PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Ray Shero stole the show.
At a time when a number of NHL general managers are having a difficult time unloading players, the Pittsburgh Penguins general manager brought the fans at Consol Energy Center to their feet Friday by dealing Jordan Staal to Carolina during the first round of the draft.
Not only did that net him an impressive haul—centre Brandon Sutter, the eighth overall pick (used to take Derrick Pouliot) and a prospect—it brought a quick and peaceful end to a situation that had the potential to drag on.
After all, it came just 24 hours after news leaked that Staal had rejected a monster 10-year contract extension. The writing was on the wall as the 23-year-old clearly wanted a larger role that wouldn’t be possible as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were wearing Penguins sweaters.
“I talked to Jordan personally about his role and where he can go with his career and so forth,” said Shero. “And I don’t know with Sidney and Geno being here that it would be a long-term fit in terms of having him grow as a player. The Carolina thing, it’s a funny thing to say, but it just felt right to do.
“It’s the right place for him hopefully and it’s the right deal for us most importantly.”
You can only imagine the scene in Thunder Bay, Ont., where Staal was married on Friday afternoon with a number of soon-to-be-former Penguins teammates in attendance. While he would be understandably excited to join brother Eric in Raleigh, there must have been a few mixed emotions in leaving a team he helped win the Stanley Cup in 2009.
The most impressive thing from Shero’s perspective is that he received good value in return for a player his rival GMs knew was available. The deal was completed face-to-face with Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford in Shero’s office just before the start of the draft.
Rutherford was reluctant to give up Sutter—a proven two-way centre who will step right into Staal’s vacated spot—but knew that it would be necessary to land a player he believes has the potential to develop into a “superstar.”
Everything came together in a matter of hours. These were two men anxious to get something done.
“It doesn’t matter to me when it’s made, I’m just real happy to get Jordan Staal,” said Rutherford. “I mean I’m sure it’s harder for Pittsburgh—they got a guy that won the Stanley Cup here and has been a great player for them. That’s probably a little more difficult for them than for me.
“I would have made this deal at 4 in the morning out on the sidewalk if that’s what it took.”
Shero wasn’t finished either. After the final pick was made Friday night, he remained on the draft floor and ended up hammering out a deal that sent defenceman Zbenyk Michalek back to Phoenix for a third-round pick and two prospects.
The key to that move was the fact it cleared $4 million in cap space off Pittsburgh’s books—setting them up as a team to watch when free agency opens on July 1.
“We’ll see where that’s going to lead us,” said Shero.
It ended up being a fairly busy day on the trade front, with Sergei Bobrovsky landing in Columbus, Mike Ribeiro being dealt to Washington and the Islanders acquiring Lubomir Visnovsky.
However, many of the big names that have been linked to trade rumours stayed put. It appears the Jackets will have to continue trade talks involving captain Rick Nash into the summer, just as the Vancouver Canucks will have to do with Roberto Luongo.
That wasn’t a situation that held much appeal for Shero, which is why he decided to strike quickly. Staal was the first player he drafted after being hired by the Penguins in 2006 and the two men had a good relationship.
“I wanted him to be here, but at the same time it’s business,” said Shero. “And Jordan just wasn’t sure. He had a lot on his plate this week and the last couple weeks, he got married today. … The Jordan thing is just a tough thing to do obviously.”
It made for a dramatic night as Pittsburgh hosted its first draft since 1997. The Hurricanes will rely on Staal to give them big minutes and big production, something Rutherford is confident he’s more than capable of handling.
“He’s a young guy—24 years old with all kinds of talent,” said Rutherford. “He’s still got an upside to him. He’ll make that transition pretty easy.”