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Some Staal thoughts. Plus Geno and Flower bring the funny.

= A couple of weeks ago when speaking to C JORDAN STAAL about his offseason surgery for a right foot that had become infected I remember him not sounding at all comfortable discussing the injury. I mentioned this to GM RAY SHERO, who joked that Staal doesn’t like to talk period. Good point, I thought. Maybe a huge leap on my part here, but I can’t help thinking about my original assessment – that Staal wasn’t comfortable talking about his right foot because he lacked faith that all would be well when he hoped, which was the midpoint of training camp.

Today at the Penguins’ annual charity golf outing I posed this question to HC DAN BYLSMA:  How can you trust anything about Staal’s situation knowing he’s already needed two surgeries to deal with infection for a foot that was surgically repaired in May?

“As far as I know, medically, there’s no looking back once the infection is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing about this that will be long term.”

I don’t doubt Bylsma believes that, but I’m skeptical. Last season I witnessed C MAX TALBOT struggle to two goals after missing all of camp and most of the first two months because he was recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum. Scar tissue near the repaired labrum was a problem, but the big issue was his strength.

“It was tough to not have an offseason because that’s where you build your strength,” he said. “It was hard enough to get my shoulder OK, but I never got my legs. I never had that jump, and I’m a player that needs to be in top shape because I need my jump. Without it I can’t do what I do.

“I think Jordan is different because of his size. He’s so big and he’s so dominant, and he’ll be OK. I think.”

All anybody can do right now is think when it comes to Staal. Reality is nobody will know where he’s at until he steps back onto the ice. Still, he’s only been able to do that once this summer, and he’ll have missed out on three full months of training opportunity when he does start practicing.

The Penguins shouldn’t need him in the regular season, but Talbot wasn’t even himself by the playoffs. A worst-case example? Maybe. One worth noting, though.

Without Staal being Staal in the playoffs the Penguins aren’t a threat. With him they hold the Game 4 lead against Montreal, end that series in five games and get past the Flyers and back to the Final. Without him they blew that Game 4 and, honestly, that was the turning point from which they never recovered.

I was criticized for saying this at the time, but I genuinely believed they would have been off losing one of their other star centers for those two games Staal missed. Still do. What he brings nobody on the team can.

 

= Several teammates told me Staal is very down about this latest setback. He takes a backseat to no Penguin – even C SIDNEY CROSBY – in the mental toughness department. However, I recall Crosby saying the five-plus weeks he missed three years ago because of a high right ankle sprain ranked as toughest experience of his career. Also, I’m convinced part of what contributed to C EVGENI MALKIN’S down last season was his inability to reconcile how a bum right shoulder limited what he could do on the ice, especially how he felt off it. Malkin never used that as an excuse, but the miserable two month stretch from mid-November to mid-January coincided with the days he was least confident about the shoulder.

Staal is remarkably tough-minded. He played his best game of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final after attending his grandfather’s funeral. Having met his father I can say the Staal boys were raised not to make excuses. Still, the Penguins’ Staal is 22 and dealing with an injury for the first time – and he’s gone under the knife three times since May. That is a lot for anybody to deal with. Too much? I do wonder.

 

= Speaking of Malkin; he looked totally refreshed when we briefly chatted today at the golf outing. A little bulkier, too – in a good way. I asked him about being a tour guide for Bylsma when the coach visited Malkin in Moscow.

“I did the talking,” Malkin said, laughing. “I ordered the food.”

That sense of humor is a good sign, kids.

 

= C MARK LETESTU, who I say has a real chance to make this team (especially now), on the opportunity in front of him: “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. My ability to adjust on the fly, absorb the system and play a strong positional game – (coaches) know that’s my foundation, and they’ll be looking for it to see that it’s there. I need to bring more of what’s outside my box to make this team.”

 

= G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY visited Paris for the first time during a summer vacation. He lamented that everybody there spoke English, and that the French spoken in France is different sounding from the French spoken in his native Quebec. “It was me, you know, speaking English to them speaking English – and we all speak French, but it all sounds different,” he said, gritting his teeth in mock frustration.

To anybody who wonders if he has put a disappointing last season behind him. Uh, yeah.

 

–ROSSI

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

Comments

  1. Chris says:

    Rob,

    If Letestu doesn’t make the team (I’d bet that he does, but in the event he doesn’t), who do you think ends up as the third line center? Max? Comrie? Maybe Jeffrey?

  2. Walshy says:

    Im glad to see you are as concerned about Staal’s foot as some of us are. There is no way having to have another surgery this close to the start of the season and then having a late start will be good for the long haul of a season plus playoffs.

