Although the Penguins’ season ended disappointingly more than a month prior to the Los Angeles Kings raising the Stanley Cup, one could argue that the team’s month of June was more eventful even than the teams who remained in the hunt.

At season’s close, the Penguins stood at a crossroad with Jordan Staal. No NHL General Manager likes to let a marquis player enter the final year of his contract without re-upping him to prevent a bidding war that could potentially remove the asset from his team. Unfortunately, this is the situation which GM Ray Shero and star center Jordan Staal were at with the close of the 2011-2012 season.

We all know how the story played out. Shero went to Staal with an enticing 10-year contract, which Staal declined. The Penguins were going to be forced to choose between playing out one more year with the “three center model” at the risk of losing in Free Agency with no return, or trade him with a year left on his contract and get something in return.

Surely enough, when the word from the podium came down that a trade had been announced, Shero and Canes GM Jim Rutherford had reached a deal sending Staal to Carolina for the Canes’ first round pick (which the Pens used to draft defenseman Derrick Pouliot), defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and center Brandon Sutter.

As Penguins fans, it certainly hit all of us in a wave of mixed emotions. Many people predicted that it was a move that simply had to be made. But it’s not easy to send a star packing, even (perhaps especially) for Shero, who made Jordan Staal his first ever pick as the Penguins GM in 2006. Never have I ever heard so many sports fans utter the words “Business is business” over the next several days.

Doubtless, all Penguins fans are sad to see a player like Staal go. Many (myself included) are excited for the return we got in the deal. Most, though, will admit that like it or not, the deal had to be done when and how it was done.

That acceptance of the trade, though, happened under the auspices and assumptions that we’d be having a hockey season this year. Trust me, Pens fans, this deal looks even better now, in the midst of the lockout.

I’ve done my best to avoid lockout talk and speculation to its resolution. We all know how difficult that is. But with the latest round of negotiations apparently turning sour, I’ve adopted a non-partisan policy in which neither possible outcomes of a season or no season will come as a great shock to me. What is certainly fact, though, is the fact that a season at this point will be a significantly abbreviated one.

Here’s why Shero’s deal in June looks more genius now. In doing some research, I have found that regardless of how many (if any) games are played this year, all contracts will in fact advance one year – despite the fact that players are not being paid or playing. Adam Proteau writes “All player contracts in a lockout year count just as they would if games were happening. So yes, you lop a year off all the contracts … if the NHL lost a full season.”

The current lockout was on hockey writers’ lips as soon as the 2004-2005 lockout ended with this being the termination of that standing collective bargaining agreement. Many people, even outside of the inner hockey circles, could see this lockout coming. Rest assured, Ray Shero knows more than most, and I believe it played a factor in the timing of the Jordan Staal deal.

Let’s look at it this way. If we keep Staal in Pittsburgh, it keeps Sutter and Dumoulin in Carolina, and pads the Canes’ roster with a pretty nice pick at #7 overall. Fastforward to the end of this 2012-2013 season, assuming Jordan’s desires to test the waters of free agency and explore the possibility of playing with his brother in Carolina, and also taking into account the very real possibility that there could be no season at all, the predictable outcome of this is that Jordan Staal leaves the Penguins for Carolina in July 2013, and the Penguins get nothing in return.

Instead, due to the timing of the deal, it looks like instead of just Carolina “winning” the deal, that Pittsburgh wins too. Staal preemptively signed an identical contract extension with the Canes as what had been offered to him in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, instead of getting nothing, got 3 players in return – 2 with years remaining on their deals (Sutter and Dumoulin), and one whom they have brought in on an entry-level contract (Pouliot).

If we haven’t enough evidence already of Shero’s ability to manage his assets wisely with regard to contract lengths, contract payouts, and timeliness of transactions, this is the crown jewel.

The fact that this deal had to be done hit me this summer with a sense of bitter acceptance of circumstance. Now, mired in the lockout, I see that it is the most fortunate of outcomes, as the return we have gotten in the deal will certainly lessen the blow from the alternative and likely possibility that Jordan Staal would have walked for nothing only a few months from now. Despite the difficult lockout situation, Shero has found a way to keep the Penguins’ on-ice product competitive, getting the best value for an asset that simply needed to be moved when he was moved.

In Shero We Trust.