Canes GM Ron Francis is quickly establishing a track record for being nearly impossible to read and for telegraphing pretty much none of his actions beforehand. In general, I like this. It helps prevent situations where too many people know what he wants to do and taking advantage of the situation. But the downside in terms of writing about the team is that it makes it really difficult to figure out what is going on behind the scenes.

The biggest ‘behind the scenes’ event right now is easily Eric Staal’s contract situation. Both sides have spoken positively about the relationship.  Both sides have been cordial in terms of commenting about the negotiation. And both sides have said that there is not a hard deadline at the start of season or any other timeframe that must be met. But at the end of the day, Eric Staal is an expensive asset in terms of cost to maintain ($9.5 milliion salary for 2015-16), represents a significant potential return in a trade and has the potential to become expensive and worth nothing immediately if he were to incur a season-ending injury. This potential for Eric Staal to go from valuable to worthless on the trade market in an instant puts pressure on Ron Francis to at least figure out what is going to happen sooner rather than later. If he gains a comfort level that Eric Staal really wants to re-sign with the Canes and that it is just a matter of figuring out the $, perhaps Francis can have more patience. But if he gets any sense that Eric Staal might prefer to leave or even is just open to the idea, then the pressure is on Francis to resolve the situation quickly.  He will NEVER say that of course because it would significantly decrease Eric Staal’s trade value.  And if Francis and his team decide that Eric Staal is not the best player to lead the Canes in the future, I think the same urgency to resolve the situation (without admitting that is what happens) exists.

Part of any negotiation is the $, numbers and terms. But another significant part of negotiation is understanding the style and history of the person with whom you are negotiating. In that regard, I the think Ron Francis’ past dealings, especially with Jiri Tlusty, could do 2 things in the Eric Staal negotiation. First, they could set a fairly clear precedent for how Ron Francis handles these situations. Second, they could establish Francis as a very risky negotiator to test.

We do not have all of the why’s and what’s for Jiri Tlusty’s negotiation, but the timeline was:

–In March, Ron Francis stated that he was willing to re-sign Jiri Tlusty (and Andrej Sekera too) for the right terms.

–When it became clear that they could not reach agreement, he moved swiftly and traded both.

–Then this summer with the Canes needing to add at least 1 forward, Tlusty’s price seemingly plummeting (signed for $800k with New Jersey) and Tlusty skating in Raleigh seemingly teeing up an easy Canes return, Ron Francis instead made a trade for Kris Versteeg and his $2.2M salary.

What exactly went on behind the scenes is unknown.  Tlusty and Versteeg are different types of players, so it is possible that Francis just really wanted a different skill set. But it is hard to look past the point that Ron Francis tried to negotiate a deal with Tlusty that one would figure was much higher than what he ultimately signed for. And when that deal did not happen, Francis traded Tlusty.  Then when probably given the opportunity to take him back at a significant discount to what he was offered only 5 months earlier, he passed.  That possibly suggests a negotiating style that does not offer 2nd chances and possibly even holds a grudge.

If there is not some other explanation for why the Canes did not re-sign Tlusty at a bargain basement price this summer (which there could be), it could be meaningful for Eric Staal’s contract negotiations. If Francis does make a push to re-sign Staal sooner rather than later and pushes all in with what he claims to be a best or final offer, there seems to be substantial risk for Eric Staal’s agent to try to drag out the negotiation with a game of back and forth and/or chicken. Ron Francis may have successfully established a track record as meaning it when he says “This is the best offer. Take it or leave it.”

On the one hand, this could pressure Eric Staal’s camp. But on the other hand, it could provide an understanding of how Ron Francis negotiates and that he is not the “Let’s go back and forth 100 times” type negotiator. If most of what I suspect is true and if you take Ron Francis’ track record at face value, the point where Francis pushes to close a deal, it is time to resolve the situation fairly quickly one way or another.  And Eric Staal’s camp should recognize it which could expedite the process once it starts in earnest.  If it is the case that Eric Staal rates staying home in Raleigh above other things ($, different team, etc.), then once Francis moves a deal should happen fairly quickly.

And with a big $9.5M cost tied to Eric Staal for this year, a significant trade return possibility and the risk of an injury locking Francis into the full $9.5M and eliminating any chance of trading him, I have to think that Francis (though he has said otherwise) will move to resolve the Eric Staal situation before we get too deep into the 2015-16 season.

I am on record from earlier this summer as saying that I though Eric Staal would choose to re-sign for something like 4 years at a modest discount to fair market value.  I am sticking with that so far and also think sooner rather than later makes sense especially from the Canes side.

Go Canes!

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