Trading frenzy started with Staal
Losing Jordan Staal helped the Penguins win the NHL trade deadline sweepstakes.
Not that general manager Ray Shero had any inkling in June that his failed bid to keep Staal would lead to this week's retooling of the Penguins.
At the very least, Shero had no idea that missing out on Staal would set him on a path toward a trade-deadline master's course in managing.
All of this — Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and, indeed, Jarome Iginla — has happened because Staal chose his actual family, eldest brother Eric in Carolina, over his then-NHL one.
“I'd say that's accurate,” Shero said Thursday as he broke down a trade for the third time in five days.
The latest one was the perceived biggest.
Of the three newest Penguins, Iginla is the only surefire Hall of Famer with more than 500 goals and 1,000 points.
“Talking with our coaching staff, talking with ownership, as a group, if there's a chance to get Jarome Iginla — and this is a year with the salary cap where we have room and we do have assets — we want to try and get Jarome Iginla,” Shero said.
The Penguins had scraped up against the salary cap each of the past three seasons, with assistant general manager Jason Botterill gaining a reputation for his shrewd maneuvering to keep space open so Shero could stay in the trade game.
The Penguins have a talented roster, but centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and right winger James Neal combine to count $27.4 million against this year's $70.2 million salary cap.
Most Stanley Cup contenders have little cap space to spare.
The Penguins, winners of 14 straight, first overall in the Eastern Conference and the preseason Cup favorite, begin Friday still able to add about $14 million in salary before the April 3 trade deadline.
Shero has not ruled out additional moves. He could target players just to prevent potential playoff opponents from upgrading.
Shero has conceded that this is an unusual — perhaps never-again — circumstance.
The salary cap will shrink to $64.3 million next season, and the Penguins have 10 players on expiring contracts, including Morrow, Murray and Iginla.
Malkin, a former MVP and two-time scoring champion, and Kris Letang, an elite defenseman, can negotiate contract extensions — as Crosby did last summer — and Shero said in January his objective is to re-sign both.
The Penguins are committed to about $53 million against the cap next season, and that is with only 15 players signed. Botterill, unless he moves on to another franchise, soon enough will be maneuvering within the confines of tight cap space.
The events that have transpired since Sunday, when Morrow was acquired to kick-start Shero's trading frenzy, were made possible by a tumultuous summer.
Staal's declining of a long-term extension forced Shero to repair the foundation of the Penguins, who had lost three consecutive playoff series to lower-seeded opponents.
Staal was traded at the NHL Entry Draft, as was defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Even with center Brandon Sutter as part of the return, the Penguins saved nearly $6 million in cap space. They also bolstered the strong part of their prospect system — defense — through a couple of Round 1 picks and players who came from Carolina and Phoenix.
Shero desired Ryan Suter, the top free-agent defenseman, to pair with Letang. However, Suter never seriously considered the Penguins. Shero also sought left winger Zach Parise, viewed as an ideal complement for Crosby, but Parise never committed to negotiations.
The perceived whiffs were a stroke of luck; Shero's cap space was preserved.
The combination of that cap space, the depth among defensive prospects and a collection of draft picks — the Penguins basically had held onto their selections instead of including them for rental players at the past three trade deadlines — has proven golden.
The Penguins had money and assets to make a play during this deadline period.
Instead of letting the trade market dictate to him, Shero set it by identifying his needs — grit and depth on the wings and defense, and veteran leadership from the outside — and making early moves to upgrade.
Had Staal signed, the Penguins would have played Winnipeg on Thursday night with three centers costing about $21.3 million against the cap.
That would have been about 31 percent tied into Crosby, Malkin and Staal.
That would have meant Morrow, Douglas and Iginla would be chasing their first Cup victories with another club.
Shero has maintained he wanted to keep Staal with the Penguins. After his past five days, Shero need not lose sleep over the loss.