Friday was an unforgettable day for the Staals

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 24, 2012 

For Jordan Staal, the date June 22, 2012, was supposed to be memorable for one reason: It was his wedding day.

Staal was to be married in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., and he would have several of his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates on hand for the big occasion.

Things soon changed, for Staal and the Penguins. And for older brother Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes.

After the nuptials Friday at 1 p.m., there was the reception, where toasts were to be made. But just after dinner, Jordan Staal learned from his agent that his life had changed in another big way – the Penguins had traded him to the Canes.

The news had been announced at the NHL Entry Draft at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. To get Staal, the Canes traded center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick in the draft to the Pens.

“It was an amazing day but an emotional day,” Jordan Staal said Saturday. “It was some tough news to hear but still very exciting. Even if you know it might be coming, it still was a shock and kind of tough to get it all in.”

Staal, who will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, had an inkling something might happen. He confirmed that he turned down a 10-year contract extension offered Thursday by the Pens, putting Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero in a tight squeeze.

“It was a very difficult decision, no question, and I had a really tough time with it,” Staal said.

Staal won the 2009 Stanley Cup with the Penguins and had close friends on the team. But he said he realized that if he did agree to a long-term extension, it would end any chance he might have of playing alongside brother Eric in the NHL.

Jordan and Eric, the oldest of the four Staal brothers, always have been close. There’s a third NHL-playing brother, defenseman Marc Staal of the New York Rangers, but Jordan and Eric always appeared to have a tighter bond. A fourth brother, Jared, is the youngest and is in the Canes’ minor-league system.

“I won’t lie. I’ve wanted to play with him since he broke into the league,” Eric Staal said Saturday of Jordan. “He’s a great player and a great person, and I knew he could help our team.

“He’s 6-4, with reach and size. He can add another weapon to our offense and is underrated in that respect. He can be a difference-maker and he’s only 23, with tons of years ahead of him to develop.”

At the same time, Eric Staal said it was difficult to see Sutter leave. Staal is the Canes captain and Sutter, who also is 23 and sat to Staal’s right in the home locker room, was an alternate captain.

“He’s a little bummed,” Staal said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations and I’m very close with Brandon. I told him yesterday he was like my brother without my blood. We’ll really miss him.”

Just as Jordan Staal will be missed in Pittsburgh.

During a break in the second day of the draft, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had a hard time expressing what Staal, who was drafted by the Pens and played six seasons in Pittsburgh, had meant to the team and the franchise.

“You lose a really good person, you lose a character guy on your team,” Bylsma said. “There’s certainly the hockey aspects of it. You’re losing a good penalty killer and a very good defensive forward. You’ve seen in the last two years, with the absence of Evgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby (to injuries), a guy who stepped up and played a more offensive role.

“It’s tough to have a conversation and think about not having a Jordan Staal on your team. He did a lot for us.”

Eric Staal said he wasn’t sure how he and Jordan will be used by Canes coach Kirk Muller. Both are natural centers and have primarily played center in their careers, although Eric did go to the wing for Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“Whether he’s the No. 1 center and I’m No, 2, or the other way, or if I’m on the wing, those are the things we can explore as we get ready for the season,” Eric Staal said.

The Canes’ Ron Francis, who had a Hall of Fame career at center, called Jordan Staal a complete player.

“He’s big, he’s strong, he can play the offensive side, the defensive side,” said Francis, who is vice president for hockey operations. “He can match up against an offensive line and stop them, he can match up against a defensive line and produce.”

Jordan Staal said he did not care if he played the wing on Eric’s line. He scored 25 goals this past season and likes the idea of getting the chance to be a bigger offensive contributor for the Canes.

“It’s an opportunity for me to show what I can do offensively,” he said. “It’s a new challenge for me. I’m excited to get a lot of wins, make the playoffs and see what we can do.”

Eric Staal called his brother a “big piece” toward getting the Canes back in the playoffs after a three-year absence. General manager Jim Rutherford said the Canes would look to add more pieces.

“I think the trade shows a greater sense of urgency by the Hurricanes and sends a message that they believe they can contend,” veteran TSN commentator Bob McKenzie said Saturday. “Maybe this is the first step towards that.”

But Jordan Staal may never have another day quite like Friday. Eric Staal said 11 Pens players were on hand for the wedding.

“When you win a Stanley Cup with guys, you develop a bond,” Eric Staal said. “The little thank-you to the out-of-town guys was tough for Jordan to get through. It’s understandable. They’re dear to his heart.

“But they understand what an opportunity this is for Jordan. It was good they were there. A lot of times you get traded, things happen quick and you can’t spend that quality time with teammates.

“Jordan’s excited. He’s ready for the new chapter.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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