PITTSBURGH – He didn't want to do it. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice.
Ray Shero did not want to trade Jordan Staal.
When he was the rookie general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006, Shero made Staal his first draft pick, second overall. Three years later, he won a Stanley Cup with him. He envisioned winning more Cups with him, somehow keeping together all three of his super centers – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal? – somehow keeping them happy and the payroll under the salary cap.
So when Shero shipped Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday – on Staal's wedding day, no less – it was hard. Real hard.
"It's emotional to trade someone that you're attached to," said Shero late Friday night, after the first round of the NHL draft, betraying a touch of that emotion. "But I know it's good for him, it's good for his family and it's good for the Penguins."
And that's why he had to do it. This is good for everyone involved, including, improbably, the Penguins.
Staal escapes the shadows of Crosby and Malkin. He goes somewhere he can play a larger role. He reunites with his brother Eric. Must have been some wedding reception in Thunder Bay, Ont.
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But Staal's now-former Penguins teammates could celebrate there, too, toasting their buddy and their GM. Shero should have had little leverage in trade talks. The news had broken that Staal, a year away from unrestricted free agency, had turned down the offer of a 10-year contract and would consider an extension only with Carolina. Still, Shero finagled center Brandon Sutter, a good, young, two-way, third-line center who can fill Staal's role, plus the No. 8 overall pick and a prospect.
Then he wasn't done. He traded defenseman Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes for a third-round pick and two prospects. Staal was going to average about $6 million for the next decade, while Sutter has a cap hit of $2 million for two more seasons. Michalek has a cap hit of $4 million for three more seasons. Shero freed up a lot of money, which means he can make more trades or go after the biggest fish in free agency July 1 – winger Zach Parise or defenseman Ryan Suter.
Asked if he could add yet another impact player, Shero said: "Yeah, possibly. Possibly. We'll look to do that."
Now that's making the best of a bad situation, not that this was ever an ugly one. Staal did not get divorced on his wedding day.
Shero wanted to keep Crosby, Malkin and Staal together as long as he could, even if he knew that might have been a long shot. "How far we could ever go with this three-center model that we had, that remained to be seen," he said, "but I [wanted] to do that."
Staal turned down that 10-year offer, but he didn't close the door on the Penguins, necessarily. He was keeping his options open. He also had a lot going on personally with the wedding.
It would have made little sense for Shero to trade Staal in a panic, just hoping to get as much as he could in return before Staal's trade value started to diminish. Staal would have had great value to the Penguins even if he had played one more season for them and then left as an free agent, because he helped make them a top Stanley Cup contender.
"If we didn't have a [good] deal, I was not trading Jordan Staal," Shero said. "We were going to come back and play with him. Make it clear: Jordan never, ever asked me for a trade and made it clear he never [would], and he would have been happy to play in Pittsburgh."
Shero said until Friday, he thought Staal would play in Pittsburgh next season. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said until Friday, he didn't know Staal was coming to Carolina.
Rutherford expressed interest in Staal after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs, when Shero made a comment that he might not be able to keep his three centers together. They had one more conversation after that.
[Also: 2012 NHL Entry Draft: 30 first-round picks & prospect profiles]
Then the news broke Thursday that Staal had turned down the 10-year deal. Suitors became more aggressive, especially Carolina and one other team. Rutherford said he called Shero at 4:20 p.m. on Friday. They met in Shero's office at the Consol Energy Center. Shero insisted on Sutter, a 23-year-old drafted by Carolina 11th overall in 2007, as part of the deal.
Rutherford didn't want to do it. You could see it in his face and hear it in his voice. But Staal was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. The Hurricanes are getting a 23-year-old who should be considered for the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward and should score more with more opportunity, especially on the power play. This was a No. 1 center – an excellent No. 1 center – trapped in a No. 3 spot only because he was behind two players who have won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
"You name me two or three other players, centericemen, who are like Jordan Staal," he said. "You just can't find them."
Though Rutherford insisted he had no assurances he could sign Staal to an extension, he wouldn't have given up so much if he weren't confident he could keep Jordan with Eric. "For many years, the family said that the brothers want to play together," he said. "Now they're together. I don't know why you'd go somewhere else."
The deal was done about 15 minutes before the start of the NHL entry draft and was announced when the Hurricanes' pick came up at No. 8. The fans roared. They chanted, "LET'S GO, PENS!" It seemed odd, considering Staal is a heart-and-soul player who helped the Penguins win a Stanley Cup. But it seemed everyone understood the unique situation. Staal was behind Crosby and Malkin. He was going to play with Eric. Shero got a good return.
"How often in a major-league sport – baseball, hockey, football, no matter what – do you have the opportunity to play with your brother?" said Jesse Ferencz, 25, a fan wearing a No. 11 Staal sweater, upset only that the Penguins drafted defenseman Derrick Pouliot eighth overall instead of center Filip Forsberg.
Ferencz was standing next to his own brother.
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"You can't be mad at a guy who wants to play with his brother and be in the spotlight," Ferencz said. "You can't be mad at somebody like that, especially somebody who gave 100 percent effort, great presence in the locker room, all-around character guy, two-way player."
No one should be mad, not even Shero. No, he doesn't have Crosby, Malkin and Staal anymore. But he always knew that might not be realistic, anyway.
"I don't know with Sidney and Geno being here that it would be a long-term fit in terms of having him grow as a player," Shero said. "In fairness to all three players, it was maybe time to move on, if that was the right thing to do. That's what we did."
As Shero said, the Penguins still have three centers. They've got Crosby, Malkin and Sutter. Center is still the strength of their team. Plus, they have prospects, cap room and the potential to add more, and by being proactive, nothing will fester.
"I thought about that," Shero said. "I think with any player, to reach your true potential, you've got to be happy. You've got to be happy in your environment. You've got to be happy in your role.
"Not that Jordan wasn't, but this kid had a great playoff for himself. He didn't play all 82 games last year, but he certainly produced very good numbers. He was just growing out of what he was doing. He's going to take that to Carolina and be a very good player there and so …
"We'll see what happens."
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