Kovacevic: Penguins wise to wait on Staal

Penguins center Jordan Staal plays against the Avalanche at Consol Energy Center Nov. 15, 2011.
Penguins center Jordan Staal plays against the Avalanche at Consol Energy Center Nov. 15, 2011.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
| Friday, May 18, 2012, 12:32 a.m.

Puckheads from Halifax to Hollywood are trying to predict which of the Penguins' Big Three — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and especially Jordan Staal — will get traded this summer, where they'll go, what they'll reap and, of course, how this affects the Leafs.

“All right, let's go out to the hot line and Gord in Guelph! You're on with ‘Gord & Gord!' ”

“Hey, Gords. First time, long time. What do you say to Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, Tie Domi, Mats Sundin and a fifth-rounder for Staal? Package deal! I'll hang up and listen.”

Sanity hardly reigns.

Based on recent talks of my own, here are 11 semi-sane, south-of-the-border observations on the topic:

• Crosby and Malkin are staying.

No rational discussion can be had here without dispelling any myths about those two. The Penguins have the best players in the world — with apologies to a couple unchecked weeks of Claude Giroux — and they'll keep them. As they should. Blows my mind that anyone thinks otherwise.

• That leaves No. 11.

The Penguins have made no hard decision to move Staal. Not privately, either.

If that time comes, Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma will meet with ownership to talk it over. There's been no come-to-Mario moment yet.

• The Penguins can afford all three. Really.

They're profitable at Consol Energy Center and always will be able to spend up to the NHL's salary cap. The question they'll need to deliberate, with Staal eligible for free agency next summer, is whether it's wise to pay half of a $60 million-plus payroll to three centermen.

I don't envy Shero. Any GM with a Crosby/Malkin roster must contend every year, but Shero can't ignore the long-term financial ledger. If he ever does, the roster will be filled out with AHL All-Stars.

• No matter how labor talks play out this summer, the cap is a lock to survive. But the new head of the players' union is Donald Fehr, the man who shrunk Major League Baseball into the Original Six of big spenders. He'll want to change something.

If the cap goes way up — some see $70 million as possible, a 10 percent increase — the Penguins keeping all three centers suddenly becomes palatable.

Why make a move like this without surveying the revised landscape?

• Pay little heed to the grandiose price tags being attached to Staal in the public prints. Agents need multiple Mercedes, too.

Staal will earn $6 million to $7 million annually wherever he goes.

• He must want to stay.

After the closing loss in Philadelphia, I asked Staal if he wanted to stay with the Penguins for years to come. His response: “I love playing here. I love being a part of this group. We'll see how the future goes.”

I believe him. But Staal's in his prime at 23 years old, and his 50 points in 62 games this season further underscored that he's well above being a No. 3 center and power-play spare part.

Know this: If Staal flat-out tells the Penguins he's set on staying — he's sent no direct signals either way — a lot will change. But they have to know.

• Bylsma should be spending all his waking hours figuring out what went wrong in the final month. And if what he learns can be addressed by altering positional priorities, that must be part of this call.

Too many centers?

Too small on the wings?

When Darryl Sutter took over the Kings' bench in midseason, he sought more punch on his wings. Jeff Carter and Dwight King were added, and you can still see how that's worked.

• Trade Paul Martin.

Sorry. Had to get that in.

• If the Penguins do move Staal, it can't just be for a future star. Again, this roster isn't built that way. Immediate help is needed, and that means a physical, son-of-Scuderi defenseman.

So toss out fantasies of taking the No. 1 overall draft pick from Edmonton. The Oilers don't have that D-man to give, unless you want Ryan Whitney back.

Bear in mind, too, that Staal will have to want to play for his new team. The only way the Penguins can assure maximum value is if the other party knows he'll sign anextension.

Could it be ... the Leafs?

No, a reunion with older brother Eric in Carolina is a far better fit for everyone.

• Never complain about the cap. These are problems the Penguins — and Steelers — are lucky to have.

• Sounds to me like Staal's name has been reduced to a rotisserie piece in some local hockey chatter. And I get that. Trade talk of this scope is tantalizing.

But perspective is due. Staal has been a special player, an exemplary citizen for the team and the city for six years. He's a Stanley Cup champion, thanks in part to the greatest short-handed goal in franchise history. He's only getting better, too.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath here, Staal and Shero included.

Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at dkovacevic@tribweb.com.

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