Jordan Staal Returning to the Penguins?


With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2014-15 campaign turning out to be a far stretch from the division-leading efforts of the last two seasons, comparisons have been drawn between the current Pens and the team of 2009 that rebounded during the home-stretch of the regular season to eventually win the Stanley Cup.

If recent reports are true, the Pens could soon have more in common with the ’09 team than their regular season slide.

According to Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pens are interested in swinging a trade to re-acquire Jordan Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes, reuniting Pittsburgh’s ‘Big Three’ (Staal, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin) that took them to two consecutive Stanley Cup finals and won them the only championship of the Crosby era.

Staal was traded to Carolina at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and the 8th overall pick of the 2012 draft, which Pittsburgh used to select Derrick Pouliot.

The Pens have reportedly had talks concerning the possibility of bringing Staal back to Pittsburgh in the summer, though they have also inquired about what it would cost to bring him in prior to this season’s trade deadline (Mar. 2nd), according to Yohe.

Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford certainly hasn’t been shy about his feelings regarding Staal – it was Rutherford who brought Staal to Carolina in 2012 when the former served as the Hurricanes’ GM.

Speaking to Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rutherford noted how badly the Pens have missed Staal’s presence on the third line, indicating the Pens’ management are well aware of the upgrade Staal would provide if he were to return.

What would the return of Jordan Staal mean for Pittsburgh?

In terms of his effect on the ice, it would boost the club’s play in all areas. He’s a big body (6’4″, 220 lbs), he can score, he can skate, he’s defensively reliable. Staal was undeniably the most talented and accomplished third-line centre in the NHL during his time in Pittsburgh, and a return to the Penguins would put him right back there again.

Without him in the lineup, the Pens have been a noticeably different team.

While Brandon Sutter has been a good player for Pittsburgh, he hasn’t been great.

Staal, however, was.

He remains the youngest player in NHL history to record a hat-trick, which he did at 18 years old, and his 7 shorthanded goals in 2006-07 are the most ever scored by an NHL rookie.

That rookie season also earned Staal a place as a Calder trophy finalist – he would lose out to teammate Evgeni Malkin. After developing his game in Pittsburgh, he earned a Selke Trophy nomination in 2010 as he rose to become one of the league’s best defensive forwards.

Simply put, the return of Staal to the Penguins would be a game-changer. Trying to match up against Crosby, Malkin, and Staal was a defensive nightmare for opposing clubs – one that was exposed time and time again during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run in 2009.

Moreover, during his time in Pittsburgh, Staal showcased an aspect of his game that few other Pens’ forwards have possessed – the ability to take over games when Crosby and Malkin are held at bay.

We saw it in Pittsburgh’s ’09 series with Detroit. With Pittsburgh looking set to stumble against the Red Wings once again, it was Staal who tallied a series-altering shorthanded goal to swing the momentum back into the Penguins’ favour.

After his departure, the Pens became a club solely focused on their elite duo of Crosby and Malkin. Unfortunately, the rest of the league focused solely on them as well.

Such has been the team’s recent playoff woes. It’s become a fairly repetitive story. Crosby and Malkin are held at bay as opposing teams focus all their energy on shutting them down, and no other Penguin is able to rise up and make an impact on their own to keep things moving forward.

With Staal, there was a certain balance that left opponents wary of putting all their eggs in one, or even two baskets.

As noted by Yohe, Staal would reportedly be willing to waive his no-trade clause to return to Pittsburgh.

Perhaps because the young forward’s time in Carolina didn’t go exactly to plan. After scoring at a similar 50-point pace in his first season as a Hurricane (the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign), Staal’s numbers dipped considerably in his second year, wherein he posted only 15 goals and 40 points in 82 games.

Much of that was due to the fact that he was stuck on a weak Carolina squad that finished 7th in the Metropolitan division.

While a return to the ‘Big Three’ model would be well-received by all in Pittsburgh, a trade would not be easy to come by as the financials would need some considerable work.

After leaving the Pens to play a bigger role in Carolina alongside his brother, Eric, the younger Staal signed a 10-year, $60 million extension.

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  • As the Pens currently have less than $1 million in cap space, it would take a fair bit of shedding to fit in Staal’s $6 million annual cap hit.

    There are certainly ways of making this happen, however.

    It’s unclear what the fate of Brandon Sutter would be if Staal returned to reclaim his third line centreman duties, but if Sutter was in fact moved as part of the deal, his $3.3 million cap hit would go with him.

    Candidates for further salary shedding would be Paul Martin ($5 million), Christian Ehrhoff ($4 million), and Rob Scuderi ($4 million).

    Martin and Ehrhoff are both unrestricted free agents following this season, making them prime candidates for potential trades, provided the haul is a worthy one.

    While it seems unlikely Staal would leave Carolina and the opportunity to continue playing alongside his brother, Eric, the fact is he may soon not have a choice.

    The Canes have missed the playoffs in 7 of the last 8 seasons (the lone season they did advance in the postseason saw them get swept out of the Conference Finals by Staal and the Penguins), leading to speculation that Eric Staal – a UFA after next season – may be shipped out of town soon as well.

    This coupled with the fact that Jordan Staal’s chance at playing a bigger role hasn’t panned out as he hoped could certainly mean he’s open to returning to the city that allowed him to be one of the NHL’s best, to play meaningful postseason hockey, and to lift the Stanley Cup.

    It is still early in the process – and the process itself is not certain to continue at all – but one thing is clear: a Jordan Staal return is on the table.

    Whether it comes to fruition remains to be seen, but the possibility is certainly an enticing one.