Could Eric Staal Be On the Trade Block?

Eric Staal’s time in Carolina may be coming to an end. According to a report by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Staal’s agent Rick Curran is meeting with general manager Ron Francis sometime soon to discuss Staal’s future and the direction of the team.

It’s no secret that I’m not Staal’s biggest fan. For a guy with as much talent as he has, it makes an appearance far too inconsistently, especially for a captain that should be leading by example. After years of Francis and Rod Brindamour leading the team, Eric Staal’s efforts on the ice have come off lacking. However, once former general manager Jim Rutherford traded for Eric’s brother Jordan in 2012 and signed the younger brother to a massive 10-year deal, I came to accept that the Staal brothers would be in Carolina’s long-term plans for the foreseeable future.

Both Eric and Jordan have also expressed desire to remain in Carolina, most recently when reports came out of Pittsburgh that the Canes could trade Jordan back to his former team. The reports were ultimately proven to be false, and much ado about nothing in the first place, as both Staal brothers hold no-trade clauses in their contracts that would allow them to nix any deal that could send them packing.

So what could change over the next few months that might see Eric Staal on the trade block?

Show Me the Money

As LeBrun pointed out, Curran is not only the agent of Eric, but also Jordan, Cam Ward, and Jeff Skinner. That’s the Hurricanes’ top two centers, their starting goaltender, and their young 30-goal-scoring winger, which gives a lot of control for one agent to have over many of the core components of the Canes’ roster. In addition, those 4 players make up a large part of Carolina’s cap space, especially when the organization has a limited budget set below the league’s maximum.

Both Eric and Ward have contracts that expire at the end of the 15-16 season, and the hope is that, if the organization decides to re-sign them, the players would accept deals that would have them accepting far less than what they’re making now. Ward hasn’t lived up to his $6.3 million paycheck in years, and the likelihood that Staal earns his $8.25 million this upcoming year is slim at best.

If the two players are not willing to take a discount in their upcoming contracts, or are simply asking for too much for the Hurricanes to reasonable pay them, the organization will have no choice but to move on without them. When Francis was asked if he was seeking to trade Staal, he responded “No, not at this point,” but added that “It is my job to explore every avenue of making this team better,” which would have to include listening to offers for the two players if a deal is unable to be reached.

Rebuilding or Retooling

Of course, dealing either player will depend on what direction the Canes decide to head in.

Due to the lengthy playoff drought the organization is under, and the market in Carolina itself, it’s unlikely the Hurricanes can do a “scorched earth” rebuild that seems them jettison all expensive contracts off the team and anyone over the age of 25. This year’s attendance showed what happens in this market when the team is eliminated from a playoff spot before December. Instead, they’ll have to “re-tool” the roster to keep up an appearance of competitiveness.

Canes fans will probably hate that word, since that’s what Rutherford claimed to be doing, seemingly unsuccessfully, for the past six years. However, unlike Rutherford, Francis appears to understand the importance of young players regarding the long-term health of the organization. Rather than trade prospects and picks for more established players to play with Eric Staal and Ward, Francis will take the opposite approach. He has been trading established players for prospects and picks to play with, and eventually replace, Eric Staal and Ward. The dedication to the core remains the same, though mostly out of necessity, but the surrounding cast is different.

EricStaal is part of that core. Ward is part of that core. Barring a vast difference in contract values, neither player will be wearing anything but a Canes uniform for the foreseeable future.