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Would Jordan Staal Help Pittsburgh Penguins?

Over the last 24 hours we found out that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford might be interested in acquiring Jordan Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes. A number of sources, including Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have written about the manager’s desire to acquire a forward, and have connected him to the Hurricanes.

The crossovers and connections here are numerous, juicy and intriguing. Rutherford is the former GM of the Hurricanes, and pulled the trigger on a deal to bring Staal to Carolina during the draft in 2012.

Rutherford liked the center then and he seems to still like him now; a fact that Jonathan Gardner pointed out in his column for TheHockeyWriters.com. There’s a ton of familiarity in play here, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s fire, this smoke is difficult to ignore.

Rutherford already acquired Staal once, while Penguins fans have longed to return to the three high-end center setup that lead them to the Stanley Cup back in 2009. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Staal centering the top three lines created matchup problems that Mike Babcock could solve with this roster.

The idea might be romanticized in the Steel City a bit, but you can’t argue with the results that trio achieved. Back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final and a Championship banner. Tack on the fact that the Penguins haven’t returned to the Final since Staal was traded, and it’s tough to blame the fan base for wanting the 26-year-old back in black and gold.

The storyline is great, but does a reunion make sense for Pittsburgh?

Staal

Would Jordan Staal put the Penguins over the top?

 

According to NHLNumbers.com, the Penguins have less than $1 million in cap space to work with. There’s a rub right there, since Staal’s cap hit is $6 million. His contract also has another four seasons left, so the chances of the Hurricanes wanting to eat a substantial portion of the hit are nonexistent.

If Staal is to land in Pittsburgh, it’ll be via a good ol’ fashioned player-for-player(s) swap. The Penguins could move a prospect or pick to sweeten the pot, but those are the kinds of deals Rutherford said he wouldn’t be making when he took over as team GM this summer.

It seems more likely that the Penguins would be moving roster players to acquire Staal. One name that sticks out is Christian Ehrhoff. He’s injured at the moment, but the offensive defenseman hasn’t panned out the way the Penguins hoped. Ehrhoff was supposed to cement the team’s top-four and add some offensive pop to the second power play unit.

That hasn’t happened, and his $4 million cap hit is a road block to any possible deal for Staal. The defender’s contract is up this summer and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Hurricanes flip him again at the deadline. Those are the kinds of deals Ron Francis needs to make to get his team on the rebuild track. It’s worked wonders for the Buffalo Sabres. Perhaps the Hurricanes should follow suit. It’s speculation on our part, but Rutherford probably isn’t looking to shake up his core too much.

Some Penguins fans may feel that the team needs to add defensemen and not subtract them, but you have to give to get. Acquiring Staal would cost a bundle of assets, and if the goal is to get back to the three-elite-center system, moving Ehrhoff could work.

It’d take more than just a underacheving pending UFA to pry Staal out of Carolina though. Ehrhoff would more or less be a throw in that would allow the finances to even out. Rutherford would have to part with someone like Beau Bennett, Simon Despres or Kasperi Kapanen to make the deal worth if for the Hurricanes.

It’s not like Staal is a depreciating asset. He still has at least a half-decade of good hockey left in him, and he’s an elite two-way center that could play a ton of important minutes for Pittsburgh down the stretch.

For the Penguins, it’s just a matter of where they want their depth. Moving Ehrhoff would deplete their defense a bit, but beef up their top nine substantially. It’d also allow for Brandon Sutter to play a more appropriate role on the team.

With Staal in place, Pittsburgh’s lines would look something like this:

David Perron Sidney Crosby Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz Evgeni Malkin Blake Comeau
Nick Spaling Jordan Staal Beau Bennett

If you look at that top-nine and think “yeah, those lines would get the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final” then moving an expiring contract, young player/prospect and pick might make sense to you.

It’s just tough to see the Penguins doing substantially more damage with Staal than without. He’s an outstanding player, but would he be the difference in a seven-game series? He’d have his moments, but the asking price is likely too high for Rutherford to consider. The last regime continuously moved out futures with a win-now mentality, and that left the cupboards pretty bare within the organization.

HockeysFuture.com ranks the Penguins at No. 16 in terms of prospect depth, but they still have Derrick Pouliot and Bennett listed as in the system. Both of those players are in the NHL right now and are likely to remain there. Pull them off the top-five prospect list and the Penguins farm system would likely drop into the bottom-third of the league.

If Rutherford is trying to restock the franchise, trading for Staal doesn’t achieve that goal. Especially when you truly consider that he’d be moving mountains for a guy to play on the third line.

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