Jordan Staal was drafted second overall by the Penguins in 2006 and is eligible for UFA status in July of 2013. (Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH – Jim Rutherford could have waited until this time next summer and he wouldn’t have had to give up anything for Jordan Staal but the cost of his contract – one that would have been governed by the parameters of a new collective bargaining agreement, no less.
But the GM of the Carolina Hurricanes wasn’t willing to do that, not for this player. And good on him and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero for being decisive and not allowing this situation to fester. It’s that kind of leadership and management style that works best in today’s game.
“We got an elite player,” Rutherford said after making the trade to acquire Staal from the Penguins in exchange for center Brandon Sutter, Boston College defense prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick in the draft – which the Penguins used to select high-scoring Portland Winterhawks defenseman Derrick Pouliot. “Jordan Staal can become a superstar. You look at a 6-foot-4, 220-pound center who can skate and play like him, you can’t name me two or three guys in the league who are comparable to him. Those guys are hard to find.”
Mrs. Shero did not raise a dummy. So when Staal turned down a 10-year, $60 million offer from the Penguins recently, Shero interpreted that move as a clear message Staal was never, ever going to stay with the Penguins in the long term. Shero also knew that Staal’s stated intention was to join his older brother, Eric, with the Hurricanes. (Interesting, isn’t it, that players can make it crystal clear to anyone while they’re still under contract where they want to go, but if a GM even talks about a player who is under contract to another team, he gets slapped with tampering charges?) There was very little chance Staal could come back and play for the Penguins next season under those circumstances, so Shero made the best of a bad situation and struck an excellent deal with a team that had far more leverage on its side.
And Shero did make an outstanding deal. He can essentially plug his hole at the No. 3 center spot with Sutter, who comes almost $2 million cheaper and is under contract for two more seasons. In fact, Rutherford described Sutter as one of the best two-way centers in the league. And while Pouliot is still probably a couple of years away, trading for the eighth overall pick turned out just fine for the Philadelphia Flyers when they acquired that pick and selected Sean Couturier.
Rutherford described it as a “very good hockey deal,” and he’s right. What’s more, everybody gets what they want. The Penguins rid themselves of an ugly situation that was only going to get uglier, Staal gets his NHL divorce that he sought on the same day he got married - and his preferred landing spot - and Rutherford gets the player he needs to make his team better. But nobody in this situation makes out better than Staal, whose enormous gamble on his future paid off. You can bet that Rutherford will use Shero’s 10-year, $60 million offer as a template to sign Staal and with him being able to sign Staal to an extension anytime after July 1, Staal will get his deal before the new CBA takes effect, one that will likely curb the earning power of the athletes and place term limits on the length of contracts.
“For many years, the family said the that the brothers want to play together, so now that they’re together I don’t know why you’d go somewhere else,” Rutherford said. “We’ll figure out a way to keep him.”
From the trade deadline, Rutherford had made it clear his stated intention was to acquire someone to play with Eric Staal and most interpreted that to mean that he was after a winger, perhaps Rick Nash. The Hurricanes have been involved in the Nash talks, but don’t appear prepared to move rookie defenseman Justin Faulk as part of any deal. But they may have found that player in Jordan Staal. Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller will have the final say, but there’s a chance Eric will move to left wing to play with his brother. At the very least, they’ll both be on the Hurricanes first power play and, given their penalty killing prowess, will almost certainly be the first two forwards Muller throws over the boards when the Hurricanes find themselves a man short.
For his part, Shero acknowledged that after news got out about Staal’s situation, he considered how the problem might fester over the next season. He could have become indignant about it all. He drafted Staal second overall as a rookie GM and the two won a Stanley Cup together and Shero could have sat and waited and hoped everything worked out. But he also realized that a GM’s most important job is to take care of the present with an eye to the future and he did just that.
“He was growing out of what he was doing,” Shero said of Staal. “It wasn’t difficult at all for me because I wanted him to be here, but at the same time, it’s business.”
The Phoenix Coyotes were not shopping defenseman Keith Yandle, but GM Don Maloney acknowledged there were a number of intriguing offers for him. In fact, they were so intriguing he had to seriously consider them.
“Keith Yandle is our assistant captain and he’s one of the top young defensemen in the league,” Maloney said. “He’s a core guy for us, but I can’t sit here and say unequivocally I’m not going to answer the phone if somebody calls on him. What happened was there were calls on him and one of the calls at least gave us something to mull, to be honest with you. I’ve said to Keith’s agent, ‘If we ever do a deal with Keith Yandle, we’re going to tell you and you’re going to say, ‘Yeah, we get that.’ ”
Maloney also said captain Shane Doan, who stands to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, wants to re-sign with the Coyotes and finish his career in Phoenix. But he’s waiting to see how the team’s ownership situation resolves itself, which means both sides might be waiting a while. What makes things interesting is the long-term future of the Coyotes might not even be resolved this summer, which might mean Doan signs either a one-year deal or goes elsewhere.
“(Tentative owner) Greg Jamison and the city of Glendale are working hard to get a deal in place, but if you’re Shane Doan, would you sign?” Maloney said. “For what he’s done for our franchise, I don’t blame him.”
The Maple Leafs were said to be very, very high on defenseman Morgan Rielly, the player they took with the fifth overall pick, but you don’t think GM Brian Burke was gilding the lily a little when he spoke about the pick, do you?
“We had this player rated first overall,” Burke said. “I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.