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Penguins now in position to be player in free agent market following busy draft weekend

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero, top right, leads owner Mario Lemieux, center, and president David Morehouse through the floor after an announcement that they had traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for two current players and moved up to the Hurricanes eighth spot in the first round of the NHL hockey draft on Friday, June 22, 2012, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins chose defenseman Derrick Pouliot. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero, top right, leads owner Mario Lemieux, center, and president David Morehouse through the floor after an announcement that they had traded Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes for two current players and moved up to the Hurricanes eighth spot in the first round of the NHL hockey draft on Friday, June 22, 2012, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins chose defenseman Derrick Pouliot. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - No seller's remorse for Ray Shero.

The Pittsburgh general manager insists he did the right thing—both for the players and the organization—by trading popular centre Jordan Staal and defenceman Zbynek Michalek on Friday night.

The moves allow Staal to play alongside big brother Eric in Carolina while Michalek returns to Phoenix, where he had the best seasons of his career before signing with the Penguins two summers ago.

Pittsburgh received six players in return for their two established veterans, including promising centre Brandon Sutter. Even better, they cleared salary cap space that could make them plenty active when free agency begins next week.

"It was an exciting, tough couple of days," Shero said.

Productive too.

Though Shero would have preferred to sign Staal to a lengthy contract extension, when it became apparent it wasn't going to happen he didn't hesitate to find one of the best two-way centres in the game a new home.

The Hurricanes quickly stepped in and the teams put together a deal that stole the show from the NHL draft.

"After 2 o'clock on Friday, I knew what I wanted to do," Shero said. "It just felt like it was the right thing to do, for us, for Carolina and for Jordan."

Staal, taken with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft, has no hard feelings. The trade, however, did come at an awkward time. He was married Friday night in Canada with several Penguins in attendance.

"The opportunity for me just didn't seem to be there (in Pittsburgh), and I really wanted to hopefully challenge myself, maybe on a different team, and see what I could do," Staal said.

While Sutter hasn't put up the kind of numbers Staal regularly produced, he's still an effective player as well as considerably cheaper. And with Staal and Michalek's salaries—a combined $8 million next year—off the books the Penguins can look for a high-profile free agent to add to a team still loaded with talent.

The Penguins appear to have enough space to make a run at someone like New Jersey's Zach Parise. The 27-year-old Parise scored 31 goals to go with 38 assists while helping the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals he's good friends with Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby.

Shero remains confident the Penguins will be able to sign Crosby, whose contract is up next summer, to an extension in the next couple weeks. It's likely Crosby would take a slight discount to stay in Pittsburgh to help the team be aggressive in free agency.

"That's what Sidney did last time," Shero said. "Let's be honest, he's a great hockey player and those players need to be paid so we need to figure out what's fair for him but also help the team out so we can surround these players with good players."

The Penguins are optimistic they grabbed a handful during a surprisingly active draft. Pittsburgh selected nine players over two days, including a pair of first-round picks in defenceman Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta.

Pouliot was an important part of the trade with Carolina. Pittsburgh used the No. 8 pick they received from the Hurricanes to grab the smooth-skating 18-year-old.

"I think the nervous part of that deal was we wanted to get Pouliot with that pick," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "When that thing was done it culminated with a sigh of relief."

Pittsburgh stayed busy on Saturday, grabbing goaltenders Matthew Murray and Sean Maguire, forwards Theodor Blueger, Oskar Sundqvist, Matia Marcantuoni and Anton Zlobin and defenceman Clark Seymour.

The additions at the blue line further bolster a system stocked with talent, including Joe Morrow, their top pick a year ago. It's the depth inside the system that made Michalek expendable.

"The younger players we drafted are ready to play and we needed to create some space for them," Shero said.

It's been a difficult two months for the Penguins, who were thumped out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Though the franchise remains stocked with talent, Shero acknowledged a change in direction was necessary.

As for what the Penguins do next, he's not sure. The only thing he's certain of is the fact they have options.

"There's a lot of good teams out there, a lot of good situations," Shero said. "We have to formulate our game plan but we're in a different position than we were a few days ago."

___

AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

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