Eric Staal emerged from the Carolina Hurricanes changing area into the dressing room with a scowl on his face. That had a lot to do with the fact that his team had just lost a crucial game to the second-worst team in the league, but also because he knew the questions about his future were coming.
With the trade of Andrew Ladd earlier in the evening, Staal became the marquee player available leading up to Monday’s trade deadline, that is if indeed he’s available. This much we know: Staal has not been asked by Hurricanes GM Ron Francis to waive his no-trade clause of yet and he’s not sure what he would do if he were asked. He’s in the last year of his contract and there has not been a single offer for a contract extension made to him this season, nor has there been a proposal put to the Hurricanes by Staal’s agent Rick Curran.
We know he has been linked to the New York Rangers and we know that if Staal gets dealt, his cap hit will dictate that it probably happens right at the wire on Monday because of the financial implications. If he’s dealt Monday, whichever team gets him will be on the hook to pay him and absorb his cap hit for the last 41 days of the 186-day season. That translates into a cap hit of $1.82 million, which doesn’t exactly make it easy to consummate a deal.
Beyond that, we don’t know a whole lot. We certainly don’t know what Staal is thinking because he shut things down, not talking during the morning skate prior to his team’s uninspiring 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, then insisting on speaking only about the game after the loss.
Your trusty correspondent did manage to pose one trade deadline related question to Staal, who has two goals in his past 23 games. He was asked whether all the pressure of making a decision – and with a no-trade clause, the decision is ultimately his as to whether he stays or goes – has adversely affected his play.
“Well, I think I could be better,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve played bad. I mean, I haven’t played as good as I can, but I’m not going to make any excuses. I’ve got to play better than I have.”
When you’ve played 908 games with the same team, won a Stanley Cup and served as its captain, there are bound to be some conflicting feelings about the prospect of moving on. But if it’s not now, it likely will be after the season. If the Hurricanes have yet to even discuss an extension with Staal, how likely are they to want to after he posts what will almost certainly be the second-worst offensive season of his career? In fact, the argument could be made that the Hurricanes could probably still trade Staal before Monday and not have it affect their run for a playoff spot. Yes, Staal has been that ineffective at times this season.
“I think he’s played well,” said Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. “I think he’s done a good job of dealing with it.”
There’s a sense that if somehow Staal could find himself on a true contender, he might find the magic that has been missing from his game. That would be great for him and his pursuit of a new contract for next season. And if the Hurricanes could deal him for a Cup run, then perhaps re-sign him after July 1 at a reasonable cap number, they’d put themselves in a good situation.
Staal has been linked to the New York Rangers, but what if he were moved to the Los Angeles Kings? How would you like to play the Kings in the first round and face a conga line of centers that includes Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Staal and Vincent Lecavalier. Now, that would be no fun at all. With Marian Gaborik on the long-term injured list, the Kings just might be able to do it, provided Gaborik stays there until the playoffs.
Another destination could be Anaheim. With Shawn Horcoff still about two weeks away from returning to the lineup from his 20-game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing substances program and Rickard Rakell now playing on the win on the Ducks top line, Staal could slide in and complement Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. Ducks GM Bob Murray was asked by Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register whether he might try to add a winger at the deadline and responded by saying, “That would be a fair assumption.” But what if they could get Staal? It would certainly help going head-to-head with those beasts in the Western Conference. And while the Ducks have plenty of cap room, they have a very real budget and Staal’s salary might be a bit too rich for them.
Staal goes into this weekend completely in control of the situation. If he wants to join a Stanley Cup contender, he has the power to sign of on a deal. If he wants to stay and help the Hurricanes try to chase down a playoff spot, that’s his prerogative.
But one thing is for sure and Staal even admitted it himself. He has to be better, much better, than he has been lately.
NOTE: Hurricanes winger Andrej Nestrasil left the game in the second period after going into the boards awkwardly when he took a clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Nazem Kadri. A stretcher was wheeled into the Hurricanes dressing room after the game and Nestrasil was expected to spend the night in Toronto for further evaluations while his teammates returned home for a game against Boston Friday night.