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The Jordan Staal trade, nine years later

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It’s been nine years since the Penguins traded Jordan Staal

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Missed this by a day, but it’s now been nine years since one of the most influential trades in recent memory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens and Carolina Hurricanes made a deal to send Jordan Staal to Carolina for three assets. Here’s the details in a nice view from CapFriendly:

This trade was a very monumental one that has shaped the future of the franchise in ways both known and unknown. Let’s take a trip down memory lane..

Staal, as you may remember, was sitting one year away from unrestricted free agency, which he would have hit in summer 2013. Pittsburgh had previously offered Staal a ten year contract extension to keep him in the fold, but he opted to decline it. Staal wanted a different role, more of a scoring line center with more offensive usage, and that wasn’t available in Pittsburgh where he slotted in on a third line behind centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The Pens could have either let Staal play out his walk year and try to win the Stanley Cup in 2013 knowing that he would leave for no compensation, or deal the then 23-year old for a return.

General manager Ray Shero opted for the latter, getting three assets for Staal, a very favorable return.

Brandon Sutter was the immediate Staal replacement as a checking line center, playing three seasons in Pittsburgh before being traded for an even better third line center option in Nick Bonino.

Brian Dumoulin was a prospect and former second round draft pick who had a bit of name value, but really wasn’t a center-piece. Carolina had higher-ranked defensive prospects at the time like Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy (and would draft Jaccob Slavin the next weekend as well), they were positioned well to throw in a somewhat mid-level prospect in Dumoulin. The Pens also had a stable of defensive prospects at the time like Simon Despres, Joe Morrow, Scott Harrington (and would also add Pouliot and Olli Maatta in the upcoming draft) so Dumoulin barely stood out at the time on the Pens’ depth chart either.

Clearly that worked out for Pittsburgh, Dumoulin took quite a bit of development time with almost three full seasons in the AHL from 2012-15, but developed into a top-pair NHL defender in a great coup for the Pens.

The third asset sent to the Pens was the most intriguing one: the eighth overall draft pick. For a draft held IN Pittsburgh. Exciting stuff, especially for the Pens — they had not had a draft pick higher than 20th overall since 2006 (with the pick they got Staal with, ironically enough).

But then....disaster struck with the draft itself. After three forwards were selected at the top with the 1-2-3 picks, a run on defensemen started at fourth overall with the Islanders taking Griffin Reinhart. Picks 5-6-7 were also all defensemen and the Pens were on the board.

Now, it’s not just hindsight or looking back with sour grapes to points out just how badly the Pens fumbled the bag here. Bob McKenzie, in his consensus ranking from talking to scouts had the following players still on the board:

  • #3 Filip Forsberg
  • #7 Teuvo Teravainen
  • #9 Jacob Trouba

With these options on the table, Shero instead reached for Pouliot (#17 on McKenzie’s consensus rankings). Draft reaches and projections happen ALL the time in the NHL, as different people will rank 17-18 year old players very differently for what their future holds. The issue shouldn’t be that Shero and the Pens liked a reach, it’s just that it’s bound to stand out and burn a team all the more when it doesn’t pan out.

It’s also not much hyperbole to say that this pick may have cost Shero his job, when the Pens let him go in 2014.

In 2013-14, Trouba scored 10 goals and 29 points for Winnipeg Jets (drafted #9, one pick after Pittsburgh) and playing an astounding 22 minutes a night as a rookie. Forsberg (selected #11 by the Capitals but then hilariously traded for a rental player dud in Martin Erat) was slow-played by Nashville but was good enough in 2014-15 to score 26 goals and 63 points in the NHL. Teravainen ended up scoring 10 playoff points in 18 games for Chicago in 2015, a Stanley Cup year for them.

This isn’t to say that the best strategy is always to draft the most NHL ready talent, but it sure could have helped Shero’s cause (and the 2013-14 Pens out) if they had a player like Trouba or Forsberg on the roster back then.

Maybe it’s enough to get out of the second round and preserve Shero’s job? And from there, Pittsburgh has a really elite young player to join their core.

Of course, it wasn’t to be. The Pens whiffed on that pick, which could have added so much more value to the return of the Staal trade.

As a consolation prize, Dumoulin did come through and ironically have a better career than any defensive prospect in the PIT/CAR systems of that time (aside from arguably Justin Faulk). That wouldn’t have been expected nine years ago!

It ended up as small consolation for Shero, who was removed from the Pens and saw a ton of players that he brought into the organization like Dumoulin be key players in future Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 for Pittsburgh, with the twist of fate that the former Carolina GM Jim Rutherford ended up putting his touches on the Pens to earn those titles.

Then again, the hypothetical fall-out and butterfly effects of keeping Shero past 2014 could mean no Bonino, Carl Hagelin or Phil Kessel and possibly none of those Cups the Pens did win. It’s a limitless exercise and we only live in one such reality.

Staal ended up extending his contract quickly with Carolina, on the same exact terms the Pens had offered to secure a $60 million contract. He also got to play with his brother Eric for several years. So you can’t say he “lost” by any means, but there has been some frustrations along the way. The Hurricanes would miss the playoffs for six straight seasons with Staal in Carolina, Eric ended up leaving the team after playing less than four seasons with his brother.

His fate has reversed a bit, though. Jordan is now the ‘Canes captain and they have made the playoffs in the last three seasons and look like an ascending team that is growing.

For a fun twist of irony: for seeking a bigger offensive role, Staal’s career-high season in points remains the 50 he tallied in 2011-12, his last year in Pittsburgh. The three highest point totals of his career are all in Pittsburgh, in fact.

It’s been a long nine years for all parties since the Pens and Canes got together to swing a massive trade. And while it didn’t work out exactly like everyone probably would have hoped or expected, both sides can look back with a reasonable level of being content with how it all has ended up.

Staal, still just 32, has two more years remaining on his contract with Carolina.