This is a refreshing change for Penguins fans. I'm sure that, if Craig Patrick were still GM, Staal would be on the first bus to Peterborough right now, and Patrick would be muttering something at the press conference about long-term financial implications, with that hangdog expression that was permanently etched in his face after trading Alexei Kovalev.
Ray Shero understands that you have to spend the money at some point, or else you end up with, well, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kevin McClatchy has built the worst team in baseball to make a profit. (Hey, Kevin, just wait until that All-Star-game-inflated season ticket bubble bursts…) Rather than worrying now about how they'll deal with the contracts of Staal and Evgeni Malkin in the same year, Ray has placed his faith in the new CBA, not to mention the possibility that the Penguins will be contenders for the next three seasons.
It would be easy to view this as being an over-optimistic response to the team's 6-3-0 start. Look deeper, though, and it's more about how the Penguins are winning, not just the mere fact that they are, or that one year ago, we were still waiting for one lousy, stinking win. They're beating the teams they're supposed to beat, and hanging tough with rest. They have a couple of comeback wins, too. The mood in the clubhouse is far more confident than it was last season.
Staal has clearly been a part of that success. Getting three short-handed goals in nine games is a bit of a fluke, but it comes from strong penalty killing, which the Pens are getting this year. In fact, with Staal, Dominic Moore, Colby Armstrong, and Maxime Talbot, the Penguins penalty killing units are the best they've been in years. At the moment, they're 12th in the league at 85.2%. Last season, they finished at 78.8%, with only the Los Angeles Kings to keep them out of dead last in the NHL. Before The Lockout? A pitiful, league-worst 77.2%.
So here's to Jordan Staal, who just earned a regular NHL job before his brother Marc, who's still in the Rangers' farm system. And here's to all those matchups with brother Eric, just one more interesting twist to those crazy Pens-Hurricanes games.
Oh, and as much as I hate to reduce the kid to a by-the-way, Kris Letang was returned to Val d'Or today. Kris showed glimpses of the NHL-calibre defenseman he'll become, but the Penguins are better served by stay-at-home veterans like Mark Eaton and Josef Melichar.