Is Staal trade bait?
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Q: What is the likelihood that the verbal attacks on Sidney Crosby by Alexander Semin will turn into a good ol' fistfight when the Pens next face the Caps? I'm no expert on hockey fight etiquette, but this seems like one of those rare (and maybe precious) occasions for Crosby to start a tussle.
Scott Malyszka, Reston, Va.
MOLINARI: Gee, let's hope not. Crosby and Semin do a lot of things well -- even though Semin doesn't seem to recognize that about Crosby -- but there's no reason to believe that fighting is high on the list. Or anywhere on it, for that matter, although Crosby acquitted himself well enough in his only NHL bout to date, against Boston defenseman Andrew Ference.
But if Crosby and Semin would happen to square off when Washington returns to Mellon Arena Jan. 14, there might be a little hockey history made, because it could be the first time two coaches try to break up a fight before the linesmen even think about intervening. One of the last things Michel Therrien or his Capitals counterpart, Bruce Boudreau, would want to see is a valuable player break a hand or knuckle in a fight. Losing either of them while they served a fighting major would be bad enough; getting by without him for weeks while a needless fracture heals would border on the unthinkable.
However, should Crosby and Semin feel the need to abandon their normal games and trade haymakers for a minute or two, perhaps Therrien and Boudreau could agree to let the outcome of the game be determined by a shootout in which Eric Godard and Donald Brashear, along with a couple of goals, are the only participants. Seems only fair if a couple of skilled guys feel obliged to infringe on the enforcers' territory.
Q: With the strength they have down the middle and the slow start he's had, coupled with last year's lack of production, I'm beginning to believe Jordan Staal might be good trade bait. He is obviously a great defensive player, but given the fact he is looking for a big contract, I'm beginning to believe they could pick up some good prospects for him.
George Gregg, Lancaster
MOLINARI: Yeah, the Penguins probably "could pick up some good prospects" in a trade involving Staal. Heck, one or two of those prospects might actually be younger than him, too, although that isn't terribly likely, given that Staal turned 20 less than two months ago. (Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, Staal's game isn't a finished product just yet.)
Staal is, to be sure, a luxury of sorts for the Penguins, given that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are ahead of him on the depth chart, and it's conceivable that he will, eventually, become one they can't afford. Although he isn't going to command an $8.7 million salary like Crosby and Malkin do, Staal is widely projected to come in at around $4 million per season on his next deal, depending on how he performs this season. Squeezing that kind of contract under the cap ceiling probably won't be easy for the Penguins.
Staal is, at least at this stage of his career and on this particular team, best-suited to work as a No. 3 center, but seems all but guaranteed to receive the kind of contract that usually would go to a top-six forward. It's possible that his offensive game will develop to the point where he could play center -- definitely, his position of choice -- on a first or second line, but it isn't there yet and those jobs don't figure to be available here as long as Crosby and Malkin are on the payroll.
Because of salary-cap pressures and the obvious market value of a player with Staal's size and pedigree, he figures to be a fixture in trade speculation -- whether it's rooted in reality or otherwise -- until he re-signs with the Penguins, and possibly even beyond that. That doesn't mean the Penguins will aggressively seek to move him, but it won't be realistic to include him on the short list of the team's untouchables, either. General manager Ray Shero has an obligation to listen to any offers he might receive for Staal, and just about everyone else on his roster; he just isn't compelled to accept any of them.
Finally, if Staal's modest offensive production since his rookie season, including one goal and three assists in 12 games in 2008-09, is a valid reason for the Penguins to try to trade him, doesn't it also justify other clubs scaling back what they'd be willing to offer for him?
First Published November 5, 2008 12:00 am