    I know Hockey players are known for being tough and playing through pain but there is playing hurt and playing injured.

    I never liked the idea of rushing back a 22 yr old with a lacerated tendon in a sport that relies so much on the manipulation of foot movement.

    Once the foot is classed as healthy, I hope he is given all the opportunity to complete a full ‘off season’ schedule and then camp to get up to speed physically so he doesnt feel under prepared. As per your examples, especially Talbot, he came back before he had his legs and cardiovascular fitness back.

  3. Mike says:

    Come on Rossi I know you love Staal but settle it down a bit. I mean think about it: Ovechkin, Cammalleri, Stamkos, Kovalchuk, etc. etc. etc. They all usually have good to great games when they play the Penguins. What exactly is Staal providing that’s so darn special? He’s a great penalty killer especially for his age, but what is he really preventing at the end of the day?

    I think he’s a solid player (again, especially for his age), but this notion you have that he’s some two-way super soldier is ridiculous. He’s a very good defensive forward that chips in at a very good clip for a third line center, nothing more nothing less. The thing is he doesn’t have noteworthy speed, lacks vision, has an average shot, and is a terrible playmaker. Sure, a few times a year he comes alive, won’t be denied, and that shoulder dip that consistently gets stone walled actually works…..but other than that he is what he is.

  4. Kevin says:

    Mike – Your assessment of Jordan Staal is beyond absurd. Terrible playmaker? Lacks vision? Staal is by far the best defensive forward on the Penguins, and he is capable of scoring 30 goals in the regular season. Ovechkin playing well against the Pens has very little to do with Jordan Staal. You think that one of the best players in the world playing like, well, one of the best players in the world is somehow Staal’s fault?

    Without Staal the Pen’s do not win the Cup. Their penalty kill would be nowhere near as effective as it has been the past few years. Staal provides a Selke worthy shutdown presence that is found on only a handful of teams throughout the league. When you combine his defensive skill set with the offensive talents of Malkin and Crosby you can compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out. Losing Staal for the year would be a major blow.

  5. Andrew says:

    People who don’t want to give Staal his due baffle me.

    He is what he is? I’ll take that any day of the week.

    What he is, precisely, is a Selke Award candidate at 22. That’s not enough for you?

    I think you’ll find that, with the exception of the Devils, Crosby and Malkin have pretty good stats agains most of the teams in the NHL…just like Lemieux did, just like Gretzky did, just like LaFleur did, just like Richard did, just like Howe did.

    Why?

    Because they’re great freakin players who put up numbers on EVERYONE. Do you really expect him to shut down Ovie? Who in the heck shuts down Ovie consistently? Please tell me b/c I’d love to know.

    Staal shuts down players a guy his age has no business even considering being able to handle, he does it efficiently and he does it consistently.

    I agree that his speed isn’t explosive but it’s more than impressive when he gets the legs churning…witness short-handed goal vs Rafalski & the Wings when he blew by poor Brian. Plus, how fast to you expect a guy nicknamed “Gronk” to be? He more than keeps up with things.

    His offensive skills need to be honed much further, there is no argument there. However, bursts of brilliance are not shown by most 22 yr olds…the ones who do show them rarely are able to consistently acheive those heights (ex. Crosby, Lemieux, and to a slightly lesser degree last year, Malkin) in their early years. I hate to invoke bad karma and mention the name Markus Nasland – whose production levels soared once his body and mind fully matured – but don’t let Staal’s teammates skew your perception of what “great” can look like….now or in 5 years.

  6. Mike says:

    I believe I did give him his due, I just don’t fawn over him like a lot of people. Right now I think he’s doing great for his age. In the grand scheme of things (i.e. if you watch the rest of the league and not just the Penguins in a vacuum) he’s a very good defensive forward that produces at a very decent rate. I don’t see what’s so wrong with that statement.

    Like I said before he’s a good player. Do I think he’s amazing? No, I don’t. Forwards that can play good defense can be had, as well as 50 point forwards. You can make the argument that there aren’t a ton of them that do both, but then again you could find a player that does one and a player that does the other for as much or less than what Staal makes so that’s a nonissue to me.

    Everyone assumes a good, young player will keep progressing consistently into something even better. That’s not always true. I think Staal is similar to a developing Getzlaf but without the hands and general offensive skill. I don’t see him getting better hands all of a sudden or magically having a better all around game in the opposing zone. If you disagree that’s fine, but you have to cite something you see that makes you think that. Bringing up the shorty against Detroit for the thousandth time just by itself doesn’t do anything for your argument.

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