Coming to Pittsburgh to cover the NHL entry draft this past weekend, most media pundits expected a rather dull, uneventful two days based on the fact that this year’s draft class was mediocre at best. The Penguins were determined not to let that happen. Rumors began circulating on Thursday night that Jordan Staal had turned down the Penguins offer of a 10 year contract extension said to be in the neighborhood of $60 million although Staal, to his credit, continued to say that he still wanted to be here in Pittsburgh and that he just wasn’t prepared to sign an extension right now.
Once the offer was turned down, Ray Shero did exactly what he had to do, start working the phones to try and find the best deal he could as there was no way the Penguins were going to go into the 2012-2013 season with a lame duck Jordan Staal. The “What-ifs” were just too great to risk: ”What if Stall got hurt?” What if he had a phenomenal season and wanted more than $6 million per season?” What if he became a free agent at season’s end and walked with no return at all for the Penguins?” If the Penguins decided to play the ’12/’13 season with Staal and move him at the trade deadline, they would be forced to take whatever was the best offer made at that time. No, Shero had to move now. He struck a deal with Carolina which was one of the teams that Staal really wanted to go to so that he could play with big brother Eric. I believe the fact that Staal wanted to go there helped the Penguins get more out of Carolina than they would have out of another team. What they got in return was: Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the #8 pick in the first round of the draft which they used to draft Derrick Pouliot.
Staal was scheduled to make in excess of $4 million this upcoming season and turned down $6 million per for an extension. Sutter still has two years left on a contract paying him $2 million per season so the Penguins saved $2 million right off the bat. For those that don’t know, Brandon Sutter is Jordan Staal. He is only 23 years old and played the exact same role for the Hurricanes that Staal played here. He is a shut down, defensive Center who is an excellent penalty killer. Yes, Jordan Staal put up better offensive numbers than Sutter did, but he also had the luxury of getting to spend time playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Like Staal, Sutter comes from a great hockey bloodline being the son of former player and coach, Brent Sutter.
Brian Dumoulin is exactly the type of defenseman the Penguins have been looking for, and do not be surprised if he makes the team coming out of training camp this year. Dobber Hockey’s prospect report on Dumoulin is as follows: “Hockey East’s “Best Defensive Defenseman” for two years running has also showed a flair for moving the puck. The raw tools are all there, and it has Carolina management drooling and other GM’s envious. With Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain on board, and Ryan Murphy on the way, the ‘Canes have four young future studs. Because of those other three kids, it is likely that Dumoulin will play more of a shutdown role. The guy is huge at 6-4, 210. And as noted – his defensive talents are the best in college hockey. So that untapped offensive potential will probably remain untapped.”
And here is their report on Derrick Pouliot: ”The Portland Winterhawks have become one of the CHL’s best hockey factories producing several high-profiled NHL drafted players including Sven Bärtschi, Ty Rattie, Joe Morrow, Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter, among many others. Portland made defenseman Derrick Pouliot first overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft and he is on his way to joining the abovementioned Winterhawks as a NHL first round pick. In Pouliot’s draft year, he finished among the WHL’s top defensemen in scoring notching 59 points, placing him fourth. Not overly big, Pouliot’s deceptively strong accurate point shot, swift skating skills and elite passing ability makes him a dangerous offensive option with the man-advantage. At this point, Pouliot is a bit of a project but playing on a skilled Portland team will certainly help his development.”
From what I understand, Shero spent the rest of the evening trying to move Paul Martin but could either find no takers, or the other teams wanted the Penguins to take a bad contract off of their hands. Because of this, he decided to move Zbynek Michaelek when he found a taker in his former team, the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for two warm bodies and a draft pick. Let’s face it folks, this was a straight out salary dump to free up cap space for the upcoming free agency period beginning on July 1st. The two players the Penguins received back from Phoenix will most likely never reach the Penguins roster and third round draft picks are nothing more than a crap shoot.
What this trade did was free up another $4.5 million in cap space leaving the Penguins close to $15 million under the current cap, and it could even go higher once a new labor deal is reached in the Fall.
On the free agency front, the two most prominent names are Ryan Suter and Zach Parisie. Suter, one of the best defensive defense-men in the league was a Norris Trophy finalist this past season and has played all six of his seasons with the Nashville Predators where Ray Shero was the assistant GM when he was drafted. Parisie is an out an out offensive juggernaut who has played his entire career with the New Jersey Devils and would make an excellent wing on a line with Sidney Crosby whom he went to high school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s with. It’s going to take a lot to sign either one of the guys as the Penguins aren’t the only team that will be interested or have plenty of cap space to sign them. They’re also not the only team that would offer either one a chance at multiple cups in the future. If neither of those guys ends up signing here, the option then becomes to pursue a possible trade for someone like a Bobby Ryan who is very unhappy in Anaheim or Rick Nash who everyone knows wants out of Columbus. Both of these players would cost the Penguins some top performing players, and I’m not sure they have or would be willing to give up what the other teams would be asking for.
Some possible line combos with the signing of either guy as a free agent:
Kuntiz – Malkin – Neal
Dupuis – Crosby – Parisie
Cook – Sutter – Kennedy
Adams – Vitale – Park
Letang – Sutter
Orpik – Niskanen
Depres – Any of Martin, Engelland, Lovejoy, Sneep, Strait, Bortuzzo
Will Jordan Staal be missed? Absolutely. Was it great having him here for the past six season? No question. Did Shero have to move him now and get the most in return that he could? Yes
So the question remains, are the Penguins a better team today than they were last Friday? The answer is, maybe not today, but possibly by Sunday afternoon. Which guy would you like to see them acquire in free agency and why.