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Staal sweepstakes could heat up

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
NHLI via Getty Images
DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 09: General manager Brian Burke of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes questions during the NHL Winter Classic press conference at Comerica Park on February 9, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Penguins center Jordan Staal plays against the Black Hawks at Consol Energy Center Sept. 2011. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Myriad reasons exist for Jordan Staal's name continuing to surface in trade speculation, and postseason comments by himself and the organization did nothing to squash such rumors.

When asked about the Penguins' “three-center model” following a first-round playoff exit against Philadelphia, general manager Ray Shero said, “It has worked in the past. Whether it works in the future remains to be seen.”

Staal, whose contract expires next summer, recently was asked whether he, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could enjoy long-term happiness in Pittsburgh.

“Good question,” he said.

Shero told the Tribune-Review in December that signing Crosby, who has one more year on his current deal, to a new contract was the organization's “top priority” this summer.

Malkin's deal has two years remaining, and the Penguins intend to give him a new deal. History says Malkin, 25, will remain with the Penguins. Only three multiple-time NHL scoring champions — Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Phil Esposito — have been traded, and all were older than Malkin when they were dealt. Malkin won his second Art Ross Trophy this season.

Then there's the economic reality: The Penguins have $40 million locked up in 10 players for the 2013-14 season. That figure doesn't include Crosby, who probably will make about $10 million that season.

As the current salary cap stands — and should a new CBA be passed this summer, the cap number of $64 million could decrease — the Penguins would have more than a dozen players, including Staal, to sign but only about $14 million to spend.

On the open market, Staal could command at least $7 million per season, those in his camp say.

Other teams, notably Philadelphia, have abandoned one-time plans in favor of constructing teams built around younger, cheaper players. The Flyers' plan worked, at least for one series, as Shero and the Penguins saw up close last month.

Letting Staal walk when his contract expires — Nashville, where Shero once was assistant general manager, is facing that situation with star defenseman Ryan Suter — is not something the Penguins want. Receiving a heavy bounty in return for Staal is more to their liking.

Staal, 23, has one year remaining on a contract that pays him $4 million annually. He produced a career-high 50 points in 62 games last season and led the Penguins with six goals and nine points in the playoffs.

Reports have surfaced from Raleigh, N.C., and Edmonton, Alberta, that the Hurricanes and Oilers, respectively, are interested in Staal. Trade rumors likely will only intensify as summer nears.

Here are the most logical trade partners for the Penguins:

1. Carolina Hurricanes

Staal's brother, Eric, plays in Raleigh. Also, consider the following: The Hurricanes could use a dominant No. 2 center, they're $20 million under the salary cap for next season and have plenty to offer the Penguins.

Don't discount the fact that Jordan Staal doesn't particularly enjoy media circuses. He's a quiet kid who likes to play hockey. He is getting married this summer, and raising a family in the same neighborhood as his brother's family is appealing. His youngest brother, Jared, is also in Carolina's system.

Raleigh makes sense on many levels. The Hurricanes know it, and so does Staal.

What the Hurricanes have to offer

Carolina likely will make a strong run for Staal this summer and dangle center Brandon Sutter as part of a deal. He's a strong, young center who would look good behind Crosby and Malkin. The Hurricanes also boast the No. 8 pick in the upcoming draft and a number of strong prospects.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

It has become known that Toronto general manager Brian Burke is a big Jordan Staal fan. In fact, every GM in hockey is a big Staal fan, but Burke is said to particularly covet him.

Burke and Shero are friends and have conducted business together. Think they would like Staal, a Thunder Bay native, in Ontario?

What the Maple Leafs have to offer

Center Nazem Kadri is the most talented player in Toronto's system, and he thrived late in the season with the Maple Leafs. He's a pure goal scorer. Also, defenseman Luke Schenn is the kind of physical, stay-at-home defenseman the Penguins badly need. The Maple Leafs are willing to deal Schenn.

3. Edmonton Oilers

No team, not even the Penguins, has hit the lottery jackpot like Edmonton. The Oilers are about to pick first in the NHL Draft for the third consecutive year. They will take winger Nail Yakupov, yet another highly skilled winger.

The Oilers are young and talented. They need a player accomplished enough to teach them how to win but young enough to be a leader for a long time.

What the Oilers have to offer

It's pretty simple: The Oilers don't want to deal any of their young guns, but multiple reports out of Edmonton suggest that the Oilers would consider dealing the top overall pick for Staal. In January, former Penguins coach Scott Bowman said Yakupov — whom he scouted in December — reminded him of former NHL star Pavel Bure.

4. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota is a no-name squad looking for an identity and players who bring credibility.

Enter Staal.

He would be the perfect leader for this team, and there are Penguins connections everywhere here. Remember Mike Yeo, the former Penguins assistant who now is the Wild head coach? Chuck Fletcher, Shero's assistant and now current Wild GM?

Bonus for Staal: St. Paul, Minn., is a six-hour drive from Thunder Bay, making it the closest NHL city to Staal's hometown.

What the Wild have to offer

Right wing Cal Clutterbuck is the kind of player Shero and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma would love. He would be an upgrade over Tyler Kennedy on the third line. Minnesota also likely would be willing to include right wing Devin Setoguchi, who could score 30 goals on Crosby's line, in such a deal. Minnesota also owns the No. 7 pick in this year's draft.

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