It’s that time of year. The Cup has been hoisted–congratulations to Anze Kopitar and the L A Kings for a job well done!–and the 2012 NHL draft is under way in beautiful Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s also the time of year that NHL general managers talk to each other about trades and start thinking about which available free agents to pursue.
My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, has a lot of very talented hockey players, including arguably the two best hockey players in the world, centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Crosby was well on his way to a record-breaking season in January of 2011 when he was sidelined with a concussion. His recovery has been long, but he returned to the team for the playoffs this spring and his future is bright.
Malkin, who was coming off knee surgery following the 2010-2011 season, had the best year of his career, winning the Art Ross trophy for most points during the regular season, the Hart trophy as the league’s MVP, and the Ted Lindsey Award for the most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by the players.
The Pens’ third center, Jordan Staal, is also an outstanding forward, a big, strong, dominating two-way center. (A two-way center is one who plays equally well offensively and defensively.)
Jordan is the third of four brothers from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, who all play professional hockey. Older brother Marc is an all-star defenseman for the New York Rangers; older brother Eric is an all-star forward for the Carolina Hurricanes; and younger brother Jared plays in the AHL and is under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. This is one talented hockey family, folks!
On another team, one without Sid Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal would probably be a second-line or even a first-line center. The Penguins recognize Staal’s talent and appreciate and value the hard play and leadership Jordan brings to the team. So Penguins GM Ray Shero tried his best to sign Jordan to a contract extension. He offered a long-term deal that was generous by any standard. It was an offer that screamed, We think you are a great player and we want you on our team for a long time to come! But Staal turned it down and then made it be known publicly that he wanted to play for the Carolina Hurricanes.
I cannot blame Jordan for wanting to play with his brothers, but unfortunately, he put Shero in a very tough spot. The Pens could keep Jordan for another season, then lose him to free agency and get nothing for him, or they could try to work a trade. But what team is going to trade for a player who has publicly declared that he plans to sign with the Hurricanes when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, 2013?
Lucky for the Penguins, Ray Shero is a genius, and when the 8th pick in the NFL draft came up, a trade was announced. The Penguins had traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 8th pick in the draft and two players, one of whom is another outstanding two-way center, Brandon Sutter.
It’s a great deal for both teams, and I hope Jordan, who got married yesterday, is happy there. I will miss him, but such is the life of a hockey fan. Players come and players go. You just have to deal with it.
And speaking of players going, the Pens traded one of their defensemen, Zbynek Michalek, back to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Zee is one of my favorites and a very good D-man, but he just didn’t quite fit in with the Pens’ system of play. I will miss him, also, but I think he will be better served playing for the Coyotes who play a style of defense that is better suited to his talents. I must add here that Zee has the most incredible eyelashes I have ever seen on a man. They are so long and thick that they cast a shadow. Bye bye, Zee! I wish you the best.
Who knows what the next few weeks hold in store. There’s at least one more D-man that could be traded, and with the exit of Staal and Michalek, a large chunk of salary cap becomes available, so maybe the Pens can make a big splash in the free agent market. And the Pens have a few current players still to be signed for next season. Will Sully and Double A be back? Will Big Dog stay with the Penguins organization? Will a certain New Jersey Devil wear black and gold next season? The speculation is endless. 🙂