The true decision point for Eric Staal does not really even come into play until mid-February. With his contract and the fact that most of the teams that might add a player like him are up against the salary cap means that IF he gets traded, it will very likely be right near the trade deadline when his prorated remaining salary is the lowest possible. Nashville was the 1 team that was a decent fit for Staal and also could have held more of his salary, and Ryan Johansen essentially took the Predators out of the picture. And if the Canes are still winning come mid-February, the situation gets real interesting with another couple layers of possibilities.

Rather than write a book-length post that covers all of this, I will instead write a chapter-length post that addresses only if/where/for how much Eric Staal could fit on the Carolina Hurricanes from 2016-17 on, and at least for this post will skip the increasingly complicated time frame from mid-February through the end of June.


As a 31-year old NHL veteran who has spent 13 years in a Hurricanes uniform and literally grew wearing it, Eric Staal has earned his rightful place in Carolina Hurricanes history. As a key player on the Stanley Cup championship team, a driver of the 2009 playoff magic and long-time captain, he has etched his mark in franchise history in stone at this point.

But that is mostly looking backward at this point. The burning question that will get hotter over the next couple months is what makes sense for Eric Staal as part of the team going forward. To decide this, there is an element of considering his character, leadership and legacy looking back in history. But with budget and cost also a big factor and the team at a crossroads right now, the decision must be made with a heavy weighting toward simply evaluating what the 2016-17 – ____ version of Eric Staal can provide and what that is worth.

I think there are 2 parts to that:


Is he the right player to lead the team as captain?

I wrote a more detailed version of this on HB awhile back. The short version is that I think the Hurricanes have an absolutely incredible set of resources to evaluate Eric Staal as a captain. Bill Peters comes from a winning legacy in Detroit. Ron Francis and Rod Brind’Amour have worn letters on successful teams including the Hurricanes obviously and have also played with Staal and seen him for many years in a leadership role. To fill out a larger committee, there are also Cory Stillman, Glen Wesley and Ray Whitney. With that group of qualified people closer to the situation than I can get, I am in full trust mode in terms of deciding whether Eric Staal is the right person to lead this team going forward.

I think the key thing to note is that this is the first decision to be made. While it is not impossible, I think it would be very strange for the Canes to re-sign Eric Staal but then give the captaincy to someone else. Could this happen if he was traded at the deadline but returned in July and was slotted into an assistant captain role? I guess so, but it seems like it would be real awkward.

For me, it seems like the decision to have Eric Staal captain the team and stay with the team are 1 and the same.


What does Eric Staal bring as a player from 2016-17 and beyond?

Best guess is that Eric Staal’s next contract is 3-5 years basically taking him to the twilight of his career. So signing him requires considering what he can be expected to provide for each of those years.

My assessment of Eric Staal right now in 2015-16 is this:

* I think he is having a good season playing as good of a power forward game as we have seen from him in a couple years. He is battling for, winning and keeping pucks. He is spending more time in front of the goalie (has been there for multiple of Faulk’s goals) than he has in at least a couple years. And he is generally playing top 6 forward type of hockey.

* But at least through 42 games, I just do not see much of the dynamic skating and bursts that make him a prolific scorer. I think that is reflected in his point total which puts him on pace for about 50 points. With scoring down in the NHL the past couple years, I would slot 50 points as lower-end second line scoring. That is not bad, but it just is not NHL elite. It is more good second line type of numbers than pure, unmistakable first line scoring.

It is important to note the Eric Staal has generally played his best hockey in the second half of the season, so it is possible that the ball is on the tee for him to surge to 60-65 points which enters the range of lower/middle-end first line totals. But after 54 points in 2014-15 and only slightly more at 61 points in 2013-14, I am inclined to evaluate Eric Staal as a 50-55 point contributor with a little bit of upside until I see otherwise.

