Posted: Thursday October 26, 2006 12:04PM; Updated: Thursday October 26, 2006 12:21PM
Staal's sudden impact has been yet another happy deveiopment for the young, talented Penguins, who are now Atlantic contenders.
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It's an ideal situation for him in Pittsburgh. This isn't a spot that was created due to organizational weakness. Unlike most 18-year-olds who have made the leap straight out of juniors in recent years, Staal will not be expected to carry a significant offensive load. The presence of Sidney Crosby and, to an even greater extent, Evgeni Malkin means there's no pressure at all to produce. Instead, Staal can continue to learn in a hothouse environment where he's likely to mature more quickly.
In fact, it seems like an easy enough call...until you consider the business ramifications.
Activating his deal now means that, under the current CBA, Staal will be eligible for restricted free agency in the summer of 2009 and will be unrestricted at age 25, in 2013. That's the same summer as Malkin, and just one year after Crosby. Considering those two players are steamrolling down the path to max contracts, adding Staal's contract negotiations might be one headache too many.
That scenario deserves a moment's consideration, but nothing more. It would be crazy to make a hockey decision today based on what might happen seven years from now.
A lot can happen in that time. Staal could take up helmetless motorcycle riding. Crosby could be dealt to the Bruins for Brad Stuart, Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm.
Malkin could be ordered back to Russia.
And who's to say the CBA won't change in the interim. . . or that the Malkin/Staal contract double feature will even be Shero's bomb to defuse?
The thing is, you don't know. That's why a smart GM in the New NHL keeps an eye on the future, but his focus has to be on what makes the team better over the next two to three years.
In both cases, the right call for the Pens is to keep Staal on board.