The Pittsburgh Penguins have built a lot of success using the three center model over the last six seasons. Since Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal made their way to Pittsburgh, the Penguins have made six straight playoff appearances including two conference titles and a Stanley Cup.
However, not all is well in the Steel City.
Pittsburgh has failed to get out of the first round in the last two years, including the last playoff run when they had a completely healthy roster. Now, GM Ray Shero believes changes may be coming to the Penguins who surely need to beef up their defense if they want to have a chance in 2013.
Since the Penguins won't be losing any significant cap space from free agency, it may be time to look at a trade. Jordan Staal, a free agent after next season, is 23 years old and rumored to be looking for a bigger role. While Staal has shown feelings of admiration to Pittsburgh, it is foolish to believe he wouldn't test the free agent market. With this information, trading Jordan Staal appears to be the right way to go. In return, the Penguins could fetch a combination of high draft picks and solid prospects which would be used to repair any holes on the team.
But some people have voiced another route: trade Malkin and keep Staal for the long term. I am going to vehemently disagree with this idea and I will argue against some of the points I've heard from around town:
Staal is a big game player. He's built for the playoffs and showed that in the Philadelphia series. Malkin, on the other hand, loses focus and doesn't seem to fight in the corners for loose pucks.
Not only have I heard this in Pittsburgh, I've heard this from hockey media members, particularly, north of the border. This is a ridiculous to say the least. First of all, it's pretty obvious a Canadian hockey analyst would take a Canadian over a Russian in pretty much everything. The stigma that Canadians play harder than Europeans is outdated, unlike the pure bitterness seething over a country that cannot get over the fact that they used to be dominated at their own game by these same "lazy" players.
Staal is a solid playoff player, but he's still not on the level of Evgeni Malkin. While Staal did score more goals (6) and register more points (9) than Malkin, his play on the penalty kill was atrocious. Of the 12 goals scored by the Flyers on the power play, Jordan Staal was on the ice for 7 of them.
Oh, by the way, Evgeni Malkin has a Conn Smythe trophy, awarded to the best playoff performer.
Staal is only getting better whereas Malkin is probably at his peak.
As talented as Jordan Staal is, he will never be on the level of Evgeni Malkin. For one, they are two completely different players. While Staal is seen as a power forward, using his 6'4 220 pound body to get to the front of the net, Malkin is a playmaker. In just 75 games, Malkin put up 109 points and finished as the only player to register a 100+ point season.
Also, it is worth noting that the best player in the world (Sidney Crosby) has had concussion issues which raises the question, "who gives the Penguins a better chance to win, Malkin or Staal?" The answer has to be Malkin. In the 2010-2011 season -where Staal played 28 of 42 games without Crosby and Malkin- Staal totaled 30 points. In the playoffs, he had 3 measly points in seven games. This year, Staal's numbers were much better. Why? Because he's going up against the third defensive pairing while the top four defensemen are focusing on Malkin and Crosby.
Staal may be getting better. But he'll never reach the level of Evgeni Malkin; a player who joined the conversation as one of the best in the world after his performance this season. And, while Staal is 23, Malkin is only 25.
You could get a bigger return for Malkin than you could for Staal
Does that matter? This is not a team in need of rebuilding. They are simply one or two players away from returning to the Stanley Cup. If you can trade your third best center -no matter how good he is- and keep your top six forwards intact, and improve the team considerably, wouldn't that be the best scenario?
To me, it's not even close. Jordan Staal should be the first one to go if the Penguins decide to trade one of their centers. That's not to say I want Jordan Staal traded. He is a valuable part of the Penguins and was a key piece to their Stanley Cup run in 2009.
The best scenario would be to keep all three centers. However, the contracts of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, coupled with the fact that Staal may want to be a more premier player, make that option the hardest to complete. Also, despite all the rumors swirling about possible trade partners for Staal, it seems unlikely Ray Shero would pull the trigger on a deal until the new CBA and salary cap are announced.