If last year’s draft was any indication, anyone can be traded in the NHL these days. It was that fateful Thursday media luncheon that saw dozens of smartphones blow up with news of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter being dealt away from Philadelphia in separate trades, despite being on huge long-term deals.
So expect the unexpected in Pittsburgh next week. Rick Nash, Roberto Luongo, Edmonton’s first overall selection – you never know. Another name to keep an eye on is the Penguins’ Jordan Staal. Though he has one year left on his contract, the superb center may be available sooner than later thanks to the crushing reality of the salary cap and the pivot’s own natural desire to be the best he can be. And if this holds true, the Toronto Maple Leafs should throw the kitchen sink at Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero.
The Buds have struggled in the post-lockout landscape for a variety of reasons, but the lack of a big No. 1 center is one of the most obvious. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Staal naturally fits the bill here, but becomes more intriguing thanks to his particular skill set. Staal is a two-way force who excels on the penalty kill, one of the bigger voids in Toronto right now. The Maple Leafs’ PK finished 28th overall this past season, while Staal posted three shorthanded goals (one off the league lead) to squire the Pens to the third-best kill percentage.
Despite playing just 62 games in 2011-12, the big Thunder Bay, Ont., native also hit a career high with 50 points. While that’s not an earth-shattering number, keep in mind Staal was largely buried behind Evgeni Malkin and, in the past, Sidney Crosby (where he will be again now that ‘The Kid’ is healthy). When all three were in the lineup at the same time, Staal’s running mates were grinders Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Now imagine what he’d do feeding passes to Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.