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Kovacevic: It's clear Staal Carolina dreamin'

| Friday, June 22, 2012, 12:37 a.m.
Penguins center Jordan Staal was traded Friday night to the Carolina Hurricanes for center Brandon Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick, which they used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot from Portland of the WHL. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review file)
The Penguins' Jordan Staal attacks Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson at Consol Energy Center Feb 25, 2012. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pittsburgh Penguins' Jordan Staal (11) speaks with his brother Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) following the Penguins' 4-1 win in Game 4 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 26, 2009. The Penguins won the series 4-0. (AP Photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)

Funny how this plays out, but on the day the city's hockey fans were to be celebrating which players are coming, all the buzz will be about the one who might be going.

Check that: Will be going.

So long, indeed, to Jordan Staal.

Maybe as soon as the NHL Draft this weekend at Consol Energy Center?

I'm not sure how else anyone could interpret the triply jarring news Thursday that:

1. The Penguins recently made Staal an overwhelming 10-year offer.

2. Staal rejected it so emphatically that his agent, Paul Krepelka, issued a blanket statement that Staal “is not prepared to enter into a contract extension at this time.”

3. The latter apparently isn't even true, as Staal is known to have told the Penguins he is open to signing with Carolina, where he could join two brothers, All-Star Eric and prospect Jared.

Can you see some way this scenario results in the Penguins keeping Staal?

Not me.

Certainly not anymore.

I believed Staal when he told me minutes after the playoff loss in Philadelphia that he'd love to stay with the Penguins. I still believe that. But it's becoming painfully obvious he'd stay only as a second option.

That's not good enough. It's not fair to the Penguins, not fair to his teammates or his coaches, not fair to the city's fans who have embraced No. 11 like few others in franchise history.

It's also not fair to paint Ray Shero into a corner by making his Carolina preference known. That hugely reduces his trade value.

Staal needs to man up and put an end to this.

Call the Penguins.

Stop tiptoeing and be clear and candid.

If Staal wants to go to Carolina, if he turns down wealth well beyond what any NHL forward could fathom without achieving a single 30-goal season, it means there's at least one place he'd rather be than Pittsburgh. And it means he's serious about it.

Fine. Say so.

At the same time, if Staal reconsiders — people do change their minds — and decides he'd like to stay with the Penguins, then he should show Shero the same willingness to discuss an extension he's apparently intent on reserving for Carolina.

One way or the other, the waffling needs to end.

When it does, when Shero finally gets a firm answer ... well, it's still a tough spot.

Shero's a shrewd dealer, but this is the challenge of his career: Staal can be an unrestricted free agent after next season. The Penguins aren't going to keep Staal around as a lame duck and devalue him further. Shero has said as much. That leaves a trade this summer as by far the best path to a reasonable return. But even then, any team acquiring Staal is guaranteed only one year.

Except Carolina, of course.

Shero could simply try to swing something with Jim Rutherford, the Hurricanes' GM, and cross his fingers for some good-faith bargaining. But Rutherford hasn't lasted 18 years in his post by being a fool. He'll play the cards he's dealt.

Who really thinks that, under these circumstances, the Hurricanes would give up Jeff Skinner, one of the NHL's top young forwards?

Or even their No. 8 overall draft pick tonight?

No chance.

It's all shaping up to be a real shame that this marriage — between the Penguins and Staal, not the one Staal actually will have today with his fiancee — appears destined to end like this.

But it sure does.

Need more?

First word of this Staal news yesterday was broken by Bob McKenzie, the renowned hockey reporter for Canada's TSN. And I'm here to tell you that word didn't originate from Staal's side. It came from the Penguins.

The team wanted this extension offer known.

The team wanted fans to know they put forth an appropriate effort.

The team wanted the public to know as much as possible before trading a popular player.

Maybe Shero will wrap it as a wedding gift.

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

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