The Penguins traded the talented center to the Carolina Hurricanes for two players and Carolina's first-round pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.
The 23-year-old Staal helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009 and was ready to enter the final year of his contract but balked at signing a lengthy extension. Rather than continue negotiating, the Penguins shipped him to the Hurricanes, where Staal will join his brother, Eric. Carolina also has Jared Staal — currently playing in the American Hockey League.
"I didn't want to trade him," Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero said. "My goal was to try to sign him to a contract to remain with the Penguins ... but it just became more apparent as we talked about it internally that trading him was the right thing to do."
Pittsburgh received center Brandon Sutter and defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the deal as well as Carolina's No. 8 pick in the draft, which the Penguins used to select defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
Shero called Sutter the key to the trade.
"An NHL-ready Brandon Sutter is a proven player in the league, he's a young player, he's signed," Shero said. "It's hard to find guys like that."
Sutter realizes his role as a checking-line center won't be changing with the Penguins. He does have reason to believe it's a job that might have become a little easier.
After spending the past four seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes having to defend against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Sutter now counts both as teammates. Better still, he noted the potential of a trickle-down effect Crosby and Malkin can provide in helping Sutter add a little more offense to his own game.
Sutter spoke by teleconference call on Monday, three days after being acquired by Pittsburgh. Though it took a few days for the shock to wear off, Sutter is excited about the opportunity to join a proven winner.
"I really didn't see it coming at all," Sutter said. "So it was a bit of a shock to the system."
The suddenness of the trade that sent Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes and Brandon Sutter to the Pittsburgh Penguins may have caught Sutter off guard but after a few days to reflect, he seems to like the big picture the Penguins provide.
"I'm still yet to play in a playoff game. So for me, I'm at a point now where it's about winning," Sutter said. "That's what I want to be there for and help with that."
Sutter is a solid defender, but he doesn't want to be pigeon-holed into that role and sees the new system he will be playing in with the Penguins as a chance to improve on his offensive output. Last season Sutter scored 32 points on 17 goals and 15 assists.
"I don't want to get stuck just playing defense every shift," the Penguins’ future center said. "I think obviously with Crosby and Malkin if we can find a way to get the third line to produce like they have in the past again you have that three line force."
Sutter called Jordan Staal a great player and a player you want to be like but he said he has to be his own man.
"I don't want to feel like I'm replacing someone." Sutter said. "I feel like the Penguins obviously had to make a deal and I'm glad they picked me and I'm glad I'm going to a winning team where there is opportunity."
The Penguins weren't done dealing. Shortly after the first round ended, they agreed to send defenseman Zbynek Michalek to the Phoenix Coyotes for defenseman Harrison Ruopp, goalie Marc Cheverie, and a third-round pick. Michalek played five seasons with Phoenix before signing with the Penguins in July 2010.
Staal and Michalek were two of the biggest names on the move, but not the only ones. The Washington Capitals dealt a second-round pick and center Cody Eakin to the Dallas Stars for center Mike Ribiero. The 32-year-old Ribiero tied for second on the Stars last season in points, scoring 18 goals to go with 45 assists in 74 games.
Earlier Friday, the Philadelphia Flyers shipped backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for three draft picks — a second-rounder and fourth-rounder in this draft and a fourth-rounder next year. The New York Islanders also acquired veteran Lubomir Visnovsky from the Anaheim Ducks for New York's second-round selection in 2013.
On a day when speculation about the future of Columbus star Rick Nash abounded, it was the Penguins who provided the draft with a jolt by sending the popular Staal packing at the event held in their home arena.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted at the impact moments before announcing the trade.
Shero thanked Staal for his contributions to the franchise before taking Pouliot as the capacity crowd at Consol Energy Center roared its approval. The move is a stunning end to a hugely successful run in Pittsburgh for Staal, taken with the second pick in the 2006 draft.
Staal quickly developed into a linchpin of Pittsburgh's meteoric rise through the league. Teaming with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Staal gave the Penguins arguably the best trio of centers in the NHL. He was a valuable penalty-killer with a deft touch around the net. He scored 25 goals in the 2011-12 season despite missing 20 games due to injury.
The move gives Carolina an elite young forward they hope will continue to flourish alongside his big brother.
"Right back to when all these Staal brothers were drafted, they said at some point in their career, they'd all like to play together," Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. "This will be a real good fit for them. I think they can have some fun with this. These are guys that can dominate games, and so I think it all fits together for the two brothers and the family."
Another brother, defenseman Marc Staal, plays for the New York Rangers.
The Hurricanes entered the offseason hoping to pick up a top-shelf forward to complement Eric Staal, the team captain and unquestioned face of the franchise, either via a trade or free agency. Jordan Staal and Nash were the biggest names on the trade front. New Jersey's Zach Parise heads up the free-agent class that can begin talking to new teams on July 1.
Once Staal turned down a contract extension earlier this week to stay in Pittsburgh, speculation quickly picked up around the Hurricanes.
Rutherford said Penguins general manager Ray Shero called him at about 4:20 p.m. on Friday to say he probably would be moving Staal. He said the deal with Carolina was completed at 6:45 p.m., and it was announced moments before the Hurricanes were to make their first-round pick.
Rutherford said contract talks with Jordan Staal — whose deal expires after the 2012-13 season — will probably begin in early July.
The price Carolina had to pay for their third Staal was rather steep.
The 23-year-old Sutter, the Hurricanes' first-round pick in 2007, has 53 goals and 54 assists in parts of four promising NHL seasons. The durable son of former Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter — and a member of one of the sport's most famous families — was fifth on the team with 17 goals this season. He hasn't missed a game since the 2009-10 season.
Dumoulin, 21, was taken by Carolina in the second round in 2009 and he helped Boston College win the Frozen Four in April before signing a three-year, entry-level contract. The Hurricanes gave up their only first-round pick, but they will pick nine times during rounds 2-7 on Saturday.