This article originally appeared at The Hockey Writers.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have yet to conclude, but offseason speculation has already begun in several NHL markets.
Even though trade talks have yet to pick up considerable steam, rumors have been swirling over the past few weeks in regards to the future of Penguins’ forward Jordan Staal, who is on track to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. While it’s possible that the Thunder Bay, Ontario native will sign an extension with Pittsburgh, he may be on his way out of the Steel City sooner rather than later.
Penguins GM Ray Shero recently indicated that he would like all three of his star centers in tow for the foreseeable future, but Staal may not share in that sentiment. Even though there’s every reason to believe the former second overall pick would continue to develop as a member of the Penguins, it may be difficult for him to reach his full potential with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby ahead of him on the depth chart. As a player capable of skating on the top line on nearly half of the teams in the NHL, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if No. 11 wished to join an organization that would allow him to spread his wings a bit more than Pittsburgh does.
One team that happens to need an elite center is Carolina, which is a destination that theoretically would make a lot of sense for all parties involved.
To state the obvious, the Hurricanes’ franchise player happens to be Jordan’s older brother Eric, and having the two together could open the door for countless possibilities (not to mention create a fantastic marketing ploy). Jordan also possesses the level of talent necessary to fill out the Canes’ somewhat hollow top-six, giving GM Jim Rutherford the type of forward he strongly desires heading into the ’12-’13 campaign. Tallying 25 goals and 50 points last season in just 63 games, Jordan would immediately become one of the Canes’ most valuable assets, provided he can remain healthy.
This addition would not only give the Canes the offensive force they need, but also one of the best two-way forwards in the league. While Rutherford appears to be focused on improving his team’s goal-scoring first and foremost, defense was his team’s true weakness last season, as it has been for some time now. But even if Carolina keeps their blueline in its current state, adding Jordan Staal to the mix would cut down the Canes’ goals against numbers—something Eric has failed to do.
And even though Eric is currently the best center on Carolina’s roster, Rutherford has stated that he would not be opposed to sliding the captain to the wing, where he’s played comfortably before. Putting E. Staal, J. Staal and Tuomo Ruutu together would have a lot of potential and would give Carolina their first legitimate “No. 1 line” in several years.
Beyond five-on-five, Jordan’s presence would go a long ways towards improving the Canes’ special teams, which have been underwhelming for the better part of the franchise’s existence. With experience in virtually every in-game situation, he would almost certainly give a major boost to both Carolina’s power play and penalty kill, ranked 20th and 22nd in the league last season, respectively.
All this being said, a move of this nature would be very risky for the Canes. With Jordan Staal only signed through 2012-13, there’s no telling whether or not he would remain in Carolina long-term. Having Eric on board would help, but there are no guarantees in this league.
But despite the inherent risk this trade would present, Jordan’s current contract situation would play in Rutherford’s favor during the acquisition process. With just one year left until unrestricted free agency, Staal’s value will be less than if he was locked up for a longer period of time. It’s safe to say that the Canes could get their hands on him for far less than a player of comparable skill on the open market.
Viewing this scenario from Pittsburgh’s perspective, the Canes would be a compatible trading partner if Rutherford is willing to part with a valuable asset or two. One name that quickly comes to mind is Brandon Sutter—another 23-year-old with strong defensive skills and a nice scoring touch. While he hasn’t exactly blossomed offensively like Jordan Staal has, Sutter could be defined as a prototypical third line center who is valuable in all three zones. A trade like this wouldn’t be simple, however, as Staal’s value would force the Canes to sweeten the deal with picks and/or prospects in virtually any scenario.
The likelihood of such a transaction occurring remains uncertain, but Jordan Staal’s intentions should become more clear as the offseason progresses. If he does in fact express desire to leave Pittsburgh, Carolina may just be the perfect fit.