Eric Staal’s time with the Carolina Hurricanes
Exactly 1 year and 17 days have passed since Eric Staal was traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers just prior to the 2016 NHL trade deadline. The move was a massive change and reset for the Hurricanes organization and fan base. In the summer of 2006 as a budding 21-year old superstar, Staal was right in the middle of the greatest time in Hurricanes hockey history. He led the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes in points with 100 which is still a franchise high since the move to North Carolina and also led the team in scoring with 28 points in 26 games during the magical playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup being hoisted in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 19, 2006.
With some turnover out of contract necessity and veterans departing overtime from the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion team, young stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward were expected to lead the next wave of Carolina Hurricanes’ hockey success. After a couple playoff misses following the Cup win, things got on track again in the 2008-09 season when an upstart Carolina team rode a combination of Eric Staal’s offensive leadership and strong late season play by Cam Ward and climbed into the playoffs. And what a playoff experience it was in 2009. The Hurricanes did not hoist the Stanley Cup again, but 2 stunning 7-game series wins with wild game 7 finishes on the road generated plenty of excitement and fan exhilaration before the Hurricanes bowed out to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Entering the summer of 2009, everything seemed to be right in the Hurricanes hockey world. The team was coming off an enjoyable playoff push and was led by 2 young stars who were signed to long-term deals. But now looking back 8 years later, that season represented a peak that the team has come nowhere close to reaching since. Eric Staal was named the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes on January 20, 2010 and never played in a playoff game in 6 years, 1 month and 9 days wearing the ‘C’ in Raleigh. If the Edmonton Oilers make the 2017 playoffs (they are in position right now) and the Carolina Hurricanes do not, the Canes will officially take the crown as the NHL team with the longest current playoff drought at 8 years. With the struggles and playoff misses has come frustration, restarts, false starts and about everything else that could wear on a hockey organization, team, fan base and community.
When I boil it down, Eric Staal’s start was everything one could hope for. He played a leading role in winning the Stanley Cup as a 21-year old. And though it took a couple years, he grew to become a leader of the team and led it in a very successful 2008-09 season. But from that point forward, the Hurricanes have not come remotely close to that level of play in 8 seasons, 7 under the leadership of Eric Staal.
It is within this complicated and messy history that included both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that any discussion of Eric Staal’s role in Hurricanes’ success, failures, history, current situation and everything else is considered on multiple levels.
Eric Staal’s rightful place in Hurricanes’ history is better saved for later
I think an important starting point for any discussion of Eric Staal’s rightful place in Hurricanes’ history must start with a disclaimer that the time for inserting him into the Hurricanes’ history is not right now but at some point in the future. At a simple level, he is still an NHL player who will be on an opposing team 2 or more times each season. At a more complex level, because of the messiness of his departure in terms of the state of the team, there is a separation process that will take time before he can fairly be considered. For many, at this point in time, Eric Staal is too deeply intertwined with a still ongoing downturn in Canes hockey that makes it nearly impossible for most who are passionate about the team to consider him in the bigger picture.
But I will say that I think someday further down the road, Eric Staal does deserve a place in Hurricanes history. He was a huge part of the 2006 Stanley Cup team. He was a leader who did things the right way for many years. And he was for more than 10 years a big part of our hockey team and community. For that, I think he deserves and will one day receive a rightful place in the Hurricanes history.
Eric Staal post-Carolina
Eric Staal’s quick stop in New York was not successful by any stretch of one’s imagination. He collected only 3 goals and 3 assists in 20 regular season games with the Rangers which obviously fell far short of any hopes for a scoring boost on a better team, and he never really found a role/chemistry that worked for him with the Rangers. The Rangers were quickly bounced from the playoffs in a 4-1 first-round loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw Staal unable to find the score sheet. At that point, the price of 2 second-round picks and recent third-rounder Aleksi Saarela looked very costly for the Rangers. In addition, the ‘he just needs a change of scenery’ case for his next contract was called into question.
Staal likely paid financially for his failed stint with the Rangers. He was going to take a pay cut anyway, but his 3-year $3.5 million per year deal with the Minnesota Wild was probably decreased by his inability to quickly reignite on Broadway.
But the change of scenery did spark a rebound in 2017-18. Eric Staal started well in Minnesota and has already bettered his 2015-16 scoring total. He has pushed north of 50 points in 60 games and has a good chance to reach 60 points. More significantly, Eric Staal has become a significant contributor on a Minnesota Wild team that is near the top of the Western Conference.
Thoughts on the ‘should we have kept Eric Staal?’ chatter
Eric Staal’s resurgence in Minnesota has prompted some debate about whether the Hurricanes should have brought him back.
For me, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’
Certainly, the Hurricanes could use another 60-point scorer, and at the top of many people’s shopping lists for the offseason is a scoring capable center. But I think the idea that Eric Staal could have been the answer misses on 2 significant angles.
First, I think the idea that Eric Staal would have put up similar numbers with the Hurricanes is ill-conceived. Sure, it is possible, but his scoring pace was barely north of 40 points (prorated over 82 games) in 63 games last season. One could debate for hours whether this was because of the players surrounding him, Bill Peters’ system, the volume of pressure on him as a leader or captain or whatever else. But suggesting that one could just transfer his 2016-17 Minnesota scoring totals to a 2016-17 season with the Hurricanes is ‘iffy’ at best.
Second and more importantly, I think it was time to move on both for the organization and for Eric Staal. Again, the debate of who and/or what is to blame is complicated, but more simple is that for 7 years, it just had not worked. I think Staal needed a fresh start. And for better or for worse, I think the fan base and the Hurricanes hockey community needed a fresh start and to at a bare minimum take the next steps forward in a different way.
My raw feelings as a fan on Eric Staal’s return
To be honest, as a fan, I do not enjoy the return of Eric Staal. For me, it just stirs up so much emotion and inner turmoil as a Hurricanes fan. It is heavy. And at least for me personally, right now it is more negative than positive. And it also tends to stir up angst, negativity and some nastiness in a fan base that legitimately is a bit agitated right now.
I will not know until I get there, but my gut feeling is that this negativity and uneasiness around Eric Staal will naturally subside as time passes and also as we get through more rounds of Eric Staal returning in a visiting uniform. I also think a Hurricanes return to the playoffs is what officially starts the next era of Hurricanes hockey for me at which point it will become easier to let go of the previous one.
What say you Caniacs?
At the risk of kicking a hornet’s nest, the Thursday Coffee Shop will include a couple polls and discussion questions on Eric Staal but feel free also to chime in below.
Does anyone else feel a certain uneasiness still about Eric Staal’s return and all of the memories, emotions and everything else it stirs up? Or is that just me?
Do people agree or disagree that the right time to sort out where Eric Staal fits in Canes history is best put a bit farther in the future still?
Check out also the Thursday Coffee Shop post that has an Eric Staal theme along with a couple polls and discussion questions on Canes youngsters.