A Little Bit About Trading Jordan StaalPosted: 03/05/2012
Well I said last week that I didn’t really want to deal with team turnover until we got closer to the NHL draft and maybe even closer to the July 1 free agency period. Unfortunately the professional hockey media has decided to change my plans for me and start talking about it already. So we’ll just take a look at a couple things. Check it out after the jump.
Of course the biggest news came from some dude in Edmonton suggesting that the Oilers would be willing to give up the first overall pick in the draft this year, which is of course held in Pittsburgh, in exchange for Jordan Staal.
On the surface this may seem like a good deal for both teams. It would be exciting to have the number one overall pick in the draft held in your own arena, and the pick could help to improve the Penguins. Nail Yakupov is the consensus number one draft prospect.
He’s an athletic playmaking and finishing natural winger—an area where the Penguins are still perhaps a little bit thin. I mean the prospects are impressive. He’s a Russian which would of course make him a natural fit to play next to Evgeni Malkin. Thus you could be looking at line 1a of Neal-Malkin-Yakupov, and line 1b of Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis. So in other words, you would have a 40 goal scorer, the league’s best player, and a rookie who should easily grow to be at least a 30 goal scorer, and you would likely not have to change that line for upwards of a decade. Then you would follow that up with the world’s best player playing with the linemates he had when he was on pace to score more points in the NHL than anyone has since goalies were allowed to start wearing enormous pads.
It would work for the Oilers as well. They need a bigger, more physical presence and as I’ve said in the past, Staal could be the perfect captain for such a young and potentially talented team. Further, if there is one thing that the Oilers don’t need it would be another smaller, playmaking forward. Between Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent Hopkins, all of whom are early first round picks, the last two of which were number one overall selections, the Oilers have as much skill as any team in the league. Drafting another player in that same mold will not really improve the team as it is. They need a veteran and they need defensive help. People have suggested for years now that if Staal could stay healthy for an entire season, he would become an almost automatic Selke candidate, and it’s hard to argue the validity of that claim.
Further if you believe in Alan Robinson’s assertions that Staal wants a chance to be a number one center, it would be a good move for him too, at least until RNH and Taylor Hall fully realize their potentials.
But to me, therein lies the rub. Yes, from an offensive perspective this is at least an even trade and the Penguins probably could get the better scorer over the entire course of his career. But the fact of the matter is that you will lose so much more than 25 goals and 50 points if you trade away Jordan Staal. He’s a bonafide leader and the top defensive forward on this team. He’s a cup winner and a clutch player. You would be trading him for a guy with zero NHL experience.
I mean maybe Staal is too good offensively to play his entire career as a number three center, but it’s also true that the Penguins do not currently have anyone who could take his place. I like Joe Vitale and I think he is a perfectly good fourth line center, however, unless he could prove that he’s capable of putting up some points, he will never rise above that spot. You would end up creating a position of need while adding on to what is already the team’s best asset. The Penguins were already the best offensive team this past season, despite Sidney Crosby missing more than 80% of the year, so although you could say they aren’t overly deep at top-6 wingers, it basically doesn’t matter. I can guarantee you would feel the crunch on the penalty kill if you didn’t have Jordan Staal there next year.
You can say that the Penguins do need to shake things up, and maybe they do need a youth movement like the Flyers had this past offseason, but trading away a 23 year old who was the Penguins best player game in and game out in the most recent playoffs doesn’t seem like the right kind of shakeup. The shakeup still has to be on defense. I appreciate the money that the Pens were willing to spend to bring in Michalek and Martin, but again, it just isn’t working.
I understand that you will have to give a raise to Jordan Staal if you do keep him, and we’re talking at least James Neal money and more than likely even more, probably between $6 and $7 mil per year, but if you clear out the remaining $25 million that you owe to Michalek and Martin then you can easily afford that much of a raise. The nice thing about the forthcoming contract negotiations for Crosby and Malkin is that they already make a bunch of money. Even if you have to give them raises to an Ovechkin-level contract, which is about $9.5 million/year, you’re only talking about adding $800,000 per player per year. That’s the cost of an entry-level contract. Without accounting for any increases in the salary cap, you could trade just Michalek, pay Crosby and Malkin $9.5 mil and Staal $6.5 mil and still actually have more money than when you started (so long as you traded him for prospects, which I think the Pens would be wise to do).
Even then, the salary cap has gone up every year it’s been in place. You can say you don’t like relocation but the fact of the matter is that if the NHL continues to move teams from less profitable markets (ahem Phoenix, Florida, Long Island, here’s looking at you) to good, traditional markets, especially in Canada, the cap will increase even more year to year. Teams left Canada in the 90s because the Canadian dollar was trading at barely half an American dollar. As a result, it was costing Canadian teams twice as much to bring in talent. Now, however, the Canadian dollar is actually slightly stronger than the American dollar, thus, the NHL is actually making more real money from Canadian teams than it is from American teams. So not only do you know that you’ll increase attendance revenue by moving a team to Canada, you’ll also be increasing the overall economic strength of the league.
This is also a collective bargaining year for the NHL and there has even been some talk about eliminating the salary cap altogether, which certainly wouldn’t hurt the Penguins. They are going on 5 consecutive years of complete sell-outs and hae the best selling merchandise in the league. I am of the opinion that I want the salary cap to stay because it does make for a more competitive sport. The Penguins owners, Mario Lemieux and billionaire Ron Burkle also want to keep the salary cap structure, and however, again, it is not that the Penguins would face the troubles they had in the pre-salary cap days.
So here’s my plan. Don’t trade Staal, in fact, pay him as much as you need to in order to lock him up for another ten years or so. Pay Crosby too, and while you’re at it you might as well pay Matt Niskanen who is probably going to be your number 3 defensemen next year (and deservedly so). Trade both Martin and Michalek for as many young prospects as you can get your hands on, and make sure that at least one or two of them are ready to be at least fourth line players for the NHL team. In terms of free agency, the Pens need to look for a really big, physical defenseman akin to Hal Gill from a couple years ago, this guy can be Niskanen’s blueline partner. That will only leave one variable: the 6th defenseman, and for that you’ll just go into training camp and whoever is the best out of Despres, Strait, Morrow, Harrington, and even Carl Sneep will get the job. So yes, there will be turnover, but no I really don’t think Jordan Staal is the piece that needs to get turned over.