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Wednesday November 25 2015
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After Jordan Staal rejected a 10-year deal from the Penguins yesterday, the writing was on the wall. Early into the evening of the NHL draft, which was incidentally Staal’s wedding night, it became official.

Penguins’ general manager Ray Shero traded Staal after six years in Pittsburgh, a Calder Trophy nomination, a Selke nomination, a Stanley Cup and one of the biggest goals in Penguins’ history during game four of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, among many other memorable moments. 

While there were cheers in the audience when the trade was announced, make no mistake, this is a sad—though inevitable—day for the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

The Pens received Carolina’s first-round pick—the 8th overall selection—which they used to pick offensive defenseman Derrick Pouliot, Brandon Sutter and defenseman Brian Dumoulin. But there is no replacing Jordan Staal. He is an elite, special player and was the Penguins’ X-factor in their 2009 Stanley Cup run.

Pouliot is an offensive-minded defenseman and a junior hockey teammate of the Penguins’ first round draft pick from 2011, Joseph Morrow; Sutter was Carolina’s first round pick (11th overall) in 2007; and Dumoulin is a 6’4”, 210-pound defenseman who signed an entry-level contract with Carolina in April.

While Staal had a prolific tenure in Pittsburgh and expressed an attachment to the organization, the prospect of playing with his older brother and, perhaps even more importantly, stepping out of the imposing shadows of centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, proved to be enticing.

“We just felt as an organization that Jordan’s at the point of his career where it’s time for him to really take the next step in his development,” Shero said. “We had talked about this for awhile with Jordan Staal… and where he can go with his career and so forth, and I don’t know if with Sidney and Geno being here that would be a long term fit in terms of having him grow as a player.”

Shero, who had said recently that he was not entertaining offers concerning Staal, believed up until the day of the trade that there would be a way to keep the imposing, two-way forward.

“I always felt that Jordan was going to be back with us next year,” Shero said. “We’ve had a great relationship, he’s a very important player for our team, but a couple teams were pretty aggressive today.”

When the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round after being tagged as heavy favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup this spring, many deemed that major changes needed to be made. People who think the Penguins traded Staal because of this are sorely mistaken. This was a trade of necessity, not one to make the team better. The salary cap, Staal’s apparent desire to thrive in a different environment and be closer to family, and possibly Shero not wanting Staal’s contract issue to loom over his team’s upcoming season is what made this deal happen.

No GM wants to lose Jordan Staal, and Shero said as much after the first round of the draft ended.

“I got plenty of calls (regarding Staal), but my feeling on Jordan Staal was that I didn’t want to trade him,” Shero said. “My goal was to try to sign him to a contract to stay with the Penguins. How far we can go with this three-center model that we had remained to be seen, but I would have liked to do that. It just became more apparent as we talked about it internally… it just felt the right thing to do when the Carolina deal that we liked just made sense, the timing of it.”

Shero displayed an interesting mix of emotions in his comments after the draft. He was candid, saying in no uncertain terms that trading Staal is not what he wanted. Remorseful is far too strong of a word to describe his state. He simply looked and had the tone of voice of someone who is resigned to a situation he couldn’t totally control.

That being said, Shero did pull off a very fair deal for the Penguins.

“I think both teams are happy (with the deal),” Shero said. “Brandon (Sutter) is a key to the deal to us, we really like Derrick Pouliot… But NHL-ready Brandon Sutter is a proven player in the league, he’s a young player, he’s signed. We love the character, we love what he brings, he has got good size. It’s hard to find guys like that.”

While the Staal trade was the biggest bombshell of the night, Shero made another big move, trading Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix in exchange for prospect defenseman Harrison Ruopp, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft and goalie Marc Cheverie.

“Change the mix a little bit (on the blueline was part of the reason for the trade),” Shero said. “But we’ve got some younger D who are really pushing. Today we did clear some cap space with the Staal trade and the Michalek trade.”

Despite the fireworks of the first day of the draft, Shero left open the possibility of more trades.

“We’re just going to see what happens,” Shero said when asked if he would move more defensemen.

Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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