By Mike Colligan
Is there an end in sight to the constant stream of bad news for Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jordan Staal? The former ‘Iron Man’ was nearing a return from a frustrating battle with a foot infection when he was injured in practice on Monday and may not return for well over a month.
From the Pittsburgh Penguins website:
Penguins center Jordan Staal will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair a fractured right hand and could miss up to six weeks, it was announced by Executive Vice President and General Manager Ray Shero.
Staal suffered the injury when he was hit with a puck in practice.
With Staal being so close to a return, the physical effects of the injury will be outweighed by the mental frustration that has accumulated for a player who had only missed one regular season game in his entire career.
Evgeni Malkin is also suffering from an undisclosed lower-body injury and the team must look to Sidney Crosby to carry the scoring load for the time being. Rookie center Mark Letestu should also continue to see top-six minutes and opportunities, and Arron Asham may begin to see more time as well as he returns to full health.
While the news is disappointing for the Penguins, fans should take a few minutes to think back on the events of October 6-7.
As we outlined in our feature on Eric Tangradi a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh waited to take the long-term injury exception on Staal until Opening Day to allow the team to ‘achieve maximum cap flexibility’. At the time, ‘cap flexibility’ was an ambiguous and fairly worthless phrase for a team that wasn’t exactly facing salary cap disaster like the New Jersey Devils.
The long-term injury exception required Staal to miss ten games and 24 days, which would have made him eligible to be activated this Wednesday against Dallas. This injury will obviously delay his return (and activation), but management’s decision to demote Tangradi to Wheeling for a day is now paying enormous dividends as they are allowed to continue to exceed the salary cap limit by a large amount.
Had the team not shuffled Tangradi on opening day, they would have been stuck with very limited cap room for replacements as injuries to Malkin, Asham, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik, and others begin to mount. Additional injuries could have even forced the team to play with less than a full roster as we’ve already seen with the Devils and Detroit Red Wings.