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Pens Biggest 2012 Stories 5-3

Aside from the dreaded lockout that's ground everything to a halt, 2012 was a memorable year with another scoring championship, some meaningful contract extensions, a tight division race and one of the sloppiest playoff series you'll ever see.

Bruce Bennett
This continues our series on the biggest moments of 2012, for the last edition click here to catch up!

5. Jordan Staal, Zbynek Michalek traded when the NHL draft was in Pittsburgh Just days before the NHL draft was held at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Jordan Staal turned down a ten-year, $60 million contract extension offer from the Penguins, then announced that he “wasn’t prepared” to sign anything with the Pens “at this time”. The writing was on the wall- Jordan Staal wasn’t going to be a Penguin for much longer.

When Gary Bettman weaseled up to the podium, he announced what everyone knew- Pittsburgh had traded Staal to Carolina, where his brother Eric was the face of the franchise. What Bettman revealed was the return- the Pens got young checking center Brandon Sutter, the 8th pick in that night’s draft and 2012 Hobey Baker finalist, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin. It was a fantastic return considered Carolina was about the only suitor that J. Staal would consider signing with- which he eventually did to the tune of the exact 10 year/$60 million deal the Pens had offered.

Pittsburgh could have gone with US defensive prospect Jacob Trouba or Swedish winger Filip Forsberg, but decided to take a flyer on defenseman Derrick Pouliot, a very fluid skating offensive defenseman from the WHL that is a project, but could be the type of puck-moving offensive-minded defenseman that every team loves. In Sutter they have a proven 20 goal scoring NHL caliber-player that is a fine two-way center to replace Staal on the 3rd line. And Dumoulin brings a 6’4 frame, smooth skating and good all-around instincts that make him a great prospect.

Then, at the end of the night the big bombshell dropped- the Pens traded defensemen Zbynek Michalek back to whence he came to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 3rd round draft pick, defensive prospect Harrison Ruopp and a goalie prospect they didn’t sign. It was a big message for a defense that had failed so highly. And for all the twitter-draftnik rumors that speculated that it was Coyote defenseman Keith Yandle about to be a Penguin when it was seen that both GM’s were talking, it was stunning to see Pittsburgh sending the only NHL player out to the desert.

But with the CBA, perhaps we see why. Staal would have been an unrestricted free agent this July, meaning the Pens wouldn’t have gotten anything for him. The NHL is fighting, at current time, for a $60 million cap in 2013-14, so the Pens dropping $4 million of Michalek’s salary probably gives them a better chance to keep a guy like Kris Letang.

In the end, it was a truly memorable first round night of the NHL Entry draft, with the host town in Pittsburgh stealing the spotlight by making the biggest splash of the night. 4. Sidney Crosby signs 12 year, $104.4 million contract Sidney Crosby’s contract would have run through the 2012-13 season, but both the player and the team were looking to take a lot of the drama out of it. Due to league rules, nothing could be announced until July 1, but both sides knew they wanted Crosby to stay in Pittsburgh for the rest of his career, so they worked out a 12 year, $104.4 million contract to keep the average amount at $8.7 million.

For Crosby, coming off 2 years of head/neck pain and endless rehab sessions, it was a guarantee of $100+ million and the stability to know where he’d be for the rest of his playing days.

For the team, it was a risk to commit so much totally money, in guaranteed fashion, to such an injury-proned player, but let’s be real. Sidney Crosby is a marketing a merchandising machine. His play and persona helped build the Consol Energy Center. He’d sold more seats, home and away, than any current NHL player (jerseys too). He’s a license to print money. The Penguins can easily make $104.4 million dollars off of Crosby’s name, play and likeness over the next decade. It’s not so much a risk, it’s a sure thing as a business decision.

3. Flyers series meltdown After two periods in Game 1, the Penguins were up 3-0. Everything was going as perfect as could be. And then the bottom fell out. The Flyers tied that game and forced OT, where a lax defensive play allowed the GWG early.

Games and 2 and 3 the Pens surrendered 8 goals apiece, and just like that were down 3 games to 0.

After 82 excellent and accomplished games, what happened?

No one was quite sure. The Flyers presented a tough matchup- they were one of the few teams that had the skill and speed to play a wide-open “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” type of game. The could with-stand Pittsburgh’s attack and fire back. They weren’t afraid of the Pens skill. And obviously with the intensity of the rivalry that had players and coaches alike mad, you know nothing was going to slip by.

Pittsburgh would battle back in Games 4 and 5, winning each and giving themselves some life. But early in Game 6, Claude Giroux put his stamp on the game and Philly coasted to the series ending win. The Flyers were sloppy, but regained more focus and held it together just longer than the Pens, who totally came unglued in terms of discipline and defense.

It would be a disappointing end to the season, and due to the lockout to 2012 as a whole for the Penguins. After a year that held an MVP performance from Evgeni Malkin, a 40 goal season from James Neal, a 40 win season from Marc-Andre Fleury and career years up and down the board from guys like Kunitz, Cooke and Dupuis it was all for a quick and whimpering exit. Proving that it’s not what you do over 82 games, it’s how composed you can stay in each and every seven game series.