A couple days ago, I read Darren Dreger's comments in an interview he gave on Sportsradio 93-7 about the potentiality of trading Evgeni Malkin rather than Jordan Staal during the offseason. Understanding that a new CBA being negotiated could change this development for Penguins GM Ray Shero, this is an interesting and [or] disturbing thought for a few reasons.
Before I say anything about this situation, if this is the worst problem for the Penguins right now, then I think they should realize the team could have been in Kansas City or Las Vegas by now. If having to choose between arguably the best offensive player in the NHL and arguably the best two-way forward in the NHL is such a horrible problem, then there is no making the Penguins happy.
In a salary cap environment, it is impossible to keep a core of player like the Penguins have for a very long time. If you're lucky, you can keep a core like Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, Letang for about 5 years. They've all been on the same team since the 2007-2008 season, which 5 years later puts them smack-dab right at this offseason. It wasn't going to last forever, and I hope Penguins management and Penguins fans have prepared themselves for what's coming. It won't be a mass exodus, but it might feel like it.
From an organizational standpoint, I think the Penguins found themselves in a very advantageous position: both Malkin and Staal are at their most valuable. Malkin has come off of knee surgery to regain his form from 2008-2009 season while racking up a career high 50 goals. Staal set a career high 50pts this season, while only playing in 62games. They both are in the prime of their careers, both have tons of Stanley Cup experience, and at ages 25 and 23 respectively, Malkin and Staal have a lot more to give for a very long time. If I were Ray Shero, as much as it might hurt to trade either of these players, I'd be excited for the potential returns for either player.
If I were an NHL GM, which is probably a good thing I'm not (thought Alexei Ponikarovsky was going to work out great), I'd say Malkin has more value than Staal. It's hard to argue with a proven track record of offensive dominance and a willingness to carry a team on your back. There hasn't been a lot of players that have been able to do that consistently in NHL history. You could realistically put Malkin in that catergory.
Staal might not be able to do it all himself, but neither could Jere Lehtinen or Ron Francis. And, the last time I checked, Lehtinen has three Selke Trophies, and Ron Francis is a hall of famer. Lehtinen and Francis needed a supporting cast of talented players around them in order to be such great, balanced players. If Staal is traded to a team that puts him into a an elevated position, but doesn't solely rely on him for his offense, he can reach a level that Francis reached throughout his career with consistency.
Of course, if favorable CBA negotiations come to fruition, i.e. amnesty buyout option, this might be a non-issue for the Penguins. However, like I've stated, no good thing lasts forever. Before you know it, the Penguins will have more great players slated for UFA status, and more difficult choices to make. I wonder if maybe the Penguins should bite the bullet now, and plan for a much more distant future. Either way, I've already mentally placed both guys in many different jerseys, including the ones they've been wearing.