Penguins

Shea-ved Ice: Staal, Michalek Traded, Free Agency On The Horizon

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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The NHL Draft was held this weekend and while the Penguins worked to stock the pipeline full of promising talent for the future, they also reshaped the roster for the present.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, the trade of Jordan Staal to Carolina should not have been all that surprising.

Shocking? Perhaps with some disbelief setting in as well, but certainly not surprising.

Rumors of this deal have been flying since the Penguins’ series with the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.

There were various reports saying Staal was no longer content to play third fiddle behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and that he wanted to play with his brother Eric in Carolina.

Honestly, can you really blame him?

Staal is an elite talent in the NHL. He has a  ridiculous combination of size, speed and hockey sense. It’s what makes him one of the best penalty killers in the league and one of the best two-way centers going.

What’s laughable is that despite that skill set, he was playing on the third line with the Penguins. Having Staal, Crosby and Malkin was an embarrassment of riches.

When Crosby and Malkin were out of the lineup for extended periods of time, Staal stepped in and produced in a top six forward role. He’s got the talent and ability to be a number one or two center on just about any other team in the league. No one can dispute that.

The Penguins obviously did not want to make the tough decision to trade Staal, but General Manager Ray Shero did not have any other options.

Sure, Staal could have played out the final year of his contract with the Pens, but you simply cannot let someone of his caliber walk and get nothing in return. It’s just not a smart hockey plan.

Shero and the Penguins made their best pitch to lock Staal up long-term with a 10-year, $60 million offer, which was rejected.

I’m fully convinced the deal was rejected due to the length of the contract as opposed to the annual salary of $6 million. Had the deal been for five years or less, maybe Staal signs, who knows?

The fact of the matter is that once the offer was rejected, Shero was left with no other option, but to pursue a trade which would help the team both now and in the future.

In exchange for Staal, the Penguins received center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and Carolina’s No. 8 pick, which they used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.

All in all, this is a really good deal for the Penguins. Sutter is a solid, young, two-way center who can play both on the penalty kill and power play.

He will likely step in and fill the third line center void that Staal leaves behind. In 82 games with the Hurricanes last season, Sutter scored 17 goals and added 15 assists.

Dumolin was selected in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Hurricanes and played collegiate hockey at Boston College where he won two national titles.

According to the Penguins’ official website, Dumoulin was named as the Hockey East’s best defensive defenseman and was named as a Hockey East First team All-Star, NCAA East First Team All-Star and the Frozen Four All-Tournament team this past year.

Pouliot, 18, is highly regarded as an offensively-gifted defenseman who can be the quarterback on the power play. He was also a teammate of the Penguins’ 2011 first-round pick Joe Morrow in Portland.

Believe me, I’m very sad to see Jordan Staal be traded, but given the return, I’m okay with it.

The Penguins are already highly regarded as having a very deep set of prospects at the defensive position, which they can turn around and trade for needs if necessary.

We all knew this day was coming eventually. Long ago, I had started to come to terms with Staal likely being the first of the “Big 3” centers to leave town.

There were some other tense moments as the first round of the NHL Draft came to a close Friday night.

Shero was engaged in long discussions with Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney. Rumors started swirling that the Penguins were looking to drop another bombshell and land defenseman Keith Yandle.

One rumor floating around had the Penguins giving up Zbynek Michalek and Tyler Kennedy to get Yandle.

In the end, the Penguins did ship Michalek back to Phoenix, but the return was nothing close to Yandle.

The Penguins received defenseman Harrison Ruopp, goaltender Marc Cheverie and Phoenix’s third round pick (No. 81 overall) in this year’s draft. The Penguins used the acquired pick to select center Oskar Sundqvist from Skelleftea Jr. (Sweden).

This has salary dump written all over it, but according to reports, the Penguins wanted to draft Ruopp last year, but Phoenix beat them to it.

I also am in need of a new jersey now because of the Michalek trade. Open to suggestions, but I won’t be making a purchase until September. I’d like to see what the roster looks like first before making that investment.

After the trades, the Penguins now have just shy of $15 million in cap space to play with, according to CapGeek. The Penguins already have 18 players signed for next season and will be making decisions on Steve Sullivan and Arron Asham this week.

They are also reportedly working on new deals for RFAs Eric Tangradi, Matt Niskanen and Brian Strait.

I will say this.

I have been highly critical of Paul Martin, especially this past season and I don’t think anyone could really disagree with that. At $5 million a year, it’s hard to watch him underwhelm and chew up that much cap space.

I really didn’t want to see Michalek go. I never expected him to really contribute on the offensive end, though he did have offensive upside. I also never expected him to lay highlight reel punishing hits in the defensive end like Brooks Orpik.

Michalek was just a positional defenseman with a knack for blocking shots and clogging passing lanes. I’m not saying this past year was his best as a professional, but it certainly wasn’t as abysmal as Martin’s.

However, if the Penguins are looking to free up cap space, Martin has to be moved. If he’s still on the opening night roster after dealing Michalek, I will not be very happy.

I understand Martin has some say as to where he would be dealt and that his $5 million cap hit is going to be very hard to move. At this point, Shero should just take a bag of pucks and cut his losses.

As it stands, the Penguins still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and these trades freed up some cap space to potentially go after a guy like Ryan Suter or Zach Parise.

I’m not going to get too emotionally invested in the thought of having Suter or Parise in Pittsburgh. The other 29 teams in the NHL are going to be in on these two guys in some way as well.

If I had to pick between the two, I’d be rooting for Suter. The Penguins led the league in goal scoring last year, but defense and goaltending are what killed them in the playoffs.

Parise is an incredible player and having line combinations including Crosby-Parise and Malkin-Neal would be incredible. I wouldn’t advise trying it in NHL 12, because it would likely cause the game to blow up in your gaming system.

Though, if you have the PS3 version like me, it may blow up on its own for no reason.

Regardless of what happens, free agency opens up next Sunday (July 1) at midnight. This could be a crazy week so the best advice I can give is to expect the unexpected and try to keep a level head about all the rumors that are sure to be making the rounds.

One other note. I know a lot of people get all excited for a rumor generated by Eklund. Seriously, read his stuff and pretend he’s a stand-up comic. The odds of him being right about player movement are on par with picking names out of a hat.

Do yourself a favor and check out HockeyBuzzHogWash.com and do some reading. They stopped updated a couple years ago, but they more than proved their point.

Anyway, while we don’t have games to watch, this is still an exciting time to be a hockey fan. Let the madness begin!

You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice

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