Jordan Staal rumors and reality

The off-season is always a fun time for hockey bloggers. While nothing compares to the excitement of watching your team in the playoffs, bloggers always have a fun time playing armchair GM and speculating what moves their teams should make in the coming months. Carolina has been a hotspot for rumors and scuttlebutt this off-season and it’s mostly because Peter Karmanos has given GM Jim Rutherford the green light to spend as much money needed to acquire a top-line player. This has led to a lot of people thinking that Zach Parise will be the main target, which makes sense because he’s the best free agent winger available this year. The most intriguing rumor, however, surrounds Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal and the possibility of Carolina trading for him this off-season.

My personal philosophy is to ignore rumors like this because the likelihood of a big trade actually happening seems slim but this particular one has gotten out of control. You’ll see people assuming that Jordan Staal will become a Hurricane by October and that Rutherford needs to make a trade for him or this off-season will be a failure. What I want to know is how likely is it that Rutherford actually trades for Staal and what needs to happen for a deal to get done. In addition to that, how does trading for Staal help the Hurricanes more than acquiring a top-line winger or a defenseman? I will look at all of these factors after the jump.

First off, we have to look back to where this rumor started, which was about a month ago and it mostly based on Pittsburgh’s supposed cap situation. Both Sidney Crosby and Staal are set to become UFAs after the 2012-13 season and Evgeni Malkin is due for a contract extension the year after. Penguins GM Ray Shero might have trouble keeping all three because they are going to want significantly long deals with high cap hits. The salary cap increasing to $70.3 mil. next year makes things slightly easier for them so this might not be as big of an issue as it appeared a month ago, but he’s still going to need to commit a large amount of money to three players if he wants to keep them.

The talk of the Pens cap situation sparked some rumors and the highly regarded Bob McKenzie from TSN decided to say this on Twitter.

“There’s a lot of Jordan Staal talk, where his long-term home is (PIT or elsewhere?). Being a year from UFA means he’s driving the bus.

“PIT can’t get full market value in trade for J Staal if he’s one and done in the new locale. So Staal ultimately ends up wherever he wants.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if all three Staal brothers eventually want to play on same team. Eric, BTW, has four more years on his CAR deal.

“Which is to suggest Eric not going anywhere. Just a guess, but if Jordan isn’t a Penguin—not suggesting he’s not—a Cane seems logical.

“Bottom line is in 1 yr, it’s entirely his call. That power/influence dramatically impacts potential move this summer.”

Quotes taken from Kukla’s Korner

McKenzie is very accurate at reporting transactions when they occur but this is just speculation and nothing more. He’s basically saying “Staal is a free agent soon and can decide where he wants to go, and I think he would want to play with his brother in Carolina.” That’s all that was said. Nowhere in there did he provide sources saying that Staal wants to come to Raleigh to play with Eric, he is just saying what he thinks Jordan wants to do. McKenzie is allowed to have his opinions so I don’t have a problem with him tweeting this, but you can’t say that Jordan Staal wants to come to Carolina based on this. Had he quoted Jordan saying that he would like to come to Carolina to play with Eric then it is a different story but there are no such quotes in here. Either way, this is the spark that started the fire.

We know where this whole mess started, but what are the chances that a trade actually happens? There are a few things that you need to consider before assuming that a trade is going to get done. The first is Pittsburgh’s cap situation right now and a couple years down the line. As of right now, they have a little under $9 mill. to spend under the $70.3 mil. salary cap and have 19 players under contract. If Shero wanted to get a deal with Staal done this year then he could probably do that easily. That is assuming he doesn’t want to spend any major money elsewhere and from the looks of things, he probably wont. The Pens have too much money tied up in Martin, Michalek, Orpik and Letang to spend big on a defenseman and have both Neal and Kuntiz locked up for at least a couple more years so they don’t need to spend on a top-line winger. They need to give Matt Niskanen a new contract but that shouldn’t be too expensive.

After next season is where things get dicey because Crosby needs a new contract, as well and they have a few other players who are set to become free agents including Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis. It is uncertain what the new salary cap will be at that time but if it stays at $70.3 mil. (which is unlikely with the new CBA), then Pittsburgh has about $28 mil. to spend on 9 players, possibly less depending on what they do this off-season. From the looks of things, they do have room to keep Staal around and whether or not they re-sign him will depend on how much Shero wants to keep him and if Staal actually wants to be traded.

Let’s say that Staal does want to be traded. What does Rutherford have to do to make a deal work? Judging from their numbers this season and their prospects, organizational depth is the team’s biggest need but they could also improve on defense, as well. Carolina has a few defensive prospects who they can deal to Pittsburgh but Shero is likely going to want a draft pick or another prospect along with it. If there is one thing to know about Ray Shero, it is that you don’t want your team to trade with him. He has been known to make trades that work heavily in his team’s favor (see Neal, Kunitz, Vokoun & Hossa trades) and Rutherford needs to approach this situation with extreme caution. Rutherford can’t sell the farm just for one player and he most certainly shouldn’t do it for another center.

Therein lies the other problem with trading for Jordan Staal. Carolina’s main needs for this off-season are at wing and on defense. Adding a player of Staal’s caliber would help but the roster would have to be shaken up a bit in order for it to work. If Staal does become a Hurricane, then one of the Staals or Jussi Jokinen would likely have to move to wing. That shouldn’t be too hard of a transition, though because Jokinen has played wing before and had his best season when he was playing that position. Jordan Staal centering the second line would allow him to play at wing permanently and make the team better.

The other problem is that the Hurricanes have a player similar to Staal in Brandon Sutter. Both play the role of shutdown center on their respective teams and have done a terrific job at it. The difference between the two is that while Sutter has the potential to be a top-six player, Staal already is and just about every team would take him over Sutter to play the two-way center role. Then again, having two centers (three including Eric) who can play against tough competition isn’t a bad thing so having both Jordan and Sutter take the tough minutes could potentially free up Eric’s line to be used in more offensive situations. Finding the wingers who can play the tough minutes with Jordan Staal, however, will still be a problem. That is the biggest issue I have with trading for him.

To sum things up, the whole “Jordan Staal to Carolina” situation doesn’t have much base to it other than the Pens having supposed cap issues and Jordan and Eric being brothers. If Rutherford does want to trade for Staal then he’s going to have to give up a pretty big price and will still have other holes to fill on the roster despite that. Acquiring Jordan Staal gives the Canes a good two-way threat but he isn’t magically going to make the Canes’ problems at wing and on defense go away. I wouldn’t believe any of the rumors until I see something from Shero or Staal saying that a trade might be in the works. Just my two cents.