Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Other trade musings

Why should the Minnesota Wild have all the fun in trade rumors?

We're already sick of "Gabbing about Gab(b)y," so I bring you "Staal Taalk!" (Get it? Staal has two A's, so I put two A's in talk? Okay, fine, it's not funny, but who asked you?! This is my blog, at least as long as I don't offend Nick, so I'll make whatever lame jokes I want. You know, kind of like Russo.)

The Staal in question (I know, there's so many of them) is Pittsburgh center and sometimes-winger Jordan.

First off, no, the Penguins aren't trading Staal for Gaborik (you know, because the argument is they can't afford Staal, so trade for Gaborik. Makes perfect sense. *eye roll*)

However, I think they should trade him soon for some winger. A good one. A young one. A healthy one. A not-horribly-expensive one. (If you're scoring at home, Gaborik is disqualified because of Points 3 and 4.)

It's my opinion, aided by a couple reports or rumors, that Staal isn't happy in Pittsburgh. I've heard nothing firsthand (I'm not in Jordan's Fave Five; I think I'm No. 8) but let's look at the facts: No one likes being the third-line center. At least no one who scored 29 goals as a rookie. That's what Staal is right now - but check back with me in 10 minutes, he might be back to second-line center or wing. He wants to be a No. 1 or 2 center, and, well, the Penguins sort of have guys named Crosby and Malkin for those slots. Being a top-six forward would work too, but...

That's the thing. The experiment with playing Staal on Malkin's wing has not worked. That offensive explosion he had his rookie year - 29 goals, seven shorthanded - looks like an aberration. Since then, in the regular season, he has, er, 13 in 94 games, including just one this season, which was into an empty net. None of those 13 are shorthanded. He did, however, score nine goals in 25 playoff games, including six last season.

He's also not exactly a playmaker. He has only 32 assists for his career.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying he's a bad player. He's big, has a long reach, can skate and is terrific defensively. As his playoff stats and rookie season suggest, he's got goal-scoring potential.

But here's the thing: I don't think he's going to develop fully into the player everyone in the league seems to think he'll develop into... in Pittsburgh.

I don't know if he needs to be the guy but I do think he needs his own linemates on a consistent, game-by-game basis. Michel Therrien and Jacques Lemaire probably call each other at night and talk about their constant line-changing, laughing while eating bon-bons or something.

That means I think Staal is better served playing somewhere other than Pittsburgh. I also think Pittsburgh is better served by moving Staal for a real NHL winger for Sidney Crosby (Sorry, Miroslav, it's just that you're 34; nice goal against Phoenix though.)

Now that we've gotten into the "why," let's discuss the possible "who."

As I mentioned, I don't see Gaborik here. That injury is just too much a problem now, plus Staal is too valuable to give up for a rental and Gaborik won't accept less to play with Crosby (if he's healthy, boy that'd be nice though.)

So how about Ilya Kovalchuk? It'd be Marian Hossa Part Two but this time both teams get valuable long-term pieces. Staal and Ryan Whitney for Kovalchuk? Atlanta gets potential franchise players for the front and back line and Pittsburgh gets its coveted scoring winger. People say Don Waddell doesn't need to move Kovalchuk now, but really, is his value higher now, when he has a year after this season remaining on his contract, or next season, when he'll be a potential unrestricted free agent?

Or they say Waddell can't move his team's franchise player because he needs to put butts in the seats...please. It's Atlanta. They're 29th out of 30 in attendance this season. Sounds like he's doing a GREAT job filling the arena.

But okay, who else? Rumors abound, with Phil Kessel mentioned (now that he's good, I doubt Boston will move him), along with Antoine Vermette, Marek Svatos and/or Wojtek Wolski, and I think even Martin Havlat's name has been mentioned.

Let's scratch Havlat's name though. See the Marian Gaborik Corollary.

The others are intriguing. Problems are, Wolski seems more of a playmaker, Svatos also has trouble staying healthy (no seasons with over 66 games) and both have as many goals as Staal does. Oh, and neither seems selfish enough to shoot the puck very often.

Vermette, however...there's a name I could like. Works for Ottawa too, no? Staal could become their top center, and they can move Spezza for another part they need (Khabibulin?). Other moves might need to be made for salary cap purposes.

I still think Maxim Afinogenov can do well in the right setting, but no real reason to trade for him. He surely won't re-sign in Buffalo (or maybe even the NHL). Frolov in LA? Maybe. That'd give the Kings a nice center corps with Kopitar and Stoll. But I don't know who's centering that third-line out there, if it's Stoll or.. I think it's Handzus? So that might not be a win-win for both teams.

Cheechoo was once rumored to be offered for Whitney, but I don't see Cheech going anywhere right now.

But those are some names to chew on. Staal's going to want a big payday at the end of the season, and it's not that I don't think he's worth it, just that he's not worth it to the Penguins (sort of like how Gaborik is worth more to the Wild than to others; or is he at this point?). I think Staal's best value is in a trade, but it remains to be seen what will happen.

Though given the Penguins poor offense, GM Ray Shero may not want to wait too long.


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