November 5, 2008
Recently in Penguins Nation, there's been plenty of debate and speculation over the future of both Jordan Staal and Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild. There are a number of fans who are ready to give up on the 20-year old Staal and deal him away. The Wild forward would be a perfect winger for Sidney Crosby something the Penguins have been searching for since the 2005-06 season (Hossa could count, but they only played a couple of months together). Is giving up on a developing Staal for an oft-injured Gaborik the solution in the short-term for a Stanley Cup run or does it hurt the Penguins in the long-term, to be viable contenders annually?
Jordan Staal might have shown us his true colors last season. His true calling in the National Hockey League could be as a shutdown, defensive-minded centerman and not the 29-goal scorer we saw in his rookie season. Applying the "bust" label to Staal already is preposterous. For starters, he's only 20-years old. How many 20-year olds are producing on a consistent basis around the NHL? Only a handful. If you're willing to give up on a 20-year old kid, no matter what the return is, then as a Penguins fan, please apply to be the general manager of the New Jersey Devils because it would really help the Penguins out in the future.
Marian Gaborik has been a star since he entered league in 2000 and has five 30+ goal seasons in his seven years in the NHL. His speed and skill make him a valuable commodity and an attractive piece to add alongside Sidney Crosby. The issue with Gaborik has always been injuries. His groin and other ailments has caused him to miss 87 games heading into this season and back on October 16th, he was put on injured-reserve yet again. Gaborik will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and more than likely will be traded before the March 4th deadline as contract talks with Wild general manager Doug Risebrough are at a standstill.
So the question remains, do the Penguins trade a young, developing Staal for a possible rental player? Or should they make smaller trades to help them make another run at the Stanley Cup?
It'll likely be tough to resign Gaborik with his asking price likely being anywhere between $8-10 million a year. The Penguins already have $41 million committed for next season which includes raises for Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin. They will have ten unrestricted (including Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan, and Rob Scuderi) and six restricted free agent (including Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, and Alex Goligoski). Adding Gaborik's salary will mean someone like Ryan Whitney (signed through 2013) or Sergei Gonchar (UFA in 2010) will need to be dealt to free up cap room. Trading either of them would also mean a big hit to the Penguins blue line. Do they want to win every game 10-7?
Staal on the other hand will become a restricted free agent on July 1 and if his lack of production keeps up, Pittsburgh may be able to sign him on the cheap, though likely not long-term as he'll want to up his numbers for an earlier crack at unrestricted free agency sooner rather than later. One monkeywrench into this idea would be the likely offer-sheets that will come Staal's way. Any sort of contract offer that doesn't mesh with Ray Shero's salary cap plans might mean the tough decision to let him go for the draft picks will need to be made.
I, for one, would like to see the Penguins keep Jordan Staal and let him continue to develop. If he doesn't turn into a 30+ goal scorer, at least Pittsburgh has a very good shutdown centerman. We saw how important Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa's defensive skills were in the playoffs last season. If that's what Staal really is, then so be it.
I'd love to see Marian Gaborik wingin' it with Sidney Crosby, but the cost will be too high, both in salary (if Ray Shero tries to resign him) and in what Minnesota will demand for a trade. If there's anything that Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings have proven, it's that the NHL Draft is so important for a franchise and you cannot rely just on free agency or trades to develop an annual Stanley Cup contender.
The Penguins have their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, and Marc-Andre Fleury locked up long-term. That's a start. Instead of throwing in a mercenary every year, Ray Shero needs to be plugging in the right parts to make things work. I don't want to see him mortgaging the future and in 3-5 years, the Penguins are struggling with the salary cap causing star players to be dealt away and their farm system milked dry.
What say you Penguins Nation?