The Carolina Hurricanes named Jordan Staal their captain for the 2019-20 season. Jordan Martinook & Jaccob Slavin will serve as alternates. Last season’s captain Justin Williams is taking a hiatus away from hockey, which left a void that is now filled by Staal.
The team has come full circle in that Staal’s brother, Eric, served as the team captain for years. Two seasons ago, former head coach Bill Peters tried an experiment that boggled the minds of fans and pundits alike — Staal served as a co-captain with the recently departed Justin Faulk. Staal now has the opportunity to guide this team to success, a task he is well-suited for.
Staal, Leading Without the ‘C’
In April 2016, I wrote about Staal: “Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes is a workhorse. He does not show up on the score sheets often with much to show for his work, but any hockey fan can see that his contribution to the team is enormous.” That was three and a half years ago, but it is still an accurate characterization. He is a big player who plays heavy and is not afraid to battle with the league’s best for the puck or for his space in front of the net.
I was first impressed with Staal during the 2015-16 season. The Hurricanes had gotten blasted off the ice by the New Jersey Devils, and the locker room was full of dismal faces. I spoke with Staal directly and asked him what he felt needed to be done.
I wrote about his response in July 2016: “He responded that veterans like him needed to help the younger players by setting a good example of hard work. To be honest, at that moment I thought that was a stock answer, but as the season progressed, I saw his role as that veteran presence emerge. In fact, until Andrej Nestrasil’s injury, the line he centered became consistently the best line that the ‘Canes put on the ice.”
Hurricanes fans will remember the line of Nestrasil, Staal and Joakim Nordstrom and the success they had in the second half of the 2015-16 season. Matt Kromback wrote as much for Canes Country on July 1:
His 2015-2016 numbers of 20 goals and 28 assists don’t do him justice. The line of Staal, Joakim Nordstrom, and Andrej Nestrasil was the most efficient line on the team with 17 goals for and 11 goals against. Staal was also exceptional in the faceoff circle, securing 57.8 percent of his faceoffs, helping the Hurricanes finish second in the league with an overall faceoff percentage of 53.7 percent.
What is the point of going back three years when talking about Staal’s being named the Hurricanes’ new captain? It is to show that he is a genuine, effective leader whether or not he has any part of the alphabet sewn onto his sweater.
The Peters’ Experiment(s)
In 2016-17, Peters decided to roll with four alternate captains as opposed to naming a captain. After the head-scratching was finished by those who follow and report on the team, the season progressed. The Hurricanes did not make the playoffs again. Staal — along with Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, and Victor Rask — all skated with the ‘A’ emblazoned on their jerseys. That “Four ‘A’s” concept lasted one year, thankfully.
The most notable of Peters’ experiments was the two-headed captaincy of Staal and Faulk. This was in 2017-18, Peters’ final year with the Hurricanes. The team had brought in Williams who was the obvious choice to wear the “C,” so this raised eyeballs across the league.
Many have speculated as to why Peters did not name Williams. What it boiled down to was Peters wanting to assert his authority and not do what most folks thought he should do — a “marking of his territory,” so to speak. Williams was gracious and played hard. Staal and Faulk did their best to provide the leadership that their teammates needed. In the end, they were gracious about Peters’ failed experiment.
I asked Staal at the final media availability of 2017-18 what he thought of the dual captaincy and he said, “I think it worked fine this year. I don’t think there were any issues. I think Faulker did a great job and hopefully, I did an okay job, too. It was no real issue, I guess.”
This was classic Staal, never one to complain or say anything negative. In fact, in the five seasons that I have covered the Hurricanes for The Hockey Writers, I have not heard any negative words from Staal. Even in the midst of some pretty horrific seasons, he owned his part and never deflected blame onto another teammate.
This is one of the key reasons that Staal is the right choice to wear the ‘C’ this season. He is a leader on the ice, in the locker room, and in the community. Granted there are private times with the teams that the media are not privy to, but I have never known him to be negative. He leads by example on the ice, recognizing that younger players are looking for a work-ethic they can emulate.
The bottom line is that Staal is an excellent, if not obvious, choice to be the Hurricanes’ captain. His play and demeanor will not change. He’ll just have a little extra stitching on his jersey. He’s a leader and he will continue to be with or without the ‘C.’
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.