What do you mean, “The Pens have to trade Jordan Staal?”
May 8, 2012 11 Comments
I thought I was hallucinating, but I hadn’t been doing Jackhammers (Jack & Robitussin – my favorite Junior Year – use with caution), so I guess I’m awake when I’m hearing Jordan Staal trade talk on NHL Radio and reading lusty internet concoctions from fans of Canadian NHL teams on woman-free diets. My senses must not be deceiving me entirely.
This Jordan Staal trade babble comes on the heels of his excellent performance in the Eastern Quarterfinals against the Flyers. He was one of the few Penguins who both competed and produced for the duration of the series. He was also one of the few guys I did not want to scream at after watching the clusterfuck that was Game 3.
While the concept of dealing away an excellent player with still-untapped offensive upside is nauseating, the reality of a Salary Cap system is that you cannot keep everyone. When a team is already allocating over $17 million of a $64 million-dollar Cap (over one-fourth), employing someone like Jordan Staal at the same position perhaps becomes an unaffordable luxury.
My early sense from the snippets of and whispers about Staal’s next contract negotiation is this: Penguins’ GM Ray Shero is bracing himself for the possibility that he cannot re-sign Staal. Whether this is because of Cap-placement in the new CBA, indications from Sid Crosby’s agent Pat Brisson that Sid will want a raise, or indications from Staal’s camp that Jordan will not continue to accept the third spot on the Center depth chart, the inevitability is the same: Shero has to do his diligence and investigate Staal trade scenarios.
Assuming that a potential Jordan Staal trade is a real possibility and not just something a sexually-frustrated Leafs or Oilers fan dreamt up, here is additional logic behind it:
1) It has become public knowledge that Jordan has had enough of being the No. 3 Center. This tidbit came from Elliot Friedman, who is as intelligent and well-connected as any hockey insider:
“Friedman said Jordan Staal hasn’t asked the Penguins to be traded but wants more responsibility…”
This was on both his 30 Thoughts column (excellent, BTW) and Lyle “Spector” Richardson’s site, which is also reputable. This makes sense, because he’s clearly a player with 60-70 point upside getting 16-17 minutes per game and not being utilized to his full potential as primarily a checker/Penalty Killer. This ties in with the fact that…
2) Jordan Staal is one of the best 30 Centers in the League, which by definition makes him a #1 Center
Here are the Centers that NHL GMs would rather have on their top line than Jordan (true Centers only; no Patty Marleau/Hank Zetterberg-types):
Sid, Geno, Claude Giroux, Brad Richards, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Sedin, Eric Staal (for the moment), Stephen Weiss, Ryan Getzlaf (in theory), Joe Thornton (most GMs, anyway), Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Mikko Koivu, Jason Spezza
Here are the Centers that are more or less equal to Jordan, all things considered:
Ryan Kesler, John Tavares (for the moment, but rapidly improving), Patrice Bergeron, Travis Zajac (being very generous), Nicklas Backstrom (push), Jamie Benn, David Backes (push), Paul Stastny (extreme push), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who will be a true #1 very soon)
I am an NHL savant, and I only came up with 24 legitimate #1/Exceptional #2 Centers. That puts Staal in excellent company, and makes him a very valuable commodity. Many of the players on my list above are aging, and given Staal’s trajectory, he should be close to the middle of that group within a year or two.
Here are the teams that did not have a Center on either of my lists: Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Calgary (yes, Staal > Olli Jokinen at this point), Phoenix, Nashville, Columbus. Notice that four of those teams finished at or near the League’s basement, and all but two missed the post-season (excuse the outliers that are goaltender-centric Nashville and Phoenix).
The obvious takeaway point is this: if you want to succeed in the NHL, a #1 Center is extremely helpful, and probably a team’s top priority after an anchor Defenseman or a difference-making goaltender.
This alone is an excellent reason for the Penguins to continue to hoard their crop of Centermen. However, the reality is that playing a Top-6 (or even top-line) forward on your de facto third-line is not very efficient, and it may be time to sell high on Staal and re-distribute the return throughout the lineup. The bidding for Staal will be robust if he’s put up for auction.
