by Tony on 11/05/08 at 05:04 PM ET
Way back during the 2006-2007 NHL season, Pittsburgh Penguins fans certainly had visions of offensive domination for years to come.
Sidney Crosby had 36 goals and 120 points, plus the Hart, Art Ross and Pearson trophies. Evgeni Malkin had 33 goals and 85 points, quickly establishing him as one of the league’s most feared snipers.
And then there was Jordan Staal. He burst on the scene in impressive fashion, scoring his NHL first goal short-handed in Madison Square Garden. He ended up scoring seven of his 29 goals short-handed, tying the NHL rookie record and led the NHL in that category. He also led the NHL in shooting percentage with 22.1%.
Those totals decreased significantly last season for Staal. His goal totals went down to only 12, none of which were short-handed. His shooting percentage went down to 6.6%.
Fast-forwarding to this year, Staal’s performance to date could very well be best described by the prophet Joe Pesci, who said in JFK, “It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle around an enigma !!”.
It wasn’t until the Penguins’ last game, their 12th of the season, that Staal finally got the goose egg off his scoresheet, but that was only after a gracious feed to an empty net from Malkin in the waning seconds versus St. Louis.
It should also be a concern for Penguins fans that Staal’s bread and butter, his defense, has taken a hit as well. Several times in this early season he’s appeared to be a step slow, relatively speaking, being caught flat-footed and resulted in him taking lazy penalties.
In all fairness to Staal, he just turned 20. Really, it’s quite the compliment that a 20 year old has such lofty expectations. Frankly, his teammate Crosby may very well have caused unfair expectations for the youngsters in today’s NHL, even for someone like Staal, who was the 2nd overall pick in ‘06.
However, it’s Staal’s contract that has forced the Penguins, notably GM Ray Shero, to take a long hard look at Staal and try to determine if he is going to warrant the certain long-term big payday that is going to come, whether that’s from the Penguins or someone else. Staal will be the tricky Restricted Free Agent (RFA) this coming offseason, and you can be sure that he will attract plenty of attention if Shero and the Penguins don’t re-sign him by that time. RFA offer sheets in recent years have caused some heated discussions amongst NHL pundits and teams. The most notable to have occured recently were Ryan Kessler, who was offered $1.2 million to stay with Vancouver, but signed an offer sheet with Philly for $1.7 million. The Canucks had no choice but to sign Kessler for the higher price, or lose him for a draft pick. The most recent example, and maybe the best example of what might happen with Staal, is concerning the Sabres’ Thomas Vanek. Vanek was reportedly being offered a contract worth $4.5 million from Buffalo, but signed a 7 year, $50 million offer sheet with Edmonton. Buffalo soon thereafter matched the Oilers’ offer.
Would Staal command a $7 million annual salary from the Penguins ?? I highly doubt it. However, if the Penguins don’t re-sign Staal before he becomes an RFA, and allow other teams to bid on him, his price could skyrocket, so much so that he outgrows the Penguins’ budget.
So that brings us to the next angle: Considering that Crosby now has played with about 122 wingers in his 3+ seasons in the NHL, as well as losing Marian Hossa in the offseason, does Shero use the pending RFA status for Staal as a reason for trading him to a team for that coveted “scoring winger” ?? Or, do Shero and the Penguins believe that Staal will eventually become the dominant forward that he showed signs of in ‘06 ?? Moreover, can the Penguins afford to sign Staal for the long-term, given their near-max contracts for Crosby and Malkin, as well as big contracts to Fleury, Whitney and Orpik ??
Conventional wisdom would say that the Penguins be patient with Staal, and not be prone to “Naslund-itis”, when they thought Markus Naslund wouldn’t amount to much. Penguins fans know all too well what happened after that. He was traded for Alex Stojanov, who scored all of two goals for the Penguins before being released. The problem is that Shero and the Penguins don’t exactly have a lot of time to be patient, and will have to compensate Staal at a pretty penny very soon. Both Shero and Staal’s agent acknowledge that contract talks haven’t yet started, but expect to in the coming months. We shall see.
That’s why Shero makes the big bucks, the question is whether he’ll dish out the big bucks to Staal, or whether he’ll let someone else dish it.
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Welcome to The Confluence, a Pittsburgh Penguins blog since 2006.
Originally at Blogspot, then at MVN, TheConfluence has over 1500 articles reporting Penguins news as well as jumping on my soapbox to opine constructive Penguins criticism.
I am blogger- credentialed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. My posts are regularly linked by hockey websites such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Yahoo!‘s Puck Daddy, and I’ve done numerous guest blogger spots on such websites asthe New YorkTimes. I am a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer.
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