Eric Staal Warmly Welcomed Home

Eric Staal came home Thursday night, March 31. The former Carolina Hurricanes captain and years-long face of the franchise returned to Raleigh’s PNC arena with his new team, the New York Rangers. Still wearing number 12, Staal was greeted warmly by the “Caniacs” who let their appreciation for his years of leadership be known.

Staal Warmly Welcomed Home

As Staal skated alone on the ice at the beginning of warm ups, it was clear that it was going to be a special night. After a blistering pace set by both teams during the first six minutes of the game, the home team Hurricanes took time during the television timeout to pay tribute to the player that had been the most prominent on the team over the past five-six years.

The fans were treated to a fabulous video montage on the Jumbotron of Staal’s illustrious Hurricanes career. Beginning with his being selected second overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, to his play in the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, to an assortment of many of his fantastic goals scored, the “Caniacs” were taken down memory lane in fine video fashion. Most of the 16,336 fans in attendance were on their feet, giving a well-deserved applause to Staal, who skated out to near center-ice, and raised his stick to the crowd.

Staal’s Storied Career

Staal was traded to the Rangers a few weeks ago on February 28. His 12-years with the Hurricanes were filled with highs and lows, the zenith being helping the team hoist the Stanley Cup in 2006. The lows were seasons marked by injuries and an ever-growing fan frustration over his declining production, and the ‘Canes’ ongoing playoff absence going back to 2009.

When traded to the Rangers, Staal had only scored 10 goals and notched 23 assists through 63 games this season. As a Ranger he has lit the lamp three more times and has added two more assists for a season total of 38 points. Herein lies the challenge some in Carolina have with Staal. For example:

While I don’t agree that Staal hasn’t been relevant in a decade, I will agree that the past few years have been difficult for Hurricanes fans looking to Staal for scoring leadership on the ice. Staal’s last good season from a points perspective was arguably 2008-09, also the last that saw Carolina in the playoffs. That year he had 40 goals and 35 points and inked a new contract that put him in the category of the elite forwards in the NHL.

Now a blueshirt, Eric Staal made in indelible impact on the 'Canes (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Now a blueshirt, Eric Staal made in indelible impact on the ‘Canes
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

At seven years and nearly $58 million, Staal was set to continue what had been an upward trajectory in his NHL career. He was named the Hurricanes’ captain in 2010 and was clearly the face and future of the franchise. The challenge with that became evident as the team sputtered along, going through coaches, losing lots of games, and seeing fan interest decline rapidly. Staal was the man and drew most of the fire that comes with being the man.

In the end, Staal was not able to get the term of a new contract to his liking. (See my story: “Eric Staal Contract Negotiations Inside Story“) Staal’s agent Rick Curran told me,

“The term that the team offered didn’t make sense. After that there really were no lengthy discussions on the contract.”

Unable to come to an agreement, Hurricanes GM Ron Francis negotiated a deal with the Rangers, Staal waived his no-trade clause and came home Thursday night to a crowd that recognizes – perhaps in many cases after the fact – the impact that Staal had on the Hurricanes.

Thank You, Eric

‘Canes head coach Bill Peters summed the evening up after the game. Peters said,

“Tonight was for Eric Staal. I thought the video tribute was outstanding, and I thought the response he got from our crowd, our fans and his fans was outstanding, well-deserved and earned.”

Peters went through a litany of Staal’s accomplishments that include leading the franchise in nearly every area possible. There is no question that Staal has left an indelible mark on the Hurricanes, and that he will be missed on the ice in Raleigh.

Will he be back after the season is over? Will Staal, Francis and Curran be able to reach an agreement that is suitable to all parties? My gut says no, the team is settling in on the rebuilding plans that Francis is implementing, and I personally don’t think that will include bringing back number 12. For now, it is fitting and more than appropriate to say, “Thank you, Eric.”