Seven reasons why Jordan Staal should have chosen Canada over Penguins
Monday, 3 December 2007
Hockey Canada announces its selection camp roster for the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic today, and Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins does not appear on that list.
The Penguins told Hockey Canada officials a couple of days ago that the 19-year-old forward wouldn’t be made available. Presumably, Staal himself would rather stick with Pittsburgh, despite a woeful start to his sophomore season that has seen him record just two goals and three assists in 25 games. Last year, 2006’s #2 overall pick scored 29 goals (including seven shorthanded, an NHL rookie record), and would have received more serious Calder Trophy consideration if teammate Evgeni Malkin hadn’t been so outstanding.
Now granted, Staal probably wouldn’t want to feel like he’s being demoted to play with the kids. And yes, Canada is the prohibitive favorite, with or without Staal, to win the World Juniors in light of how it dominated Russia during the recent eight-game Super Series.
But here are seven reasons why Jordan Staal should have chosen Canada over Pittsburgh.
1) Staal will never get this chance again.
In his NHL career, he’ll have hundreds of other opportunities to play road games in Washington or home games versus the Islanders. But he will never again be eligible to represent his country in one of hockey’s most exciting and intense tournaments. He will also miss the chance to replicate Patrice Bergeron’s unique feat of winning a World Junior gold medal after winning at the senior level. Bergeron’s accomplishment came in 2004 and 2005, while Staal picked up senior gold in Moscow back in May.
2) Patrice Bergeron’s career took off after playing World Juniors: why not Staal’s too?
Considering how star-studded Canada’s golden 2005 World Junior lineup was (Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Corey Perry, etc.), people sometimes forget that Bergeron finished as the tournament’s leading scorer (13 points) and MVP. He then came back to the Boston Bruins and recorded a career-best 31 goals in 2005-06. Playing in the upcoming tournament could have provided a similar boost for Staal.
3) With Pittsburgh, Staal will always be overshadowed by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Remember Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup-winning teams of the 1990’s? Here’s an analogy for you: Sidney is Mario Lemieux, Evgeni is Jaromir Jagr, and Jordan, well, he’s Ron Francis in this scenario. It’s a very worthy and admirable role, and in the not-too-distant future, it may contribute to another Stanley Cup in Steeltown. (Frankly, if Staal’s career numbers are anywhere close to those of Francis, who’s #4 among all-time NHL scorers, the Penguins will be ecstatic.) But when it comes to renegotiating contracts and landing endorsements, playing second fiddle isn’t quite as good. With the Canadian World Junior squad, Staal would have had an opportunity to steal the thunder of mega-prospect John Tavares, as Bergeron did with Crosby.
4) Staal could have emerged as a bona fide leader with Team Canada.
In the Pittsburgh dressing room, the voices of Crosby, Gary Roberts, and Sergei Gonchar carry more weight than Staal’s. But with over a season of NHL experience under his belt, plus the senior Worlds, Jordan Staal would definitely be able to speak his mind to other 18- and 19-year-olds. Another opportunity missed.
5) He could have regained his offensive confidence.
This one’s pretty obvious. Yes, Staal’s come back to life in a minor way recently, earning one point in three out of his last four NHL games between November 24 and December 1. But the fact remains that his production has been grossly sub-par overall this season. Rookie teammate Tyler Kennedy, a 2004 fourth-rounder, has the same number of points (five) in half as many games (12). Lighting the red light repeatedly against the likes of Slovakia and Denmark would have been psychologically beneficial for Staal.
6) Canada can win its fourth consecutive title this time around.
That’s no small feat at the World Juniors. In fact, it’s only been accomplished twice, by the Soviets from 1977 to 1980, and by Canada from 1993 to 1996 (plus one more in 1997). Staal is missing a great chance to help augment his country’s international prestige.
7) Staal would have boosted his hopes of playing at the 2010 Olympics.
Staal will be just 21 years old when the first puck is dropped in Vancouver that year. Is he a longshot to crack the Olympic team? Right now, perhaps. But a lot can happen in the next 27 months or so to change the picture. And Hockey Canada doesn’t forget it when players step up and put on the national colors. When you consider Staal’s strong play in Moscow, as well as the likelihood that the 2010 roster will be more youth-oriented than the unsuccessful 2006 one (which lacked prodigies like Crosby, Phaneuf, Eric Staal, and Jason Spezza, among others), going over to the Czech Republic would have been just one more point in the young Penguin’s favor.