Today the Pittsburgh Penguins inked forward Jordan Staal to a four-year, $16 million contract extension. The 20-year-old was scheduled to be a restricted free agent this upcoming summer.

So now the Boston Bruins know where the starting point is for negotiations with winger Phil Kessel, who’s headed toward RFA status. Although Staal was drafted second overall, three picks ahead of the now 21-year-old Kessel, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Kessel has clearly been a more productive player on — until this season — less successful clubs.

In 192 NHL games heading into tonight, Kessel has potted 54 goals and added 52 assists for 106 points.  In 12 more games, Staal has produced just 91 points (52 goals, 39 assists). Now Staal plays center and has done more penalty-killing duty than Kessel over the years, but the upside is obviously in Kessel’s favor.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli does not discuss contracts, but it’s known that the general policy of the team is to not negotiate with restricted free agents during the season.  That approach worked last summer with Dennis Wideman and Chuck Kobasew.

Basically what this does is give Chiarelli a clearer picture of what he’ll be on the hook for under next year’s cap (remember he also has to get RFA David  Krejci inked) and that could impact any dealing he does before the March 4 trade deadline.