Kovacevic: Disrespect the Penguins? See ya
It's rare in the sports world to trade a star in his prime such as Jordan Staal, rarer still for the general manager making that trade to hear approval.
On a super-sized, spotlighted stage in front of thousands of standing, screaming fans.
That's exactly how it played out for the Penguins' Ray Shero on this bizarre, breathtaking Friday night at an NHL Draft no one inside Consol Energy Center will soon forget.
At 8:08 p.m., commissioner Gary Bettman captivated the crowd by announcing there had been a trade “that all of you might be interested in,” then broke the word: Staal to Carolina for 23-year-old two-way center Brandon Sutter, defense prospect Brian Dumoulin and the Hurricanes' No. 8 overall pick that the Penguins invested in defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
The way the building erupted, you'd think Evgeni Malkin had just buried a top-shelf blast.
And you know what?
The fans got it right.
Shero got it right.
The Penguins got it right.
The clear message: Disrespect us, and there's the door.
Shero is far too classy to confess anything of the sort, as he proved when he took the podium for that No. 8 pick and opened by saying, “I'd like to thank Jordan Staal for six great years here in Pittsburgh and a Stanley Cup.”
The crowd cheered that, too. Good for them. Staal deserved it. He was a from-the-heart performer and model citizen.
Of all the images I have of the young man, none will resonate more than how he was the last one in the locker room after each of these past two first-round playoff losses. Some do that for show. He was devastated.
But understand that neither the timing nor the intent of what happened yesterday was coincidence. Not after Staal rebuked the Penguins' astounding 10-year extension offer, likely worth $60 million. Not after Staal's agent, Paul Krepelka, publicly stated Staal didn't wish to negotiate any extension. And especially not when the Penguins knew that stance had one huge exception: Staal would be all too happy to talk extension if traded to Carolina, where he could join brothers Eric and Jared.
No wonder Shero was known to have been furious. He had to have felt used. Worse, he had to have felt as if Staal willfully lowered his value to the NHL's other 28 teams to force Shero's hand with the Hurricanes.
But if that anger was lingering by the time Shero finally met with reporters around midnight, it didn't show. He spoke softly of leaving a phone message for Staal — who was getting married yesterday — and the closest he came to any kind of assessment of Staal's Carolina preference was this: “It's time for Jordan to take the next step in his development.”
I'll say it again: Shero got it right.
Even after the news of Staal's rejection broke Thursday, some in these parts still naively hoped the Penguins could keep Staal for the final year of his current contract for another Cup run, after which he could become an unrestricted free agent.
Sorry, doesn't work like that.
This team's locker room didn't deserve the yearlong distraction of Staal as a rental player. And the franchise, the fans and Mario Lemieux — highly visible on the draft floor as this went down — didn't deserve being second in a key player's eyes.
Shero made the move he had to make when he had to make it. The longer he waited, the longer this situation would fester and the less value he'd find for Staal.
Did he get enough?
Impossible to say until we see more of Sutter, a third-line center like Staal who had 17 goals for the Hurricanes this past season, as well as the two youngsters. I'll settle for now that Shero called it “a good deal for us.” I'll go with the guy who got James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski.
Shero said Sutter “had to be part of the deal.”
I liked the sound of that.
And bear in mind that more could spin off from this: Staal's $4 million for next season is off the books. More was cleared much later in the night when Shero sent Zbynek Michalek and his $4 million back to the Coyotes. They have $14.6 million in cap space now. And yet another $5 million could be freed by sparing the citizenry another winter of Paul Martin.
If so …
Well, this is getting ahead of things, but the hottest free agent on July 1 will be Zach Parise, the Devils' wonderful winger and longtime friend of Sidney Crosby. He'll cost a pretty penny, but that's a penny the Penguins didn't have before all this.
Asked if he might have more excitement today, Shero replied: “We're going to try.”
Think that might bring a few more cheers?
Don't doubt this man.
And whatever you do, don't disrespect him.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.