Eric Staal is in the last year of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. The captain of the ‘Canes has a few months left on his seven-year deal. He’s enjoying a nice $9.5 million this season. Staal has been making Alex Ovechkin, Sydney Crosby level money, but most Hurricanes fans will tell you that his play has not lived up to that level of pay.
The Rise of Eric Staal
Staal rose in prominence when the ‘Canes won the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2006. Drafted second overall by Carolina in the 2003 entry draft, Staal had 11 goals and 20 assists as a rookie. In the 2005-06 season, the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Staal had 100 points and the future was seemingly without limits for the then 22-year old from Thunder Bay, Ontario.
For Staal the future was bright, including the enormous seven-year $57.75 million he’s made to play hockey. In January 2010 Staal was named team captain, replacing legendary Rod Brind’Amour. At the time, then ‘Canes Jim Rutherford said this about the change: “Eric is the player around whom the team will be restructured.” At that time Carolina had a league-worst 35 points.
The previous season the ‘Canes were in the playoffs. They have not been in the playoffs since. Meanwhile Staal has been making bank and enjoying the persona of an elite NHL forward. There have been injuries to fight through and come back from, coaching changes, and the frustration that comes from missing the playoffs. Staal has heard fan adoration and fan vitriol. Through it all he has stayed true to his team and its fans, saying repeatedly that he wants to stay in Raleigh with the Hurricanes.
The rumors about Staal and his contract have flown all over the place during the past year. My favorite was this past October when much of the hockey media believed a rumor that Staal was asking for $9 million per year. I spoke with Staal’s agent Rick Curran who said that the rumor was not true. I had the pleasure of writing about my chat with Curran, debunking the ridiculous rumor.
Even today, and even with his no-trade clause, the rumors about Staal trades abound:
@GunnerStaal I'm reading rumors of a Perron for Eric Staal trade,if true would u do this!
— Chris Lanzetti (@ChrisLanzetti) January 9, 2016
Ron Francis said in December that there was not going to be a rush to getting a new
deal signed with Staal. Both Francis and Curran said they would wait until the New Year to get down to business. Well it is 2016 and a funny thing is happening. The team is growing up all around Staal, and re-signing him may not be as vital as it may have once appeared to be in the minds of some.
The “young guns” as I glossed them last year have caught fire and are playing some hockey. I wrote recently how they are getting it done. In a silent way, the urgency and even relevance of Staal’s contract is becoming a footnote to the season. It’s just not looming as such a large issue like it was six months ago.
After Friday night’s home win against the Columbus Blue Jackets the Hurricanes have 41 points and are only four points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second Wild Card spot, and just five points behind the Boston Bruins for the first. I’m not promising that the ‘Canes will make the playoffs, I am saying that the “young guns” are slowly proving they belong in Carolina, and if they keep going, Staal’s re-signing with the Hurricanes may not rise to the level of importance that it had before.
And then there is this sentiment:
“The % of fans who are done with Eric Staal in a Hurricanes sweater is higher than those who voted for Ken Griffey Jr for the Baseball HOF."
— Jamie Kellner 📸 (@jbkellner) January 8, 2016
There is a segment of the fan base that is ready for Staal to move on. I’ve not come to an opinion one way or the other. I do see this time as very possibly a turning point for the team, and I don’t think Staal has helped make his case for a mega-contract with his play so far this season. (Check out “Eric Staal Imploding Contract” here)
Mark Shiver is a staff writer for The Hockey Writers credentialed with the Carolina Hurricanes. You can follow him on Twitter @markshiver