Penguins Adjust with Staal Expected to Miss Start of Regular Season
Thursday, 09.16.2010 / 9:27 AM / Features
By Sam Kasan
The Penguins suffered an early loss before even lacing up their skates for their 2010 training camp. Center Jordan Staal, who has missed only one regular-season game in his four-year career, will not be available when Pittsburgh opens the season Oct. 7 against Philadelphia.
Staal had a procedure this week to cure an infection in his foot and the recovery period is expected to be 5-6 weeks.
Staal originally suffered a lacerated tendon in his foot in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Montreal. The tendon was repaired with offseason surgery, but developed a post-op infection.
"The original injury is intact, everything is fine there and healed," general manager Ray Shero said. "This infection that keeps reoccuring is the problem. Hopefully this is the end of it and he's on his way to recovery."
Losing Staal is a huge loss to the Penguins, and the team will have to make some early adjustments to fill the void.
“We were hoping (he’d be ready) for the start of the season; it looks like now that won’t be the case,” Bylsma said. “It’s a major adjustment. But with the depth that we’ve added this summer, players like Mike Comrie, a guy that can play both wing and center, we have good options to fill some of what Jordan would bring.”
“We anticipated Jordan missing part of camp,” Shero said. “With this news, it just provides some players more of a chance to prove themselves during training camp.”
The Chinese proverb states: “with crisis comes opportunity.” Entering training camp many Penguins will have an opportunity to step up in Staal’s absence.
“The interesting part is that for the amount of time that Jordan will be away, there is going to be a month-long competition for the role that he filled,” Bylsma said. “There will be a lot of players that will have a chance to fight for that role, be it Mark Letestu, Nick Johnson, Ryan Craig, Brett Sterling, Tim Wallace. It’s not about one player getting called up. We’re going to see five, six, seven guys competing here in the next month for the opportunity that’s been created. There will be a good dose of competition for that spot and that time on the ice that Jordan will be filling for a few games.”
"Every player that comes to camp, whether you're young or a veteran player trying to make the team, you want to make an impact in training camp," Shero said. "The onus goes to them. There is opportunity."
Losing one of the team’s pillar centers will cause a ripple effect throughout the lineup, particularly for Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin. Bylsma and his coaching staff have entertained the idea of moving Malkin, a natural center, to wing on a line with Staal.
“There is still a real possibility that (Malkin will) play wing and we’ll do some experimenting with that at training camp right from the first exhibition game,” Bylsma said. “We’ll see how that plays out. We’ll see what ‘Geno’ thinks about the possibility of playing both positions. That will be worked out at training camp. The combinations will be worked out at training camp. Still, this probably doesn’t change that decision too much for me.”
Though no one can replace Staal and his defensive prowess, the team will have to make adjustments to fill his role. The Penguins are losing their best defensive forward, a Selke Trophy nominee, and best penalty killer.
“In terms of his defensive aspects, that’s probably the biggest thing we’ll miss,” Bylsma said. “In terms of the penalty kill, Jordan’s the first guy over the boards. He’s out there two or three times on the penalty kill and that has to be replaced. That’s probably the biggest area left vacant by Jordan in the short time period that he’ll be away from us.
“There are guys that will have an opportunity to take some of that ice time. We’ve had strong penalty killing forwards in the past with (Craig) Adams, (Maxime) Talbot, (Pascal) Dupuis and Matt Cooke, and Sidney Crosby played a bigger role in that last year. We have players that are capable. They’ll have that opportunity in camp.”
The Penguins have dealt with many injuries to star players in the past few seasons. And, thanks Shero, the team has strong enough depth to handle such injuries.
“As the summer unfolded and you saw more players sign, you think that possibly guys are being pushed down the depth chart,” Bylsma said. “But really we understand that over the course of the season you’ll have some injuries. You understand that there’s going to be a need for depth in the organization. We’re seeing that with this particular injury.”