Does Staal deserve a raise?

Penguins Q&A with Dave Molinari

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Q: You and the rest of the media that cover the Pens keep talking of Jordan Staal and this big contract extension you all anticipate. In my opinion, Jordan hasn't warranted anything more than a moderate raise. His value right now is as a back-checking forward and penalty-killer. I haven't seen playmaking skills or scoring skills that will make him an NHL star. He's a good player, but he's not a difference-maker. He's young and may develop into a superstar, but right now isn't the time to overpay for potential. He needs to step up and be a force now that he's on a prime-time line. So far, brother Eric is far better than Jordan.

Ric Tkac, White Oak

MOLINARI: Yes, Eric Staal is a better player than his younger brother, at this stage in their careers. He's also a better player than 98 percent (or more) of the rest of the guys in the NHL. What went unmentioned is that Eric Staal is being paid like it, too. Last month, he signed a seven-year contract worth $57.75 million, an average of $8.25 million per season.

That's roughly double what Jordan Staal is expected to get on the deal which will replace the one that expires next summer, and while the submission above is hardly the only one the Q&A has received suggesting that projections of what that contract will be worth are overstated, a number of factors suggest otherwise.

For starters, it's generally accepted now that the "second contract" for highly regarded young players has been relegated to a place in hockey history. General managers reluctant to risk losing young talent feel compelled to offer them deals covering a large number of years (essentially, "buying" some of the seasons when the player in question would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency) and a substantial amount of money.

What's more, while Jordan Staal, 20, has yet to establish that he will be offensively productive as a top-six forward, it certainly isn't clear that he can't fill such a role, either. Given the other qualities he has to offer - like how he's big, a good skater, plays well defensively, has excellent hockey sense, etc. - the Penguins aren't going to get him to accept a deal that offers, say, a cost-of-living raise and a 15 percent discount at the Mellon Arena pro shop.

The Staal camp has declined to get involved in serious negotiations yet because it believes he can elevate his market value by putting up some solid offensive statistics this season. If he does that, their gamble probably will pay off. And even if he doesn't, there's every reason to believe he will be in line for a deal in the $4 million range.

If he doesn't get that from the Penguins before he qualifies for restricted free agency next summer, the odds are strongly in his favor that another club will, at which point the Penguins would have to decide whether to match the offer - which might well be higher than the figure that would have been required for them to re-sign him - or accept a compensation package from the club that signs him.

Q: What do you think the chances are that the Penguins get Marian Gaborik?

Joe, Pittsburgh

MOLINARI: About as good as the chances are that they'll get Marian Stastny, unless general manager Ray Shero decides to make an abrupt and dramatic change in the course he has charted for this franchise.

There's no question that the Penguins would like to upgrade Sidney Crosby's linemates - he and Marian Hossa were scary-good together during the playoffs after they finally jelled - but even if, as seems likely, Minnesota trades Gaborik this season rather than lose him as an unrestricted free agent next summer, it's hard to imagine him ending up here.

Even if the Penguins are satisfied that he would be a positive presence in the locker room and would work well with Crosby - great players aren't always able to develop the kind of chemistry one might expect - the price they would have to pay to pry Gaborik from the Wild would be staggering (you can assume that Minnesota GM Doug Risebrough will auction him off to the highest bidder, as he should) and fitting him into their salary structure would be an enormous challenge, at best.

Gaborik already has rejected an offer that reportedly covered 10 years and was worth more than $8 million per season. Given that the Penguins are flirting with the salary-cap ceiling and that Miroslav Satan is the only player with a salary-cap hit above $2.5 million whose contract expires after this season, squeezing Gaborik in under the cap for 2009-10 and beyond might necessitate bringing in David Blaine as their capologist.

Of course, one way around the fiscal complications would be to send Crosby to the Wild for Gaborik, but that would kind of defeat the purpose of acquiring a top-shelf winger to play with Crosby, right? Sure would create some great fodder for the talks shows and messsage boards about who should be brought in to play with Gaborik, though.


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