Collier: Penguins' Staal married and divorced, all in one day

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You may now kiss the groom ... goodbye.

All right, maybe it didn't go down quite like that Friday for Jordan Staal of the Thunder Bay Staals on the occasion of the young man's nuptials.

Maybe it was closer to:

I now pronounce you Hurricane and wife.

Whatever the time line particulars, at a couple of minutes after 8 p.m. Friday, the splendid center who wore No. 11 on some of the most talented hockey teams to skate in Pittsburgh officially and almost certainly became the first Penguin ever to be married and divorced on the same day.

Faced with a glut of talent at center that was threatening to become affixed to a glut of monstrous cap-hostile contracts, Penguins general manager Ray Shero did what most everyone realized he had to do sooner or later.

He sent Staal to Carolina for center Brandon Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and a much higher perch in the first round of the NHL draft that had begun just an hour before right down the hall from his office.

Within minutes of that swap, the Penguins used the eighth pick on Derrick Pouliot, who was roundly described as an offensive defenseman, probably as much because no one ever gets described as a defensive offenseman as anything else.

In either case, Pouliot now begins his flightless waterfowl odyssey, which will take him either to the storied pond of the Consol Energy Center at some length or forever into the annals of Penguins trivia.

But Pouliot's name could be forgotten, remembered and forgotten again 15 times before anyone around here forgets Staal, who launched his career with a burst of Mellon Arena offense at age 18 and blossomed across six winters into as reliable a two-way force as exists in the modern NHL.

His departure divorces the Penguins from one of the most talented penalty-killers in their history and simultaneously triggers nothing short of the necessary remaking of the club's on-ice persona.

Long a center-centric amalgamation of world-class offensive talent with Staal, newly branded NHL Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin, and the incomparable if recently fragile Sidney Crosby, the Penguins must now adopt a different profile, which is not at all a bad thing.

For all of their offensive resourcefulness, you might have noticed, they exited this playoff spring at the earliest convenience of the Philadelphia Flyers.

In just six games, the Penguins allowed the young Philadelphians 30 goals.

For perspective on that, call up the 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, who allowed 30 goals in four rounds.

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Staal was the biggest and toughest of the three gifted centers, and his absence and the money the Penguins won't have to pay him should steer management toward a more conventional defensive posture than even the one head coach Dan Bylsma prefers.

That's a narrative for training camp, however, with the more urgent focus on Shero's further inclinations as the draft and the swap meet continue through today.

Should he be able to find a landing strip for disappointing, overcompensated defender Paul Martin, he could discover enough financial latitude to make a serious overture toward Zach Parise, the looming free agent period's top prize and an indisputably brilliant player.

Sutter will take Staal's spot on the Penguins third line and be useful attacker, having averaged 17 goals in three NHL seasons.

He won't even be 24 until Valentine's Day.

Meanwhile in Raleigh, Staal will burst from the shadows of Crosby and Malkin, take a place among the top six forwards, skate with his brother and team captain Eric on the power play, and probably score 30 goals or more.

In a free agent year, he could put together bank-breaking stats, which is the very reason he expressed zero interest in a 10-year offer from the Penguins earlier this week.

That proposed contract, guessed at as being in the range of $60 million, indicates how conflicted to the bitter end the Penguins were over dismantling their enviable center triumvirate.

Staal very likely did the Penguins a favor by turning it down.

Had he accepted, Shero could only have shifted the rock into the spot where the hard place was and vice versa. But in the end, Shero resolved the larger question in the proper way, at least in this view.

It would have been at great historical peril to make Crosby the player the Penguins ultimately decided to stop paying.

Malkin is not only the reigning MVP, he's the best antidote in the world to a Crosby concussion diagnosis.

You can't trade him. That left Staal, and yesterday Staal left Pittsburgh.

The trade was getting praise from both sides as a good hockey trade, meaning one that helps both sides, even if you think by both sides they meant the bride and the groom.


Gene Collier: First Published June 23, 2012 12:00 AM


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