The Pittsburgh Penguins need a third line center.
Not just any third line center, they need the best third line center in the league.
The Penguins advantage at center has been a common link in all three of their most recent championships.
Crosby, Malkin, Bonino was the best group of centermen boasted by any team in the league.
Crosby and Malkin took the hard matchups, which allowed for Bonino and the HBK line to excel.
An underwhelming Bonino replacement like Marcus Kruger just won’t do.
The Penguins have always been about three scoring lines under Mike Sullivan.
To take advantage of the matchup problems caused by the two best centers in the world, the Penguins third center must be someone that can contribute both offensively, as well as defensively.
That somebody just could be the guy that took advantage of those matchups before Nick Bonino.
No, Brandon Sutter, I’m not talking about you.
I’m talking about the guy that Jim Rutherford traded for once already.
The guy that was undoubtedly the best third center in the league during his tenure here.
Bring Jordan Staal home to Pittsburgh.
Before you exit out to blast me on Twitter, it’s not as far-fetched as you think.
Disclaimer: I’m not an insider. I don’t know any more than you do about this stuff. This isn’t a rumor that I’m floating out there. This is just a logical thought that came into my head, and I’m going to support my argument with plenty of facts.
Yeah, trust me. That disclaimer was necessary.
Here’s my argument for bringing Staalsy home to the Steel City.
The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup anytime soon. They have a good crop of young players that are getting better and better every year. They’re in the middle stages of a rebuild. They’re going to be a good team. Just not yet. They’ve already sold a big piece in Eric Staal and they would’ve done the same with Cam Ward, except no teams are interested.
Point being, they are clearly willing to sell their older players. The last big piece that they have to play is Jordan Staal. Staal is 28 and he isn’t getting any younger. He’s got six more years left at a $6M cap hit. That contract could be a roadblock to the Canes signing their young studs in a few years.
More importantly, the Hurricanes are becoming loaded at center. They’ve got Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, and rumor has it that they are currently in the process of acquiring Marcus Kruger from Las Vegas.
Marcus Kruger to Carolina isn't done yet but talks pretty far along on this front. @BrianHedger first to report Vegas flipping Kruger.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) July 3, 2017
I don’t think that the Hurricanes would have any interest in trading their future top six centers in Rask and Teravainen, since they’re in the middle of a rebuild. Actually, I think they probably want them to play more minutes next season. And the addition of Kruger could make Staal expendable in Ron Francis’s mind. Not to mention, the Hurricanes also have an incredibly deep prospect pool of centers that consists of players like Nicolas Roy and Joakim Nordstrom.
Staal is still good, in fact, he still plays at the rate of a second line center. His teammates in Carolina have been less than ideal. Playing on a bad team like Carolina has likely hurt Staal’s perceived value around the league. I don’t imagine any team would be eager to take on Staal’s $6M contract if they simply look at his recent production. I also don’t imagine Carolina would be opposed to eating $2M in annual salary to shed Staal’s contract.
As you can see in the chart above, Staal is still one of the best two-way players in the game. He generates offense at a remarkable rate, but he’s even better defensively. And remember, he did all of this playing on one of the worst teams in the league. In Pittsburgh, Staal’s offensive production could absolutely skyrocket with quality teammates. The Penguins could really take advantage of Staal’s perceived value being so low, when his actual value is still very, very high.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “All of that sounds great, but the Penguins don’t need another big name at third center. A small trade would cost less and do just fine.” Let’s not forget that just a couple weeks ago Elliotte Friedman linked the Penguins to Matt Duchene. We don’t know how serious the Penguins were about Duchene, but we do know they were interested.
We also know that the Penguins signed left defenseman Matt Hunwick on Saturday. Hunwick’s signing gives the Penguins four left defensemen on one-way deals. That means there could be an odd man out and Jim Rutherford could be prepping for a deal that is already in the works to ship out one of the Penguins left defensemen. The first name that comes to my mind is Olli Maatta. If Maatta is available, it could mean that the Penguins are indeed thinking about making a big splash when it comes to their third center.
I'm told Pens see Hunwick as a left-sided D partnered w/either Letang or Schultz. This would seem 2make Maatta available.
— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) July 3, 2017
Maatta has been just okay in his last couple seasons since returning from injury. He’s been good at times in both playoff runs, and hell, I will always root for the kid after what he went through. However, Maatta’s perceived value has to be at an all-time high around the league. He’s only 22, he’s got plenty of potential, and he’s coming off of back to back Stanley Cup championships. The Penguins just signed Maatta to a six year extension that will pay him $4M per year. If the Penguins have any doubts and want to get out of Maatta’s contract, the time is now. They could market him as a young, skilled defenseman, with championship experience. You’d be surprised how much NHL general managers value things like championship experience.
Ron Francis just might bite on this hook. A young, championship caliber defenseman, who’s already on a very team-friendly contract for an aging center that was a part of the old plan when Rutherford was GM? There just might be a deal to be made here.
I don’t know the value of players around the league. No one does except the GMs that make the trades. But here’s the framework of the trade I could see as plausible:
Jordan Staal with $2M retained for Olli Maatta and a 1st round pick.
Maybe the pick is a second round pick.
Maybe there’s no pick at all.
I don’t know how highly Maatta is valued or how much it will cost to get the Canes to eat salary.
This is just some ballpark idea of what that kind of trade could look like.
I could be right on.
I could be way off.
The minor details are far from the central point of this article.
I just think it all makes a lot of sense.
A minor trade for a third center probably would’ve been done by now.
Jim Rutherford has never been afraid to make a splash, either.
In fact, one of his previous splashes was for Jordan Staal.
He circled around Staal back in 2015, but Francis held out hope that the Canes could win with him and didn’t engage Rutherford’s interest.
Those rumors were no joke. Check out an old article from the always reliable Josh Yohe, here.
Rutherford clearly loves what Staal brings to the table.
With $2M retained, Staal would cost $100k less than Nick Bonino costs the Predators.
And Jordan Staal is the far superior player.
Who knows, I could be onto something with this shot in the dark.
Or maybe I’m just seeking a familiar face after all of the departures this week.
Either way, nostalgia is a hell of a drug.