Eric Staal is wild about his new team, the Minnesota Wild. The former captain of the Carolina Hurricanes was back on the ice he called home for a dozen years, in Thursday night’s game between his current and former teams.
Staal Having Fun
In an interview with Hurricanes television play by play announcer John Forslund, Staal said he is having a lot of fun with his new team. He said there are veteran players on the Wild that really want to win. This is a key difference compared with what Staal faced when he was trying unsuccessfully to lead the Hurricanes back to the playoffs for nearly seven full seasons. There seemed to be a constant state of flux surrounding the team. Now he can just play hockey without the baggage.
Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said in an article at usatoday.com on Jan. 3o, “I think he’s put into position to succeed. He’s not in a rebuild.” Everything about this season points in a direction for Staal that is like a new start, almost a re-birth on the ice. One of the greatest players in Hurricanes’ history, who began to be greatly criticized by fans wanting the playoffs, is in a place to let his skill speak for itself.
Brother Jordan Staal said before the game Thursday night that being on a winning team was definitely good for Eric, who is noticeably playing much better this season than in his last few seasons with the Hurricanes. He said that having to be the leader on a struggling team is a lot of pressure on any player, pressure that is non-existent with the Wild.
Similar Numbers But Different Situation
“Noticeably playing much better” can be a deceiving thing to say, as a look at Staal’s numbers this season shows that they are not much different than what he was putting up with the Hurricanes in the past few years. He is currently second in points on the Wild at 53, 23 goals and 30 assists. Staal’s last three full seasons with the ‘Canes he put up 54, 61, and 53 points respectively.
The difference this season for Staal is that he is surrounded by teammates that can put up their share of points. For example, the Wild has Mikael Granlund with 65 points, Mikko Koivu with 52, and a host of others in the 40’s and 30’s. By contrast, the points leader on the Hurricanes is Jeff Skinner at 46 points, followed by Victor Rask at 41. There are six Hurricanes in the 30’s for point totals so far this season.
What this boils down to is that Staal can be on the Wild and just play and have fun for a change. He has guys around him who are putting up enough points to make the team playoff-worthy, and he doesn’t have to live with the constant expectations and disappointment that the ‘Canes fans sent is way.
Eric Staal is totally invisible now
It sucks how far he's fallen #Canes
— Jonathan 🏒 (2-1-0) (@Wolfpuck87) February 24, 2016
Staal and goalie Cam Ward were the remaining heroes of the team’s 2006 Stanley Cup miracle. The fans in Raleigh expected Staal and Ward to lead the team back to the playoffs and a chance for another Cup, but for various reasons, it was not to be. Staal returned to his former ice to play hockey for the Wild and enjoy the great memories made in Raleigh’s PNC Arena. To talk smack with his brother and listen to Ward chirp at him.
Some Hurricanes fans got in a few jabs of their own after the game which the ‘Canes won 3-1.
Eric Staal still can't win in Raleigh.
— Chris Allen (@_PeppaJack) March 17, 2017
Staal will likely have the last laugh this season though, as those same fans will be watching him in the playoffs.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.