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Staal’s contract ties Shero’s hands, or does it ??

The current downward spiral of the Penguins certainly provides more than enough fodder for the blogs and message boards.

But the 4-year, $16 million contract extension to Jordan Staal has set off yet another firestorm of controversy in Penguinsland.

NOTE:  A lot of my comments on this topic have already been spewed over at Puck Daddy in Sean Leahy’s article.

So let’s break this one down a schmidge, shall we ??

There are so many repercussions to discuss in reference to this contract, I don’t know where to start.  I’m going to go in all kinds of directions on this one.

Let’s start here:  Staal is just 20 years old, in fact he doesn’t turn 21 until September 10, when he and the Pens (fairly large assumption, I realize) will be preparing for next season.  However, he’s already played in over 200 games, becoming the youngest player in NHL history to play 200 games.  He surprised everyone in his rookie year when he deposited 29 goals, 7 of those short-handed, tying the NHL rookie record and leading the league both in that category and shooting percentage at 22.1%.

His scoring went down to only 12 last year, and while he’s now matched that total with the credit for that pinball-ish goal last night, it’s no secret that the Penguins have expected much more from the #2 pick in the 2006 draft.

That said, he’s loaded with the big “P” word (that’s potential, no jokes please).  So prudence would dictate locking that potential up with the Penguins long-term, at current prices.

But see, the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t your cut and dry NHL team, they just aren’t.  They have the luxury of having two of the top centers in the world, those of course being Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  The Penguins are once again attempting to turn Staal into a winger.  However, if this try is anything like previous ones, it won’t go very well.  Staal has admitted on more than one occasion that he’s much more comfortable as a center, and his performance surely indicates that.

That might dictate that Staal may eventually remain as the Pens 3rd line center, under the assumption once again that he’s going to remain a Penguin.  And that’s where we go next.  Sure, the Staal contract extension locks in the “core” group that Pens’ GM Ray Shero often talks about.  But what is also does is virtually tie his hands when it comes to signing anyone else for the next few years that would come at anything than an average salary.  Ilya Kovalchuk ??  Marian Gaborik ??  Marian Hossa ??  You can forget about those guys for the foreseeable future, if things remain as they are.

So the question becomes, is 4 million clams a year overpaying for a decent two-way, third line center ??  Well, some would say it may be overpaying now, but that may be saving the Penguins money if that “P” word is reached in the coming years.  Once again, the kid’s only 20.  However, the other thing that the Staal extension does is that it gives Shero much, much more leverage in discussing possible trades for Staal, if and when those would come up.  If Staal’s contract wasn’t extended now, with Staal becoming a RFA at season’s end, Shero’s leverage would have been much less, and therefore would have garnered him a whole helluva lot less in return.  As it is now, a trade for Jordan Staal with a new 4 year contract extension, if that happens, nets the Penguins some serious assets in return, whether that’s in roster players, draft picks, or both.

But another angle that you have to look at Staal’s new contract is that with so much money tied up in the “core” now, does that mean that someone else in the “core” could eventually be on the way out ??  Looking at the Penguins’ dearth of offensive defensemen, that could very well point to Ryan Whitney.  Crosby, Malkin and Fleury aren’t going anywhere, unless you listen to Bruce Garrioch.  That leaves Whitney, Orpik and Staal (I’m not including Max Talbot, he’s quite expendable, in my view).  I would seriously doubt the Penguins would part with Orpik, besides Matt Cooke he’s one of the only Penguins that throws a decent check every now and then, and certainly on the defensive end.  So then you narrow it down to Whitney and Staal.  I have to be constructive that I’ve never totally been a Ryan Whitney fan.  He’s certainly had his moments and is a good puck-moving defenseman, but on the defensive end he certainly has his liabilities.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that if you don’t trade one of those big tickets eventually, your roster is going to be “the core”, plus a bunch of ham n’ eggers.  The NHL salary cap is going to see to that.  It may be 54 million or so now, but there are loud whispers that it may very well go down in the near future.  If you think the Pens are hamstrung by the cap now, just wait until that happens.  I just don’t see a way around it for Shero and the Pens, and that may be soon.

Whew, I guess I wasn’t joking, that post went in about 20 different directions, but that’s how complex it’s going to be for Shero in the coming months and years.  Things will soon start heating up with the trade deadline in early March, and with the Penguins heading downhill in the Eastern Conference standings game by game, we may see sooner than later what his plan is.

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  Tags: nhl-hockey, pittsburgh+penguins

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About The Confluence

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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