First, to be clear, I am on record as preferring to re-sign Eric Staal, leaving him in a leadership role and paving the way to someday putting #12 in the rafters at PNC Arena next to #10, #2 and #17. That is still plan A based on the publicly available information that I have.
But that plan A is dependent on three key assumptions what are that:
1) Eric Staal does in fact want to stay in Raleigh.
2) He is willing to do so for a reasonable contract both term and dollar-wise. I think four years is a reasonable timeframe for him at 30 years old, and I think something in a $6-7M range is doable.
3) Ron Francis and the rest of the Hurricanes brain trust (which includes a HUGE amount of experience with player leadership roles) think he is the right person to lead the next chapter of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Details coming out of the offices on Edwards Mill Road are both murky and sparse, so I have no idea what the situation is. My wild guess is that Francis and company also prefer to keep Eric Staal and that he wants to stay and can be re-signed for a reasonable deal. But again, that is speculation on my part.
But for the sake of August hockey discussion, if I was GM of the Canes and was looking to trade Eric Staal, what would I want in return? At a basic level, I would not accept only futures for a player of Staal’s caliber, and I would not accept a random collection of veteran spare parts that fill multiple roster holes short-term. The emphasis is the future but with some certain help near-term.
I think the target return for Eric Staal would be threefold.
–First, collect a young roster player with upside who can backfill Eric Staal’s roster spot today. I am not suggesting that this player will be as good as Eric Staal or that he must be a center. The idea is to get a top 9 forward who goes in the lineup as soon as he arrives and hopefully improves from there.
–Second, get at least two higher-end futures to continue building out the system. I think it takes a 1st round pick plus either a later round pick or a decent mid-tier prospect.
–Third, if you must take salary back to make the deal work, make sure it is only for the same 2015-16 season for which Eric Staal is signed. It might be necessary for the Canes to take a contract back to offset Staal’s hefty salary and cap hit in 2015-16, but there is no need to help with the next contract. The acquirer needs to take care of that on his own.
Whenever a long-timer of Eric Staal’s caliber is traded people scream “Rebuild!” But in the NHL, this can be quick. When Columbus parted with Rick Nash and received a collection of young roster-ready players in return they were better almost instantly.
Again, I still think the most likely solution is that Eric Staal re-signs and charts his course toward the rafters at PNC Arena. My handicapping would be: 50% chance he re-signs before the season starts; 35% chance he does not re-sign before the season starts but ultimately does; 15% chance he is traded.
In the event of a trade, I could see it being either now or at the trade deadline. In theory, he should have more value now at the beginning of the season, but maybe not. Very few teams who would want him could fit him under the salary cap which makes for limited options and/or a complicated trade whereby the Canes need to take a bunch of salary back. At the trade deadline, his value is theoretically less, but the number of teams how can afford him is greater, so just maybe the return is actually greater than the limited market right now.
In any case, as I said in a previous blog, I think Ron Francis’ decisions and handling of Cam Ward and Eric Staal’s contract situations could be a crossroads for him as a GM and also for the team’s future.