* He has become a pretty well-rounded player over time. He has the build of a power forward but can skate. He might not be a pure finisher or a point per game player at this stage of his career, but he is not a 1 trick pony who either scores or is a negative. And he does fit as one-third of a scoring line and not completely in a complementary, Jiri Tlusty, type of role.

When I net it out, I do not think the 31-year old version of Eric Staal is in the top tier of players who lead the league and their individual teams in terms of driving their line without much help, scoring in bunches (at least in neighborhood of a point per game), and being a truly elite NHL player. Those players earn $8-10 million. If someone wants to pay Eric Staal even close to that tier of player, I pass quickly. He just is not at that level right now, and I think he is more likely to fade a bit farther from it than suddenly surge back to it.


A look at other teams’ top/second tier forwards

I do not want to go too deep into trying to find a set of direct comparisons because every 1 could be debated endlessly for differences in age, role, position, etc. but I think it is interesting to look at good teams and see what players are in their second tier and at what prices.

The Blackhawks really do not have a second tier but Marian Hossa is on a long-term deal at a $5.3 million cap hit.

The Capitals have Backstrom at a discounted $6.7 million followed by a lot of Laich ($4.5M), Oshie ($4.2M) and Johansson ($3.8M). I would put Eric Staal above all of the last 3, but is it really by that much?

The Panthers do not even really have a top guy at forward but instead have a collection of rising young players all earning between $3 and $5 million.

I think it is reasonable to consider the Penguins second tier to be Phil Kessel at $6.8 million (Pens share of his salary).

The Stars have veterans Jason Spezza at $7.5 million and Patrick Sharp at $5.9 million followed by rising young stars on discounted deals. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are signed at $5.8 and $5.3 million respectively.

The Islanders set a real low ceiling when they signed John Tavares early to an incredibly modest $5.5M/year contract, and all of their other forwards slot below him price-wise.

The Canadiens similarly max out at forward at $5 million/year for Tomas Plekanec with everyone else below that.

The Blues have Tarasenko, Stastny and Steen signed at $7.5 million, $7 million and $5.8 million respectively.


When you net it out, it is actually interesting to see how few NHL forwards price out above $5 million. If you consider Eric Staal to be more in this broad tier of players and not in the top tier, I think you could actually make a math case that he is worth about $5 million for his next contract. The issue is that with open bidding and limited assets to bid on, some team will likely both overvalue him and then add a premium on top of that to get to a crazy number. I do not think Eric Staal is worth anything close to $8 million at this stage of his career, but I would not be shocked to see a team pay it anyway partly because there are so few options to add players like Eric Staal without waiting and hoping for a long time for 1 to develop.


So what would I do if I was Ron Francis?

The fact that the Canes have not officially become a draft lottery hopeful complicates things, but for this post, allow to jump right past what happens between now and July and simply consider where Eric Staal might fit for 2016-17 and beyond:

1) Assuming he checks out as captain/leader, I think there is a place for Eric Staal longer-term with the Hurricanes. The team just does not have enough NHL-ready help at forward, so he could easily play a significant role for the next 3-4 years.

2) But as an internal budget team, the Canes do need to consider the financials of it. It does not make sense to blindly match or even be influenced by the highest bidder if that team puts forward an inflated offer.

3) I put Eric Staal very clearly out of the top tier as a 31-year old, 55ish-point scorer and good all-around player and leader. If you ignore who he is and his history, I think a non-hockey mathematician values him at $4-6M/year. When you allow some consideration of his pedigree and history, I think he pushes to the higher-end of that range but not much higher.

4) Again, there is consideration to be made in terms of if Eric Staal is worth more in trade, whether he could be traded and then brought back and maybe even whether the Canes need him for 2015-16, but looking solely at building the team for 2016-17 and beyond, I think Eric Staal fits as a good but not elite top 6 forward at about $6 million per season at a reasonable 3-4 year term. Unless, he has second half surge that significantly changes what I think of him as a scorer at this stage of his career, I would not stretch much past that.


Go Canes!

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