Even though the Triangle is finally getting its full summer swelter on, and the only ice on your mind has beer bottles nestled down into it, it’s time to talk hockey.
As the National Hockey League entry draft begins on Friday night in Pittsburgh, trade rumors are flying and the Carolina Hurricanes are right in the thick of them. Scorers are in play and deals seem imminent. Caniacs, keep your sports radio on at the pool or beach this weekend.
- Wikimedia Commons
- Could Jordan Staal become a Carolina Hurricane today? Maybe. Definitely maybe.
First, to backtrack for a moment, general manager Jim Rutherford encouraged such anticipation and rumor-mongering in his exit interview with the press in Raleigh in early April, just after the Canes’ season ended with another playoff miss.
“Patience isn’t fun when you’re not meeting your goals,” he said, going on to state that the team would be actively looking to bring on a top-line scoring forward. Rutherford took pains to specify his interest in a “first-tier” player, rather than bargain alternatives like Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart, whom he signed last offseason. Let’s just say that they didn’t impress.
Rutherford also squelched any idea of committing solely to a youth movement, speaking plainly about his disappointment with the inability of a wealth of pretty good Charlotte Checkers forwards to stick at the NHL level. He even singled out Zack Boychuk and Zac Dalpe as two players he felt had underachieved. Ouch.
As the spring progressed, hockey’s talking heads gradually dialed up their speculation about the destinations of a variety of players seemingly on the move such as Columbus Blue Jacket sniper Rick Nash, gritty Philadelphia Flyer James van Riemsdyk, Anaheim Duck goal-scorer Bobby Ryan, and Pittsburgh Penguin center Jordan Staal — one of Eric’s little brothers.
Then the story broke Thursday that Jordan Staal, a Stanley Cup champion in the Steel City in 2009, turned down a 10-year, $60 million contract extension from the Penguins. Slated to become an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season, Staal declined the lucrative offer not because the money wasn’t right but because he wasn’t interested in being tied up long-term.
Goodness me, let me fan myself for a moment.
Hockey talk is cheap and plentiful, but this news really puts some meat on the bones of the idea that Jordan might find his way to Raleigh to suit up next to his big brother. Stuck on the Penguins’ depth chart behind superstar pivots Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, Staal’s been skating several minutes a night less than he deserves, while making a name for himself both for checking the opponents’ best forwards (Selke Trophy finalist in 2010) and as a stalwart penalty killer (13 career shorthanded goals).
Now that Pittsburgh’s extension offer is in the shredder, Rutherford has reportedly contacted the Pens to talk trade. Jordan wouldn’t come cheap. He potted 25 goals and added the same number of assists in 62 games this season before leading the Penguins in scoring in their first-round playoff loss to the Flyers.
Looking at Carolina’s assets, you’re talking multiple draft picks and players for Jordan. Carolina has been stockpiling picks. In addition to the eighth overall selection, the Canes pick twice in the second round and three times in the fourth. As for players, Rutherford has publicly stated that defenseman Justin Faulk, who was just named to the All-Rookie Team at the league’s post-season awards ceremony, is unavailable in any scenario. Maybe the highly touted college free-agent signee Jeremy Welsh, who made his NHL debut in the Canes’ final game this year, could be Pittsburgh-bound in a deal? Or a roster player? Any name is a total guess at this point.
It’s no guess that Jordan sure would be a fun Staal to have around. His puppy-dog face breaks easily into a smile compared to the all-business Eric. When Jordan scores, he whoops with unabashed joy and leaps into his linemates’ arms. When Eric scores, he seems more to vent relief at the momentary alleviation of pressure, as if he’s saying a defiant “See?” to his critics. There’s a subterranean anger in Eric that Jordan simply lacks.
Carolina has also been mentioned among Rick Nash’s suitors, although it’s hard to imagine Rutherford pulling that off. The prize of the off-season crop, Nash has a no-trade clause and has provided Blue Jackets’ general manager Scott Howson a shortlist of teams he’s willing to be traded to. The list isn’t public but it’d be a shocker if the Canes were on it. And according to the rumors about the trade-deadline deals that Howson turned down for Nash in February, Carolina couldn’t assemble a viable package even if they wanted to.
Still, this is setting up to be a zany moment on the hockey calendar. Carolina is legitimately involved in some heavy conversation. Don’t get your fingers so slicked-up with sunscreen that you can’t check the internet for trade news. Chances seem good that there will be something on ice to read about.