PITTSBURGH — Gary Bettman stood before the crowd at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the bearer of breaking news. "We have a trade to announce," he said as cheers began, before mischievously continuing, "and for those of you in the building, you'll be particularly interested."
When the words "Jordan Staal" left the commissioner's pipes, it produced one of the most memorable reactions at an NHL Draft we've ever seen: a cacophony of cheers, gaps, some jeers, disbelief. Then silence, as Bettman continued to announce the trade, building to a few boos before rallying to cheers when Brandon Sutter's name was announced.
Once Bettman was finished, Consol erupted with deafening cheers and "Let's Go Pens" chants, the likes usually reserved for … well, Jordan Staal goals.
The emotional response in the moment was on an NFL Draft level — that's meant as a compliment — and perfectly captured the reaction for Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes fans and media for the inevitable yet still stunning trade.
It was unfortunately time for him to go. He was a top line player stuck on the third line. He couldn't make the money he wanted in Pittsburgh. He couldn't get the ice time he deserved. He wanted to be "the guy" on a team and he wanted to play with his brother. Now he has what he wanted. Best of luck in Carolina.
In Raleigh, Staal will burst from the shadows of Crosby and Malkin, take a place among the top six forwards, skate with his brother and team captain Eric on the power play, and probably score 30 goals or more.
In a free agent year, he could put together bank-breaking stats, which is the very reason he expressed zero interest in a 10-year offer from the Penguins earlier this week.
That proposed contract, guessed at as being in the range of $60 million, indicates how conflicted to the bitter end the Penguins were over dismantling their enviable center triumvirate.
Staal very likely did the Penguins a favor by turning it down. Had he accepted, Shero could only have shifted the rock into the spot where the hard place was and vice versa. But in the end, Shero resolved the larger question in the proper way, at least in this view.
The plan is now clear. Shero will need to address two areas when July 1 rolls around. The first will be Zach Parise. Yes, I classified Zach Parise as a need. A winger for Sidney Crosby is still a need, crazy as that might sound. Parise is an elite scorer and will be the most-coveted free agent when the market opens. Crosby and Parise are apparently good pals as well, for whatever that's worth. Look for the Pens to offer Parise as much as they can. He'll be the first target, and once he's signed (I'm being optimistic here), expect the Pens to go hard after another solid defenseman. A few names will pop up, mostly Ryan Suter and possibly Shea Weber. In either case, I expect the Pens to make a splash.
Now that the "Three-Center Model" is dead, let's see if Shero's new strategy will succeed. He's clearly trying to dump salary and use his stockpile of defensemen to acquire forwards either in free agency or at the trade deadline. The club now has the room to acquire legitimate scoring talent, whether that's Parise or someone else, as well as a (hopefully) shut-down defenseman.
Over on the Carolina side of things, KP Kelly of Cardiac Cane:
The transaction caused conflicted emotions for Canes' fans. Tweets poured through Twitter expressing their torn emotions. Some didn't know whether to "celebrate or vomit." For those outside the Carolina fan base, allow me to explain. Yes, we know this is a sport and ultimately a business looking to succeed and be profitable. Jordan Staal will help the Hurricanes in both areas. For that, fans are pleased. Staal posted career highs in assists (25) and points (50), and a career second-best 25 goals in 62 of Pittsburgh's 82 regular-season games in 2011-12.
The grieving stems from the price tag on Jordan's sweater. Brandon Sutter is one of the top, young talents in the organization. His contributions to the team were notable on and off the ice. It is always hard to say goodbye, despite the positive exchange, to a player as respected as Brandon Sutter. In one breath, I give a warm southern welcome to another stellar Staal and sigh a goodbye and best wishes to one of Caniacs' favorite boys.
C-Leaguer of Canes Country, which calls the trade "The NHL Version of Pascal's Wager":
The Canes got, without a doubt, the best player in this trade. Brandon Sutter is a very good player, and captain material, but he simply does not have the same skill that Jordan Staal does. Jordan Staal is a legitimate top 6 player in the NHL, and a corner stone center that can be a major piece for a championship team. Brandon Sutter is a very good complimentary piece and can play a large on ice and leadership role.
The prospects, Dumoulin and Pouliot, have high potential, but are by no means a sure thing and neither is at this point in time anywhere near the territory of Jordan Staal. The team got a highly talented top six player, something that they have been lacking for years. This is a good thing.
When you're a team like the Hurricanes, and you have the chance to get a 23-year-old star like Jordan Staal, you pull the trigger now and worry about the consequences later. Especially when it was an off-ice power play by Staal that made the trade possible.
Staal's rejection Thursday of a 10-year contract extension worth $60 million made it all but certain the Penguins would trade him, while making it clear the only team he would negotiate a new contract with right now is the Hurricanes.
When's the last time a player pulled the strings to force a trade to the Hurricanes?
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The trade was a difficult necessity for Shero. The likelihood of retaining Staal for a reasonable price — if at all — lessened as Summer 2013 grew closer. The Penguins' needs on the blue line and the wing could be addressed with the cleared cap space.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, coveted Jordan Staal. It served neither team to have him go to market next summer and see his price tag inflated. So they offered a trade that Shero, reluctant as he was, couldn't refuse.
The Hurricanes are immediately better. The Penguins could be much better, depending on how they use the space they freed on Friday in free agency.
Sutter, Dumoulin and Pouliot and Zach Parise for Jordan Staal? Yikes.