Staal trade; forget it

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Penguins center Jordan Staal has played in 410 NHL regular-season games. He has scored 116 goals. He has 228 points. He is a career plus-43. He won't turn 24 until Sept. 10.

Think about how good Staal will be when he grows up.

I don't want to think about that happening with any other team.

The NHL trade deadline is Monday. It's hard to believe many around here still want to see Staal moved. The Penguins need a scoring winger, they say, as if Staal isn't becoming a big-time scorer. The latest trade-wish has him going to Columbus for winger Rick Nash and his $7.8 million annual cap hit through the 2017-18 season. Please.

"Those people don't know what they're talking about," a Penguins official said Saturday afternoon.

Translation:

Staal isn't going anywhere today or Monday. Here's hoping he doesn't go anywhere for a long time. He can be a free agent after next season, but the Penguins are expected to try hard this summer to do a long-term extension with him.

It makes sense.

You do everything you can to keep your star players.

Staal is one.

It's easy to overlook his two goals and assist in the Penguins' 8-1 win Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Teammate Evgeni Malkin once again was magical with three goals and an assist. "He's on fire!" Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury gushed.

Fleury's performance also overshadowed Staal's effort. He had 33 saves -- many spectacular -- on a day when the Penguins had so many defensive breakdowns they easily could have lost, 9-8. It was Fleury's 32nd win of the season and 216th of his career as he closes in on Tom Barrasso's franchise career record. "I need 10 to catch him, 11 to pass him. I want to beat him!" Fleury gushed again. Not that he's counting.

But don't underestimate Staal's contributions, not just in this win but in the seven games since he returned from a knee injury. He had six goals and three assists for nine points. Not coincidentally, the Penguins went 5-2.

Staal's goals against the Lightning -- one short-handed, one on the power play -- gave him 21 in 41 games this season. My arithmetic isn't much, but I believe that projects to 42 goals over a full NHL season. Here is another amazing Staal statistic: He has scored his 21 goals on 91 shots, a remarkable shooting percentage of 22.0. He was third best in the league in that category going into Saturday.

Teammates say Staal is stronger than ever. "He put in hours in the gym when he was hurt," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "He really put in the effort. You can see it."

Staal, although saying he "feels really confident about my body," said he hasn't changed his game much. "I've just been slotted into a deeper role offensively."

Staal has taken advantage of the extra responsibility given to him because of Sidney Crosby's absence. Going into the game against the Lightning, he was averaging more than 20 minutes per game, second most among the team's forwards behind Malkin. He has worked his way on to the second power-play unit.

Staal continues to be one of the Penguins' top defensive forwards and penalty-killers. That won't change any time soon. His value can be measured numerically: In his 41 games, the team has allowed 102 goals in 2,489 minutes, a 2.46 goals-against average. In the 20 he missed because of injury, it had a 2.73 goals-against average.

As for that penalty-killing job, Staal is a big part of a unit that ranked third in the NHL going into Saturday. The Penguins killed five of six short-handed situations against the Lightning and got the shorty from Staal, his third of the season and the team's ninth. Staal loves that role. "It's dirty work, but I enjoy being out there when times are tight." He's such a perfectionist that he was disappointed the Penguins gave up a power-play goal to Tampa Bay's Teddy Purcell. "Obviously, we really wanted to get the shutout for [Fleury]."

That defensive reliability is what earned Staal a job in the NHL in 2006 when he had just turned 18. Can you believe he's finishing his sixth season? Where does time go?

What's intriguing is how much better Staal can become offensively. Coach Dan Bylsma sounded as if he, too, wants to watch that play out on a daily basis for years to come.

"I think it's really an understanding of how good he is in certain areas of the game," Bylsma said of Staal's breakout as a goal-scorer. "It's not outrageous stick-handling and great hands. It's power and speed and physical awareness. He can drive around you with his speed and size and he can hold on to the puck and keep you from getting it. I think he's got a better understanding of where he can have success and play offensively ...

"I don't think he gets credit for how well he can skate because he's a bigger, longer-bodied guy. He's a real powerful and strong skater."

And you want to trade Staal?

What's wrong with you?

Staal acknowledged that it's hard for any player not to be distracted as the trade deadline approaches. In his case -- he's heard his name mentioned in the speculation for years -- he said he forces himself to "refocus ... [Trades] are something we as players can't control."

Here's a tip for Staal: Relax.

He's not going anywhere.



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