creating a traveling circus-like atmosphere. Making the deal at the draft and avoiding that whole scenario was shrewd on Shero’s part, and he received valuable pieces in return.
I’m sure there are going to be many who will hate this deal. I was caught off-guard by it myself. In the end, though, I think it was the best possible outcome for all involved. Jordan is in Carolina with his two brothers, Pittsburgh saved cap space and added to the farm team. Penguins fans will miss Jordan, but all they can do now is thank him for the contributions, wish him well and welcome Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot to the team.