Photo by Michael Miller
The possibility of the Penguins trading Jordan Staal seemed remote leading up to the draft. Logically it made sense for the Penguins to explore the possibility given that they were likely to lose him for nothing after this coming season, but realistically the chances were slim that he would be on the move. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Jordan was on his way to Carolina to play with big brother Eric.
The obstacles were considerable for both clubs involved. Yet, they managed to strike a deal (in less than three hours) that considerably changed the cosmetics of both teams. The Hurricanes got the best player in the deal, but does dealing Staal fundamentally change who the Penguins are?
Jordan Staal filled a huge role with the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby understandably receive most of the credit for the success of the Penguins since the last lockout, but Staal being so successful in his “checking” role allowed Dan Bylsma to get Malkin and Crosby in the offensive zone as much as possible. Staal was buried in the defensive end yet still produced offensively. Only nine players in the league saw more difficult average competition, and among Penguin forwards he was clearly pushed towards the defensive end of the rink.
The Penguins couldn’t move Staal without finding a good third line center or opening up a giant hole in their roster. As a contending team, losing a capable hard minutes option isn’t ideal (which is why players as talented as Staal rarely move from teams with Stanley Cup aspirations). The contending team wants to keep their good players, and if they were to move a very good player they would target help for their NHL roster.
The final wrench thrown into the Staal situation was his contract status. After the 2013 season he was scheduled to hit free agency. No team is going to fork over a king’s ransom for a pending UFA. The Penguins had to find a team with whom Staal was willing to sign long term.
Hurricanes Fit Like A Glove
The Carolina Hurricanes managed to fill all of the Penguins needs perfectly. With Eric Staal in tow they had a key piece of leverage to entice Jordan to sign with them, and he did. Most importantly, the Hurricanes were able to offer the Penguins an NHL piece capable of filling Staal’s role.
That said, no one is going to confuse Brandon Sutter for the middle Staal brother. Both players were used as checking centers, but that doesn’t mean they’re equally talented. Sutter got 63.2% of his zone starts in the defensive zone and saw a similar level of competition. However Staal is much more of an offensive option. Over the last three years Sutter scored at a rate of 1.47 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. Staal sat at 2.08.
Fortunately for the Penguins, they aren’t acquiring Sutter to be an offensive dynamo: they’re acquiring him to keep giving Malkin and Crosby as much offensive ice time as possible. He doesn’t offer the upside of Staal, but the Penguins don’t need him to do so to maintain a competitive team. The Hurricanes, however, targetted Staal because of his upside, and paid a premium (#8 in the draft and Brian Dumoulin) for the priviledge. With added powerplay time and easier minutes he’s primed for a massive breakout.
When you get down to it this deal was a no-brainer for both teams. Both solved significant roster issues going forward as painlessly as they could have reasonably hoped. The Penguins managed to deal a key player while not taking a significant hit talent-wise given the role in which they were using Staal. The Hurricanes are obvious winners for acquiring a big, Selke caliber center. This trade is the rare win for both teams from the outset, and going forward there is little reason to think either team will regret this deal.