3) The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is likely to feature a Salary Cap Ceiling reduction
The current Salary Cap Floor ($48.3 million) is higher than the Salary Cap Ceiling was in the first year after the Lockout. Small-market teams slash teams with tight-assed owners (Islanders, Panthers, etc.) are going to fight the Player’s Union for a Salary rollback or at least a recession of the Cap Ceiling and Floor. This could be up to $10 million skimmed off the Cap Ceiling, if the owners have their way.
Mario and Ron Burkle might be printing money over at Consol, but the Pens continually bump their heads against the Cap Ceiling; even a modest reduction of the upper-spending limit likely means lopping off a significant player or two.
The team will give Sid Crosby a blank check; knowing Sid, he will likely take another team-friendly contract to help keep the Core group together. But even if both Sid and Jordan leave money on the table, signing Staal might mean losing Geno in July 2014…and you know my thoughts on that.
I will now break into Consol, impersonate Shero, and trade Paul Martin to Minnesota or New Jersey for a mid-level prospect to undo this sick world where we’re talking about a Jordan Staal trade. Who’s with me?
Should the Pens trade Staal?
I am adamently against trading home-grown future All-Stars on principle, but let’s be real: this is a one-in-a-lifetime predicament. What’s insane would be trading one of the Best Two Players in the World, because the team would get sixty-cents-on-the-dollar no matter what the return would be. I have long stated that I would trade anyone on the roster to keep Sid and Geno in the fold, including (vomit in mouth) Staal.
Going back a generation, would you have traded Mario or Jagr to keep Ron Francis? Well, yes, hindsight being what it is, you would trade Jagr for anything but Kris Beech and Michael Sivek and sign Francis to a 10-year deal. Thankfully, Geno is Jagr only in skill and not in estrogenic hormonal disposition, so today’s team should opt to keep the two Superstars at the expense of the presumptive All-Star if that is the sacrifice that has to be made.
I am optimistic that Staal just loves being in the organization and takes below market-value to stay, with the promise that he will get 20-minutes a night, Power Play time galore, and a permanent spot with Sid and/or Geno. But if he’s insistent on testing the UFA market next year, or if Showtime Shero’s insight into the new CBA is going to prevent the team from re-signing him, the team would be trading him at a relative peak in value.
In short: Like the team, I want him in Pittsburgh. If that’s impossible, I’m willing to drink a pint glass full of Grand Marnier (or as Craig Patrick calls it, “Breakfast”) and consider the options.
(Notice the rosy cheeks and sloppy grin consistent with someone who has snuck a flask into both a church and a courthouse)
What is the appropriate return for Staal?
Start with the Jeff Carter-to-Columbus return: young roster player and top-ten draft pick. That somewhat narrows the field.
What should the Pens target as a return for Staal?
I’ve written elsewhere that it’s time the team considered putting a true “checking line” behind Sid and Geno to shut down the Girouxs and Kovalchuks of the world. You can be the Best Player in the World, but your production will be limited if you have 190-lbs of Sean Couturier, Braden Schenn, and/or Max Talbot swinging from your sack at all times.
While the team’s current model of wearing down opposing defenders with the Forecheck is quite effective, we all saw what happens when elite forwards are left to run roughshod shift-after-shift. More troubling is that the responsibility of “checking” someone like Claude Giroux falls onto Sid’ s shoulders, which is beyond counterproductive.Part of the reason Claude Giroux lit up Pittsburgh was that he was entirely free to concentrate on offense; meanwhile, Sid especially was continuously shackled to not just responsible two-way play, but also driven into the ground by trying to keep tabs on Giroux in the Defensive Zone.
Regardless of what happens with Staal, I am all for getting a true third-line Center in the John Madden/Sammy Pahlsson/Todd Marchant mold, whose sole responsibility is punching Marian Gaborik and the like below the belt, thus giving Sid and Geno (and Staal on Sid’s line?) complete freedom to produce goals.
If the Pens opt to move Staal, I see the team targeting a potential top-line forward ala Sean Couturier via draft pick, as well as a forward with upside who could immediately go into the lineup ala Wayne Simmonds/Jake Voracek. Having said that, if a team’s best prospect is an elite defenseman, you can never have enough of those.
