With anticipation, Canes fans are waiting for the return of Jordan Staal who has been out since early December (he did return on December 20 and 22 before shutting it down again). He practiced in a regular contact jersey on Monday which suggested he was close to return and might even play in Tuesday’s game against the Rangers. But another game has passed, and we are still waiting.
When Staal returns, he will have missed more than 30 games, and the team will have played its best hockey without him. For some, that might suggest that he is expendable or not needed. No doubt, the team’s extended winning run without him suggests it can survive without him in the lineup. But that is not the same as saying that the team is better off without him. I actually think the exact opposite is true. Despite continuing to find a way to win, the team is fighting it a bit right now and especially in games like Thursday could use Staal’s presence to calm things down for his shift and often the one that follows too.
When Staal does return, I will be watching him closely. I think timing could not be more perfect for him to make a huge play as a leader of the team. The team is still winning, but entering the final quarter of the season could use a jolt right about now to find a higher gear and keep pushing upward.
On the one hand, the team’s success affords Staal the chance to quietly slide back into the lineup, take a slightly lesser role and minutes initially and gradually play his way up from there. That seems to be an okay path, but I much more so want to see Staal make a statement of the kind that provides the next burst of energy for this team. Within the first couple games, I would like to see Staal make a statement that immediately embraces the urgency of the current situation and rises to a high level to meet it.
Jordan Staal has been a leader on the team for some time now, but right now is the time for him to finally lead this team to success. Because the team does not desperately need it right now, I actually think if Staal rises up like I hope that it will have a profound impact on the team.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Am I asking too much from Jordan Staal out of the gate given his extended layoff? Or am I right that the ball is on the tee for Staal to inspire his team?
2) What do you consider reasonable expectations for Staal initially when he returns?
3) Where would you slot Jordan Staal into the lineup and who comes out of the lineup?