Is Jordan Staal ready to join 'The Core'?

The debate over what to do with Jordan Staal has raged throughout PensNation for quite some time now. Some fans believe he'd be valuable trade bait to bring in a quality winger for Sidney Crosby and others think Staal is the type of player you win championships with.

Whatever side of the discussion you're on, this is a very important season for the future of Jordan Staal. He becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, but if Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero has his way, Staal will be locked up long-term well before then:

"If they really want to be here," he said Wednesday, "we'll find a way to make it work."

Puck's in your end now, Jordan.

But the key factor in this equation is what Shero hinted at: Does Staal want to stay in Pittsburgh?

If he remains with the Penguins, he'll find himself behind guys named Crosby and Malkin on the depth chart at center. The 20-year old Thunder Bay, Ontario native has emerged as a dynamic shutdown center man on the third line for Pittsburgh. His long reach and strong skating stride makes it tough for opponents to out skate him, as evidenced by Staal's back-check on Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk to set up the overtime winner last week.

While he's able to play wing at times, it seems as if his true role isn't the 29-goal scoring rookie we saw during the 2005-06 season -- it's that of a perennial Selke Trophy candidate.

In order to remain with the Penguins, Staal will have to ignore the lucrative offer sheets he'll likely receive should he make it to July 1 without a new contract; and like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury before him, commit to the Cup instead of the paycheck.

Last week, Staal was talking more like he won't mind leaving some dollars out there: "I have a lot of great friends here. It's a great fit for me. It's a team I want to be part of. We're young and we want to grow together."

It's obvious he realizes the promise in the Penguins locker room, but a few extra zeros on his paycheck can easily sway a 20-year old.

Over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi tossed this nugget into a round-up column that gives hope to those Penguins fans hoping to keep Staal:

"C Jordan Staal's representatives and the Penguins are now cautiously optimistic of reaching a tentative agreement on a contract extension for the center, who can become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2009. Friends of Staal say he has conveyed to his agents a strong desire to sign a long-term deal - preferably soon. Staal's agent is scheduled to be in Pittsburgh on routine business this week."

Pittsburgh currently has about $36 million committed for next season among six forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender (Fleury). How much of a hometown discount would Staal take to remain with the Penguins? There's the chance of him receiving offer-sheets in the neighborhood of $4-5 million/year.

If Ray Shero isn't able to lock up Staal before July 1, that $4-5 million/year offer could be too much for the Penguins to match.

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