Thursday October 16th, 2014

This is how quickly the season has soured for the Hurricanes: One week in and already rumors are swirling that franchise center Eric Staal is up for grabs.

The buzz is coming out of Toronto, so a healthy dose of skepticism is advisable. But at least one NHL executive believes the 'Canes are in a swapping mood. "They have to sell tickets today," he told "But it's all about tomorrow [for Carolina]."

NHL Roundtable: Berube's hot seat, early surprises, the Pronger conflict

Moving a franchise icon like Staal is never easy. For a rookie general manager like Ron Francis, it would take some high-wire nerves. He'd need to knock it out of the park to keep the team's fans happy ... but the big hit might not be out there for him.

“He's not getting [a high first-round pick]'” the exec said. “He's not getting someone's top prospect. Look at what [the Senators] got for Jason Spezza. That's your baseline.”

The summer swap that sent the disgruntled Spezza to the Stars wasn't exactly a franchise-altering bonanza for Ottawa. In exchange for the team's captain the Senators received an NHL-ready young forward with top-six potential in Alex Chiasson and a couple of mid-level prospects.

Would Staal generate a larger return? Possibly. He's more decorated than Spezza and plays a bigger man's game. He could still handle a first-line role on a contender. But he's on the downhill side of his career, and while his rights are under control for this season and next, it's at an exorbitant $8.25 million cap hit with real money of $18.75 million due over the two years.

At the moment, there are six teams in the league with that kind of space: Ottawa, the Flames, the Coyotes, the Sabres, the Predators and the Jets. Not one of those teams are challenging for the Stanley Cup, making it unlikely that Staal would waive his no-trade clause to join any of them.

But no matter what Francis' inclinations may be, Staal is in complete control of this situation. Like Spezza, he can pick when he moves, and to where.

After missing the postseason seven of the past eight seasons, he might soon decide that it's time for a change of scenery. But the pressure to make the right deal is all on Francis. It's a heck of a first test.

• Hurricanes injury update: Jeff Skinner, Andrej Sekera, more

Kingly contract

Drew Doughty may think that Corsi is “crap,” but his partner on the Kings' blue line is about to become a very rich man because of the popular #fancystat.

Los Angeles signed Jake Muzzin to a five-year extension worth $20 million on Wednesday, and there's no doubt that his league-leading totals in that unofficial statistical category paved the way for the lucrative agreement. Muzzin, who is playing out the final season of a deal that pays him $1 million, led all defensemen in 2013–14 with a 61.1% Corsi, the second year in a row that he'd paced the league.

Stats geeks will point out that the raw number—which measures shot-attempts-for and shot-attempts-against when a player is on the ice at even strength—needs to be taken in context. For example, spending much of his time skating with Doughty doesn't hurt Muzzin's totals. Still, Corsi does a fair job of confirming what the eye test reveals: Muzzin is as solid as there is when it comes to taking care of his own end and driving possession. And that's made him a valuable contributor to a pair of Stanley Cup championships.

Even with all that, $4 million might seem like a hefty commitment to the 25-year-old. But blueliner Alec Martinez gave up four years of free agency to remain part of the core that GM Dean Lombardi believes will keep the Kings in contention for the next several years.

With Martinez locked up, L.A. now has eight players signed through the 2018–19 season. Another, star center Anze Kopitar, should become the ninth when he becomes eligible to sign an extension this summer. It's a good time to be a hockey fan in Southern California.

Oil change needed

No one can be all that surprised that the Oilers have struggled out of the gate. Still, did anyone expect them to be this bad?

After getting blown out by Arizone 7–4 on Wednesday night, Edmonton has allowed a league-high 23 goals in just four games. Behind them? The Rangers have given up 19 in four games—brutal but still a full goal-per-game less than the Oilers.

Talent, or a lack thereof, is a big part of Edmonton's problem. That's on GM Craig MacTavish. Any team that rolls out only two proven NHL centers and a patchwork defense is begging for trouble. So is a team that asks an 18-year-old center and a 19-year-old defenseman fresh out of juniors to make significant contributions.

That's not a knock on the efforts of Leon Draisaitl, the center, and Darnell Nurse, the blueliner. Both have lived up reasonably well to expectations in the early going. Draisatl, the third pick in this year's draft, is as big and strong and fearless as advertised, but you can tell that he's overthinking things as he tries to avoid making big mistakes. That's slowing him down and leading him to commit little mistakes, just enough to remind us that his first taste of the big leagues should be brief.

It's the same with Nurse. You can picture just how much he'll help this team a couple of years down the road whenever he lands a big hit or really starts moving on the ice. For now, though, he's too high risk. He's not as overtly cautious as Draisaitl, but maybe that's part of the problem. The simplest play is often the right one, and too often Nurse swings for the fences.

But their growing pains aren't the Oilers' most immediate problem. That would Edmonton's propensity for glaring defensive breakdowns directly in front of its own net.

It's one thing to be out-talented. It's something else to be out-worked and out-smarted.

Any team that consistently gives opposing shooters clean looks from within 20 feet can expect to get lit up. That's on Dallas Eakins.

It's clear the Oilers need a new approach. The question is: Can sell it to them?

• Oilers' Yakupov improves his physical play

Gardiner dying on the vine

A scout on Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner, who's become an early-season fixture in the press box: "That's a really good career that's just withering away up there."

The same scout on Stephane Robidas, who twice broke his leg last season. "He's trying, but he just doesn't look right out there. I really feel sorry for the guy."





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