Former Penguin Jordan Staal, now with the Carolina Hurricanes, chases down Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The friendships endure, Jordan Staal says. His tone suggests they will for a long, long time. But the same can't be said of regrets, and for good reason: Staal never had any.
More than eight months after rejecting a 10-year, $60 million offer to remain with the Penguins -- and just days before he faces them as an opponent for the first time -- Staal is adamant that he has no misgivings about driving the events that led to him being traded to Carolina in June.
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The deal united him with his older brother, Eric, allowing Staal to realize a longtime dream.
"I'm happy to be down in Raleigh and very happy to play alongside Eric," he said in a telephone interview. "It's been a lot of fun.
"He's a great player and he's fun to play with. He has that competitive nature, where you can tell he wants to win every night. You could see throughout the lineup that we have players who just want to win.
"That's what I had in Pittsburgh, but at the same time, coming down here alongside my brother is a really special feeling. I'm happy where I am right now."
His personal stats line seemed to reflect that. Staal entered the Hurricanes' game against Tampa Bay on Saturday night as the team's No. 3 scorer, with three goals and 10 assists in 15 games.
He's been productive even though he still is getting acclimated to his new surroundings and teammates, as well as coach Kirk Muller's way of doing things. Staal had been centering a line for Jeff Skinner and Patrick Dwyer until Skinner sustained a concussion recently.
"Everything's different, really," he said. "Whether it's the system or the coaching staff or your linemates, it's all different. It's not a bad different, but it's something I've been trying to get used to.
"I haven't nailed everything down, system-wise, yet. There are a lot of different things that are new and still different, players I still have to get used to, but I definitely feel more comfortable than I did in the first few games. It's a work in progress, but it's been a pretty good trip so far."
Staal spent his first six pro seasons with the Penguins, who claimed his rights with the second choice in the 2006 draft, and appeared in 431 regular-season games with them.
He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup-winning team in 2009 and spent considerable time in recent seasons working between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on what many regarded as the best No. 3 line in the NHL.
Given all of that, it stands to reason that Staal doesn't expect the Penguins' visit to PNC Arena on Thursday to be quite like any other game he has played since going to Carolina.
"It's going to be weird, for sure," he said. "I was with Pittsburgh for quite a long time, especially with a lot of those guys. It's going to be weird, facing off against them. It seems kind of obvious, but it's going to be a fun challenge."
Staal said he has remained in contact with some of his former teammates -- "every now and then, I'll keep in touch with a few guys" -- and acknowledged that he has a few ideas for things he can say or do to try to get some to lose focus.
"Yeah, but I can't share those," he said. "There are a few guys who, every so often, you can catch and try to get them off their game."
Staal does not, it should be noted, believe the Penguins will be able to respond in kind.
"They might have a few comments here and there, maybe," he said. "But they don't know too much dirt about me, so they won't be able to get under my skin."
That doesn't mean that a few won't try, because loyalties in this game are to the crest on the front of the sweater, not the nameplate on the back.
So while Staal's respect and affection for his old team are obvious in his words, he makes it clear that he hopes their visit to Raleigh will be as miserable as possible. He professes to have no hard feelings, but he also has no interest in seeing the Penguins leave town with a couple of points.
"It's going to be a good battle," he said. "No scores to settle ... but I ain't gonna be the one to lose that game."