ANALYSIS: Staal setback hardly crippling for Pens
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in years that began with indispensible players - Mario Lemieux (1991) and Sergei Gonchar (2009) - missing entire first halves because of injuries.
They can survive a couple of days - or weeks - of training camp without center Jordan Staal, even if he is targeted for a prominent offensive role this season in addition to his elite defensive work.
General manager Ray Shero said Thursday Staal has "experienced a couple of setbacks" recovering from May 1 surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right foot. Staal is scheduled to be examined by team physician Dr. Charles Burke next week.
"We'll see how he is for camp," Shero said. "The tendon itself is intact, strong. He just hasn't had the opportunity to be on skates much, and we're not going to rush him."
Staal's potential absence from some of camp would only enhance what figures to be among the most competitive of the five camps in Shero's tenure.
He declined to provide names but said "only a few players from last season met expectations."
Staal, who scored 21 goals and recorded 49 points to go along with a plus-19 rating, was one of those players - drawing accolades as a first-time finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward.
Entering his fifth season, the plan of Shero and coach Dan Bylsma is to make Staal the club's No. 2 center behind Sidney Crosby. Staal, a third-line pivot for the past three seasons, is to reunite with center Evgeni Malkin, who has told Shero and Bylsma he is comfortable moving to wing and playing alongside Staal.
Malkin and Staal combined for 62 goals as top rookie finalists in 2006-07, with Staal scoring a career-best 29 markers.
Crosby, Malkin and Staal combine to account for 37 percent of the $57.7 million the Penguins have committed to 21 players.
"We have talked about Malkin at wing, but there are other things we need to find out," Shero said. "Is Tyler Kennedy good enough to play higher in the lineup• Tyler has to prove it to us in camp. Same with Max (Talbot). His game last year - is that it• Where are we with Max?
"I like competition with the role guys we have. I'm looking at a number of players to get off to good starts."
If not, there will be options.
Top prospect and winger Eric Tangradi looked poised for an NHL push at prospect camp in July. Also, Shero laid out the possibility of veteran players attending camp on tryout contracts, such as center Adam Hall in 2007. He also noted, though none by name, the large group of veterans that remain unsigned.
The Penguins are $1.7 million under the NHL's $59.4 million salary cap. They have room to tinker.
They also have time to take it easy - as they should - with Staal, who missed only two playoff games after surgery. His fast return amazed Shero, who figured Staal would miss at least six weeks because of the surgery.
In six weeks, the Penguins will open the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center. Even if Staal can't play in that game, the Penguins will be fine so long as he's ready for the contests that really count - the playoffs, which open in mid April.Additional Information:
By the numbers
Yr. -- GP -- Goals -- Assists -- Pts.
'09 -- 82 -- 21 ------ 28 ------ 49
'08 -- 82 -- 22 ------ 27 ------ 49
'07 -- 82 -- 12 ------ 16 ------ 28
'06 -- 81 -- 29 ------ 13 ------ 42