One thing I do not see the team trading Staal for a higher-salaried veteran such as Rick Nash or Patrick Marleau; that’s a lateral move at best, given the Cap crunch it would put on the rest of the lineup. The upshot of a Staal trade is the chance to reload a bit, much like Philadelphia did in their Carter-Richards pillagings. I am not dismissing the possibility, but I would rather Showtime re-up and bet on Staal’s continued offensive development than add significant salary to the Forward position.
(Note: The trades for Carter and Richards obviously worked out for Western Conference Finalist Los Angeles, but fuck did Philly get a haul for those two.)
Specifically, what potential trades do you see happening?
If a deal were to happen at the 2012 Draft, in no order of likelihood, here is what I pray/suspect Showtime would insist upon:
Toronto: Defenseman Jake Gardiner and the #5 Overall Pick
Montreal: Max Pacioretty and the #3 Overall Pick (very unlikely, but that’s what Showtime should insist on)
Columbus: Staal and Paul Martin for Rick Nash, the #2 Overall Pick, defenseman Fedor Tyutin, and some prospect with upside (only if the team is able to shed Martin’s salary in a Nash deal, and only if the team deems Simon Despres ready to take Martin’s minutes)
Edmonton: Center Sam Gagner and the #1 Overall Pick (hell, if I was Shero I’d ask for Jordan Eberle)
Minnesota: Winger prospect Charlie Coyle and the #7 Overall Pick, plus a sweetener
Anaheim: Winger Bobby Ryan and a swap of first-round draft picks (it’s my blog, I can ask for whatever I want)
San Jose: Staal and our first-round pick for Winger/Center Logan Couture (in other words, not happening)
Florida: Florida’s mid-first round pick, a roster player, and Center prospect Jonathan Huberdeau
Carolina: Carolina’s first-round pick (#8 Overall), Center prospect Zac Dalpe, and one of Defenseman Ryan Murphy or Defenseman Justin Faulk (you wanna “catch all the Staals?”, Jim Rutherford? You’re going to pay out the nose)
Ottawa: Center prospect Mika Zibenajad and Defenseman Jared Cowan
Chicago: (this would be drastic) Anything we want from their team…some comination of winger prospect Jeremy Morin, defenseman Nick Leddy, and defenseman Brandon Saad, plus picks.
If traded, where is Staal absolutely not going?
Within the Atlantic Division, and if possible out of the Eastern Conference. Shero prefers to send former players as far away as possible (Ryan Whitney to Anaheim, Alex Goligoski to Dallas, etc.)
Rule out teams that are both relatively cash-poor and light on prospects (Tampa, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas, Winnipeg, etc). There are teams with obvious holes at Center (Buffalo, Chicago, Columbus, etc.) who probably lack the goods necessary to make a deal. Also throw out teams with adequate depth at Center (San Jose, Los Angeles, St. Louis, etc).
There is a 90% chance Staal trade-talk is just internet bluster, and the opportunity for Canada to get moist at the prospect of bringing a good Canadian lad from Thunder Bay back to the land of “real hockey”. Ray Shero is sky-high on Staal, and hopefully believes that Staal is an essential part of the solution than rather than part of the reasons the Pens took such as cock-slapping from Philadelphia in the 2012 playoffs.
Having said all of this, no one reading this (except you, Mario) knows what is happening behind-the-scenes. If Jordan Staal has made it known that he wants #1 Center money, or wants to go somewhere to be a #1 Center, it may be time for the team to have the hard discussion and consider making the best of a bad situation.
When Shero drafted Staal in 2006, pundits everywhere wondered how he was going to slot in behind Sid and Geno. That culminated with a Cup in 2009, so score one for Shero selecting the player he liked best irrespective of position. In 2012, it may be time for Staal to leave the nest (so to speak), be someone else’s Bull-In-a-China-Shop, and remind everyone that he’s a former #2 Overall Pick. One last time: smart people reading this want him in Pittsburgh, but it just may not be in the cards.