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Pittsburgh Penguins' Jordan Staal (11) celebrates his short-handed goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Jordan Staal (11) celebrates his short-handed goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar)

NHL Notebook

Is Jordan Staal on the trade block? Add to ...

After months of living without meaningful NHL trade rumours, speculation and gossip, finally something to sink our teeth into.

Thank you, Jordan Staal - or at least, the people pondering Staal’s future with the Pittsburgh Penguins, given that he is down to the final year of a contract that will pay him $4.5-million, after which he will become an unrestricted free agent.

The thought that Staal might be available is tied mainly to two factors: one, Pittsburgh’s burgeoning payroll, and the uncertainty over how the next collective bargaining agreement will look; and two, the notion that with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin ahead of him on the depth chart, Staal will forever be a third-line centre with top-six talent, unless he moves to greener, different pastures.

So this week, there was some speculation that he might end up as an Edmonton Oiler because the Oilers could use the qualities that Staal brings to the table - size, experience, leadership, two-way play - to supplement their young kiddie corps; and that further, Edmonton, has a chip to dangle, the No. 1 choice in the NHL entry draft, which Pittsburgh is used to wielding. And hey, what a coincidence, the draft is in Pittsburgh this year. Might be fun to make a splash in front of the home-town folk.

Sorry to disappoint Oiler Nation, but no NHL team, especially one as well-run as Pittsburgh, and as well-supported as Pittsburgh, is going to make a trade just for the sake of a one-day marketing bonanza. It might make some sense if the Penguins thought that the No. 1 available player in the draft, the Sarnia Sting’s Nail Yakupov, would be a good cheaper fit on the team, maybe as a complement to Evgeni Malkin, a fellow Russian. The problem with that reasoning is that Malkin won the 2012 scoring title and is favoured to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, in part because he already has great chemistry with a couple of teammates, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.

Next on the rumour front was the possibility that Staal could be traded to the Carolina Hurricanes and be reunited with his older brother, Eric. This actually makes more sense on the reality scale. In fact, it was always my belief that this trade almost happened six years ago, or just before the 2006 entry draft, when Staal went second overall behind Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues).

The previous summer, the Hurricanes had drafted Crosby’s high-school teammate, Jack Johnson, and were trying to coax him to leave the University of Michigan after his freshman season. Johnson balked, wanting to return to school, and during that time, the Hurricanes soured on Johnson so much so that they started exploring trade options (rare for a player taken so high, at so young an age).

Pittsburgh would have been a good landing spot for him, given that at that point in their development, they’d put a young goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) plus Malkin and Crosby into the mix through high draft choices, but needed to add to their defensive depth. It didn’t happen - and Johnson’s rights were subsequently dealt by Carolina in September of that year to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger.

Carolina, obviously, would have liked to have added Staal then and it wouldn’t be a shock if they went after him now. The problem, of course, is the same as it was six years ago - what to offer in return that gets the deal done. Once again, Carolina has a young defenceman that everybody’s excited about - Justin Faulk, who played as a teenager in the NHL last season; and a Jordan Staal wannabe in Brandon Sutter, who probably doesn’t have the same offensive upside (or the same salary expectations). And of course, they too have the eighth pick in the entry draft.

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