Would bringing back Eric Staal make sense for the Canes?
Yes. No. Maybe.
When the protected lists for the Las Vegas NHL expansion draft were released at
10:00 AM 10:30 AM on Sunday, Eric Staal’s name was nowhere to be found. Unless George McPhee has a backroom handshake with the Minnesota brass, it looks as if Carolina’s former Captain will be headed to Sin City.
Staal is coming off his best season since 2012. He led the Wild with 28 goals and was second on the team with 65 points. Of course, playing with Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise may have inflated Staal’s stats to a certain degree. It is also worth noting that he posted the second highest shooting-percentage of his career (13.35) during the 2016-2017 campaign. Nonetheless, it seems he still have something left in the tank. He even outscored Jeff Skinner, Carolina’s leading scorer, by two points.
Would it make sense for Ron Francis to work something out with Vegas and bring Eric Staal back to Raleigh? It could work, but with some reservations.
If brought back to the Hurricanes, Staal would need to be “just another guy.” Not the former Captain. Not the former All-Star game MVP. Not the guy who helped bring the Stanley Cup to Raleigh. Not a first line center. The veteran would need to take on the responsibility of a role player with no leadership duties.
Just. Another. Guy.
The camaraderie in a team’s locker room can be a difficult equilibrium to maintain. What message would an Eric Staal return send to newly named alternate captains Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask? The intangible risks of Staal’s homecoming would be impossible to determine or measure; but it’s definitely something that should be considered if this move were to be made.
Staal carries an annual cap hit of $3.5 million. With only two years left on his contract, it could be an economical move by Francis. The Golden Knights have no intentions of competing next year and are asking for draft picks as a result. Carolina has plenty. Would an Eric Staal reunion be worth a late-to-mid round pick or two? Absolutely. It is a risk worth taking.
Staal is familiar with Bill Peter’s system and would slot seamlessly into the lineup. Although naturally a center, the Thunder Bay native would ideally find a home on the 2nd or 3rd line wing. He would be an instant upgrade over Lee Stempniak, who also seems to be headed to Vegas.
Fans hesitant with the hypothetical move are probably more perturbed by the name on the jersey than the actual on ice production. At 32, Eric Staal has proven he can still be valuable to a contending NHL team. Could that team be Carolina? There is no reason it couldn’t be. If taken from strictly a hockey (not sentimental) point of view, Eric Staal is a perfect fit for the 2017-2018 Carolina Hurricanes.