Sometimes, even the best relationships need to come to an end, for the benefit of both parties. The most difficult part is recognizing just when that time has come.
It’s this exact kind of situation that the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in right now with Eric Staal, the face of the franchise that has spent every game of his NHL career with the organization, as the NHL trade deadline quickly approaches.
By all means, the Hurricanes look to be sellers heading into the deadline. The team has exceeded expectations that many pundits had for them for this season, playing some very inspired hockey and putting up some of the best possession numbers of any team in the league, but they still remain on the outside of a playoff spot. With a handful of talented young players like Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask to build their core around, offloading veterans at the deadline to acquire more pieces to supplement those core players makes perfect strategic sense.
But trading Staal, the team’s most desirable trade asset and an impending free agent, is far from an easy thing to do.
Stall, 31, has given the best years of his life to the Hurricanes organization. Drafted by them 2nd overall back in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he has dressed in 906 regular season games for Carolina, picking up 773 points along the way, and was named as team captain in 2010.
Most important of all, however, was that Staal was an instrumental piece in leading the Hurricanes to their first and only Stanley Cup championship in 2006.
“It’s a better situation to be in than where we were last year at this point,” said general manager Ron Francis recently. “There’s a lot of things in this business that are not easy and certainly this is one of them. We have some time before we get there and we’ll see where things go.”
With that much history tied up in one player, it’s easy to see why it would be so hard to say goodbye. Yet, for the Hurricanes and Francis, it’s a move that needs to be made for the organization.
Despite their close proximity to a playoff spot, it’s hard to consider the Canes to be a true Cup contender this season. Goals have been hard to come by, both of the team’s veteran goaltenders (Cam Ward and Eddie Lack) have struggled to consistently succeed, and many roster spots are currently being filled by rookies and other young players that are short on NHL experience.
Even if Carolina were to squeeze into the playoffs, the realistic likelihood that they would just get swept away in the opening round by a powerhouse team like the Washington Capitals is incredibly high.
Additionally, and possibly even more importantly, as good of a young core as the Hurricanes have right now, is it enough to mold a future contender out of? Faulk, Skinner and Rask are a great start, while Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm have loads of potential, but beyond them the prospect pool that the team has is still somewhat shallow, at least compared to teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs that have fully committed to rebuilding and have stockpiled true arsenals of young talent.
Even though Staal’s point totals this season are some of the lowest of his career (just 31 points in 60 games thus far), there’s no question that he could bring in quite an impressive return from the trade market. Maybe, just maybe, a few extra top prospects or high draft picks will be what the franchise needs to truly cement itself as a top contender in the future.
To his credit, Staal, like a true leader, is fully aware of his situation and seems to be willing to accept whatever happens next, for the greater good of the logo on the front of his jersey.
“I was drafted by this organization, I won a Stanley Cup here as a young player, and committed long-term to being here. I feel like I know no other way,” he said. “As an NHL player, not a lot of people can say that, but the reality is it’s business and there’s decisions that are made as you move forward. I’m at the end of my contract and we’ll see how it shakes out here in the next little bit.”
“There’s brighter days ahead for this organization, no question, and we’ll see how it plays out in the next couple of weeks.”
Derek Neumeier primarily covers the Dallas Stars, but also other various topics related to the sport of hockey. A Journalism graduate of Mount Royal University, Derek also writes for Defending Big D, and has done previous work with the Edmonton Oilers as a communications intern and Hockey Canada as a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @Derek_N_NHL