As the NHL Draft approaches, look for NHL rumors to start heating up and to reach a certain critical mass right before they start handing out ’12 caps and jerseys in Pittsburgh. It happened last year, like with the bombshell of the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter trades, and will most likely happen again. One name that’s being thrown around as a potential trade candidate is Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Staal’s problem is an enviable one: as a center, he’s so far down the lineup in Pittsburgh because the Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him. On the same team as big guys like that, it’s easy to get a little less glory than what might be deserved. Staal does deserve it–even though he had injury problems this year (he also had some bad luck with injuries last season, when his season debut came at the Winter Classic), he still put up 50 points in 62 games, a career-high season. Those 50 were split evenly in goals and assists, showing that he can both get it to the back of the net himself and set up teammates too. He’s an alternate captain for the Pens, so he knows about leadership as well, which is a very important and attractive factor.
Staal might be available a little sooner than expected, considering that he has a contract coming up for renewal at the same time as Crosby. The cost of keeping the captain around may simply necessitate some hard choices and a little trimming and trading by Penguins GM Ray Shero.
Rumor has it that Staal could be dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that struggled this season and put up a 33-33-16 record, missing the playoffs for the third year in a row. In that case he would answer to his captain and older brother Eric. While that would be funny to see, and would certainly produce its share of amusing headlines, there are other teams that could use his help as well.
Imagine Staal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That team had a crushing later-season collapse and a 35-37-10 record after a hopeful beginning that briefly had blue-and-white faithfuls daring to dream of a Stanley Cup parade. Staal could be a big guy for them, maybe even a first-line center, a potential builder of a Toronto championship team. He doesn’t necessarily have to worry about playing for his first Cup ring because he already got one in 2009, but he could try to help bring that parade to Toronto for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was president.
Other teams that had trouble scoring last season and could use someone like Staal include the Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. All of these teams were at or near the bottom in terms of goals for during the season.
Keep an eye on Staal going into the week of the draft. It is possible he could be on the trading block out of Penguins necessity–and that some struggling team could reap the benefits of Pittsburgh being top-heavy on centers and having big contracts to settle.