Ever since the season ended, there have been countless rumors across the Internet of the Carolina Hurricanes making a push for a top-tier forward and one of the most popular targets was Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. At first, this all seemed like baseless speculations but the news of Staal rejecting a 10-year contract extension with the Penguins on Wednesday is when things really started to heat up and the trigger was finally pulled last nigh at the NHL Draft. The Hurricanes sent their first round pick, Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin to acquire Staal, which is a big price to give up for any player but Jim Rutherford must have really wanted Staal and believes that he can get a deal worked out with him.
You can go on for hours about what the Hurricanes had to give up to acquire him and how it was an overpayment and it would probably be true. I had been against trading for Staal because the team was going to have to give up at least one roster player and a high quality prospect to get him, and that’s what happened with this trade. I’ve been a big Brandon Sutter supporter and have gone into great detail about how helps the team. He is only in his early 20′s and playing some of the toughest minutes in the NHL and is only going to get better. The other piece, Brian Dumoulin, is likely going to be a future top-four defenseman in the NHL. It doesn’t help that top-five talents like Filip Forsberg and Mikhail Grigorenko were available for Carolina to take at #8, which would have really bolstered the team’s prospect pool. Rutherford’s willingness to pass on high-end talents like that in favor of a proven player like Staal tells me that he plans for the Hurricanes to be a competitive team sooner rather than later.
Trying to build a winner on the fly is never a bad thing and the Hurricanes have some good pieces in place but are they ready to be a winning team just now? Most people who take a glance at their current roster heading into free agency would probably say no and I’m inclined to agree with that. Trading for Jordan Staal wont automatically make the Hurricanes a contender but it does make them a better team for next season and it gives them a better core to bulid around up front.
Losing both Sutter and Dumoulin in this trade hurts, but when you look at what Jordan Staal brings to the table, it’s hard to say that he won’t be a great addition. The reason why Sutter was going the other way in this trade is because Staal essentially plays the same role as him. Both Staal and Sutter played the “heavy lifting” role for their respective clubs last season as they were regularly matched up against opposing team’s top lines and were often deployed in the defensive zone. Sutter was given less of a territorial advantage than Staal but neither were playing easy minutes by any stretch. What makes Staal such a special player is that he has been able to drive the play forward and score at a top-six rate while playing in these situations for most of his career. Sutter is a terrific defensive player but it is hard to put his two-way play on the same level as Staal’s. With Sutter, the Hurricanes had an ideal third line center who had the potential to play in the top-six. Staal, on the other hand, is a proven top-six player and is good enough defensively to play against tough competition. Staal is also only one year older than Sutter so he still has plenty of upside, and this is why losing Sutter is not as big of a deal as it may seem.
The other thing that I like about acquiring Staal is that both him and Eric give the Hurricanes two centers who do not need sheltered minutes to succeed. This means that Kirk Muller can basically do whatever he wants with the top two lines since both players can be used in a lot of different situations. He can utlize Jordan in a Sutter-type role and free up easier minutes for the first line or he could do the complete opposite and give Jordan a chance to show his offensive talents. Rutherford could also sign a defensive center for the bottom-two lines and it would allow at least one of the Staal lines to start more of their shifts in the offensive zone. The Canes might need to acquire some better players to make this plan work but at least they have a solid forward corps to build around now.
As for the defense, the Canes do have a good stockpile of prospects but losing Dumoulin stings. He was the arguably the best defenseman in college hockey last season and I really thought he could be a top-four defenseman in the next few years. I understand that Rutherford probably values Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk more than him, but it is still tough to see him go. Perhaps this gives Rutherford more incentive to re-sign Bryan Allen because the Canes are at least one shutdown defenserman short of having what would be considered a solid blue line for next season. It’s possible that Sanguinetti or Murphy could make the team out of next season or that Justin Faulk could step into a shutdown role but who knows?
This trade is a enormous risk for the Hurricanes but I kind of like that Rutherford is trying to make this team better next year and am interested to see what else he does to make that happen. My major concern with the trade is that Staal could make the Hurricanes a slightly improved team next year whereas Forsberg/Grigorenko, Sutter & Dumoulin could make them a contender a few years down the line. I’m sure Rutherford has the same concerns and plans to make more moves so that the Hurricanes are better set for next year and the future.