- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PITTSBURGH -- No matter how you poke and prod the league's first blockbuster trade of the offseason, it's hard not to see reason for optimism and excitement from both vantage points.
And really, how rare is that?
If you're Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford and you've just added former Frank J. Selke Trophy nominee Jordan Staal to play alongside big brother Eric Staal without having to disrupt what is an impressive collection of young NHL defensemen, then the future looks considerably brighter in Raleigh today.
If you're Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero and you felt you had to trade the third of the Penguins' big three centers after Jordan Staal declined a 10-year, $60 million contract extension, acquiring a proven two-way center in Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth pick in Friday's draft turns a potential nightmare into a pretty good day's work.
"It's a funny thing to say, but it just felt right to do," Shero said late Friday night. "It's the right place for him, hopefully, and it's the right deal for us most importantly. Hopefully, both parties are going to be real happy."
Certainly there was more than a hint of melancholy on Shero's part at having to make the deal.
Staal was Shero's first draft pick after Shero took over as GM in May 2006.
Staal blossomed with the Penguins, quickly becoming one of the game's top two-way centers and playing a crucial role in the Pens' twin trips to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and 2009. When the Penguins defeated Detroit in the 2009 finals, Staal was the best forward on the ice.
Having come to that conclusion, it was no surprise that Staal would land in Carolina, where it's expected he will very shortly sign a long-term contract extension. Rutherford expects to begin talking contract extension with Staal, who got married Friday, in early in July.
"For many years, the family said that the brothers want to play together," Rutherford said. "Now they're together, I don't know why you'd go somewhere else.
"He got married today. I left a message right after it was announced and I said I didn't expect him to call me back for a few days," he added with a smile.
While a number of NHL coaches and executives praised the deal as being a win-win situation, there are of course no guarantees.
The question -- if there is one when it comes to Staal -- is whether he can grow into a more prominent role in Carolina after playing in the considerable shadow cast by Crosby and Malkin since breaking into the league in 2006-07. Some NHL sources have quietly expressed doubts that Staal can generate enough offense to be a legitimate No. 1 center. Rutherford doesn't seem to be worried.
"He's only 24 years old. He's still got an upside yet, and I would suspect that those numbers will go up," Rutherford said of Staal, who scored a career-high 29 goals as a rookie but has yet to reach that level again.
"I think this improves our team. You name me two or three other players, center-ice men, that are like Jordan Staal. You just can't find them. ... I think it'll be great. With the character those two guys [the Staal brothers] have, the will to win, I think it's a great fit."
Staal, the second overall pick in 2006, won't actually turn 24 until September and, while Rutherford said he'd leave the coaching up to head coach Kirk Muller, he did raise the idea that Eric could move to the wing and play on the same line as his brother.
The fact the team moved an important center in Sutter might make that problematic, though.
Certainly Rutherford was effusive in his praise of Sutter -- the Canes' first-round draft pick (11th overall) in 2007 who scored 21 goals in 2009-10 -- and Dumoulin, who is attending Boston College.
"Brandon Sutter is an exceptionally good player; I think one of the best two-way centers in the league and I think when you look at Pittsburgh, what they have now and to replace Jordan Staal with him, he's a great fit for them," Rutherford said.
"And we've always liked Dumoulin and we think he's a real, real good defenseman. He should be able to play in the top four or five for the next number of years."
Not that Dumoulin is being penciled into the Pens lineup, but the team's continued stockpiling of defensive talent -- it used Carolina's pick to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot of Portland of the Western Hockey League -- allowed Shero to trade veteran defenseman Zbynek Michalek back to the Phoenix Coyotes late Friday.
In return, the Penguins added a third-round pick in this draft and the Yotes' third-round pick from a year ago, defenseman Harrison Ruopp.
The departure of both Staal and Michalek, who has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $4 million annually, opens up some cap space for the Pens who will be looking to ink Crosby to a long-term deal this summer, as well as perhaps chasing a top free agent like Zach Parise.
"Certainly we have some younger D really pushing," Shero said.
"Today we did clear some cap space with the Staal trade and Michalek trade. We'll see where that's going to lead us."
No matter how you poke and prod the league's first blockbuster trade of the offseason, it's hard not to see reason for optimism and excitement from both vantage points, writes Scott Burnside.