With the Carolina Hurricanes flying high in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, pretty much everything is going well. Even minus a couple players out with injuries, the team is winning and often doing it by a wide margin. Were the team to ride the current roster into the playoffs, it would have a good chance to beat everyone. And success in the playoffs is almost unanimously driven by a first and foremost by a team’s core not players added at the trade deadline. But at the same time, the playoffs are a long grind and quality depth helps. No doubt the full-year players like Brind’Amour, Staal and Stillman drove the bus offensively when the Hurricanes hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2006. But veteran additions Mark Recchi and Doug Weight made the team more competitive from top to bottom and played a role in surviving the grind at times and hanging round in range for heroics to win the day.
There is still a lot of hockey to play and inevitably some ups and downs to come, but the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes are very much a team within range of competing for the 2021 Stanley Cup. And though the current roster is very good, there is still room to both improve and become deeper. Also consider that to even make the semifinals, the Hurricanes will likely have to beat a Lightning team that has beaten them three out of four times (the Canes 3-on-3 overtime win is basically a tie as far as playoff games go) and should add 2019 Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov in time for the playoffs. The Bruins who squeezed the life out of the past two Canes playoffs also lurk in the semifinals or finals as do other good teams that will likely make additions at the trade deadline.
As a pending unrestricted free agent, he always figured to be a trade deadline rental when that time came, but comments by Bob McKenzie last week seemed to ramp up the Eric Staal rumblings a bit early.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers familiar face Eric Staal as a possible addition from a few different angles.
Eric Staal as a player in 2021, plain and simple
Just looking at Eric Staal as a player on his ability to help the Hurricanes right now without regard to cost, history or anything else, he is a good fit for the right price. At 36 years old, he is not the first-line center that he once was, but he is can still be a very productive middle six forward. Looking prior to this season because Buffalo, Staal scored at a 58-point pace in 2019-20, and had 52, 76 and 65 points in the three years prior. If one considers his step down in 2020-21 largely due to circumstances, he could slot into the top 9 and bump someone else down.
He also adds the type of veteran with experience and leadership qualities that you can never have enough of come playoff time.
And though he is remembered here as a center, he could add size with enough skill at wing to make the Canes a bit bigger upfront.
At 36 years old, it is not reasonable to expect him to be a leader, but he is capable of being a significant contributor. Per my comments above, that is what a contender should be looking for this time of year. If a team still needs the driver, it is probably kidding itself in terms of being a true Cup contender.
The contract/financials/trade cost
Part of the reason Staal will be in demand is his contract situation. As an impending unrestricted free agent, he can be a rental whose salary frees up this summer. In addition, his modest $3.25 million contract fits into even pretty tight salary cap situations. The question is whether the favorable financials and skill set to generate a bidding war and drive up his trade cost. Staal figures to be a higher-end but not premium trade deadline this year.
Some might say that Eric Staal’s history complicates things. While it is something to be considered, I think Staal’s history with the Hurricanes is a net positive. Even though he has been gone awhile, he is still a known quantity with some of the players and especially with Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour. Important to note is that Eric Staal did not leave on bad terms or because he was a problem. He left because it was time for the Hurricanes to rebuild and he netted a decent contribution to that process. I also think too much could be made of Jordan Staal now being the captain and him returning. For whatever beefs Canes fans might have about the results during his long tenure with the Hurricanes, he was never a selfish player, leader or person. In that regard, I trust Brind’Amour who is both a good judge of character and knows Eric Staal from experience. If Brind’Amour says it is okay, then very, very, very likely, it is okay. And as I said above, adding more veterans with leadership experience and qualities is a significant positive for the playoffs.
Where could Eric Staal fit?
If the team is healthy, Staal could could be a great fit to add size on the wing. Both Aho/Teravainen and Trocheck/Necas combinations could benefit from a bit more size on the wing. So far in 2020-21, a rejuvenated Nino Niederreiter is filling that role well, and Andrei Svechnikov also adds a power forward element. But Staal could bring what Brind’Amour is trying to add when he slots up players like Martinook or Fast to add a bit more physical play for the forecheck and on the walls, and Staal would do so in the form of a player who even at 36 years old has more finishing ability. The possibility is also there to play the Staals together and possibly free up Svechnikov to play on the top line. Further, Eric Staal would give the Hurricanes another option for a top 9 center in the event that someone is out (Trocheck currently). Cedric Paquette brings his own element but would be overlotted in a top 9 role, and other options like Martinook are similarly not ideal in the top 9.
Where do I land?
I would not put Eric Staal in any kind of ‘must add’ category such that I would engage in a pricey bidding war if it were to occur. But I would consider Eric Staal’s combination of skill set, size and experience/leadership to be exactly what the Hurricanes would like to add to bolster and add depth to an already good lineup. So if the Hurricanes cannot land a higher-end scorer, I would definitely include Eric Staal in the group of players I would consider adding for middle of the lineup depth if the price is reasonable.
The longer-term wild card
The reason to add Eric Staal or another player rests in the here and now for 2020-21. With uncertainty on price for Svechnikov’s next contract and also trying to re-sign Dougie Hamilton, adding a rental whose contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 is a positive. But that said, Eric Staal could prove to be an interesting option to re-sign. The Hurricanes do still need depth players going forward and will have a limited budget to do so. If Eric Staal were to return, settle back in and enjoy being home again, might he sign a discounted, short-term contract next summer to stay. His current contract is only $3.25 million per year, so even a modest step down from there would have Eric Staal priced only a small amount above a true depth forward. Cedric Paquette ($1.65 million), Jordan Martinook ($2 million) and Brock McGinn ($2.1 million) are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents this summer. All three will likely be candidates to return, but if Eric Staal was open to a discounted $2.2 to $2.6 million contract, he could be a great replacement.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Considering Eric Staal simply as a player, do you think his a good fit to add depth for the latter half of the season and more importantly the playoffs?
2) What role, if any, do you think Eric Staal’s history as a Hurricane should play in considering him as a trade addition?
3) If Eric Staal were obtained, what role/slot would you see him playing on the current team?