PITTSBURGH — A hot topic in Penguins circles this summer will be how much is Jordan Staal worth. In the third year of a four year, $16 million contract, the 23 year old center is eligible to sign a new extension on July 1 and to no surprise, he will be a top priority for the Penguins.
League wide the center position is valued highly by General Managers and franchise centers are hard to find. Just today the Toronto Maple Leafs locked up one of their key forwards for the long term, signing center Mikhail Grabovski to a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension. In 59 games with the Leafs this season, Grabovski has scored 20 goals and added 25 assists.
Grabovski is a good player but far from a premier player. So what’s a franchise type two-way centerman in his early 20’s worth? $6, $7, even $8 million on the open market?
Staal, 23, is a unique player from the way he impacts a game defensively and now offensively where he’s developed into an offensive force some nights and possesses 30 goal ability. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound centerman has 21 goals and 34 points in 45 games this season, playing with marginal top-6 wingers and often a shutdown type role with limited to no power play time with the first unit.
Staal could hit the open market in the summer of 2014 at just age 24 and as a player who has yet to peak offensively and most importantly already established as a premier two-way centerman who logs over 20 minutes per game and isÂ a tremendousÂ penalty killer averaging 2:42 of ice time on the PK.
“As Jordan continues to mature both as an individual and a player, he will become one of the, if not the, premier two-way centerman in the game, ” Paul Krepelka, the agent for Jordan Staal told Inside Pittsburgh Sports.com on Tuesday. “He possesses all the characteristics you would desire in a franchise centerman, ” Krepelka said of Staal.
Staal is at the point of his development where he gets to name his own price on his next contract.
NHL sources believe he could command up to $7 million on the open market and he is that highly valued around the league.
What about the Penguins who have two franchise centers in front of him? They are kind of handcuffed on giving Staal that type of market value as Sidney Crosby is up for an extension, in addition to Evgeni Malkin being eligible for an extension in July 2013 and the same for defenseman Kris Letang, who could see his annual salary double on his next contract.
The sense from team sources is the team will be lucky to lock up Staal to a deal under $6 million per season.
What the team has at their advantage is that Jordan loves it here and they have created an environment where players want to stay for less money.
Staal though is already making $4.5 million per season and how do you approach him with lets say a James Neal offer of $6 years, $30 million, an annual average of $5 million per season and increase of only $500,000 per season.
Staal is closer to unrestricted free agency than Neal was, which is a big advantage for him in talks as the chance to be a No. 1 scoring line center and get top power play time will be out there in free agency, whileÂ it’s never going to be a likely scenario with the Penguins.
The Penguins are prepared to pay Staal well and he has a great situation here, but he has a very difficult decision to make in the coming year as some feel entering the free agent market in July 2013 will be an opportunity too good to pass him for Staal.