In 2005-06, Eric Staal had the best season of his career. He posted 45 goals and 100 points, finished seventh in scoring and put an exclamation point on the campaign by hoisting the Stanley Cup on the back of a nine-goal, 28-point post-season performance, making him the playoff’s highest scorer.
At that point in his career, Staal was considered among the league’s elite. He was one of the faces of the NHL. In 2006-07, he scored 30 goals and 70 points and was selected as the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 08, which he followed up by eclipsing the 80-point plateau again with a 38-goal, 82-point campaign in 2007-08. That led to Staal inking a six-year, $57.75-million extension in the off-season, which carries an annual cap hit of $8.25 million. Now, with the 2015-16 season about to begin, Staal’s contract is set to expire.
With Staal heading towards unrestricted free agency, there has been talk the Hurricanes could try to bring him back. But according to Le Journal de Montreal’s Renaud Lavoie, if Carolina plans to re-sign their, they could be on the hook for $9 million per season.
“Eric Staal is seeking approximately $9 million per season,” Lavoie wrote. “He will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2016. But the captain of Hurricanes is no fool and knows that (he’s) not the 30-goal (scorer he once) was and it would be surprising if his bosses give him such salary annually.”
If Lavoie is right and Staal is asking the Hurricanes for $9 million annually, there’s a lot to consider and more than a few reasons that Carolina should decide to cut ties with the veteran pivot.
Let’s look at the players currently earning $9 million per season, of which there are five: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and P.K. Subban. That’s two offensive leaders on a team that has won three of the past six Stanley Cups, the best pure goal-scorer in hockey, an immensely talented offensive player who’s a perennial Art Ross contender and arguably one of the five best defensemen in the game right now.
By comparison, in his past five full seasons, Staal has only scored more than 70 points once, when he notched 33 goals and 76 points in 2010-11. This past season, Staal, whose now 30 and heading out of his prime, scored 23 goals and 54 points on a poor Carolina club. Sure, he also logged his lowest average ice time since his rookie campaign, but he scored at his lowest rate at even strength over the past eight seasons. It wasn’t just the ice time that hurt his point total.
The issue then is that Staal, while still a productive veteran, has vastly overestimated his value. Players like Toews, Kane, Ovechkin, Malkin and Subban are among the league’s elite. Staal was once included in that category but his game has slipped in recent years. He’s not the perpetual all-star he once was, and paying him like he’s still one of the brightest stars in the league would be a risky proposition for anyone, let alone the Hurricanes.
That Staal’s reported asking price is so high begs the question whether Staal has priced himself out of Carolina altogether. Remember, the team is in the midst of a potential sale. While it’s unlikely he’ll land a $9 million salary no matter where he plays next season, the Hurricanes are one team who especially can’t afford to dish out that kind of cash to a player on the back-nine of his career. They need players who offer them good value and making Staal one of the game’s highest paid players isn’t something Carolina can afford right now.
Even if the Hurricanes talk Staal’s asking price down, it’s unlikely he’d want anything less than the $8.25 million per season he’s earning. Were the Hurricanes to allocate that money elsewhere, they could easily manage retooling their roster with a number of middle-tier free agents. Carolina has young talents in Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy, Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury who stand to be the next generation of Hurricanes stars. Staal could be their leader, but, financially, something would eventually have to give.
While the Hurricanes might miss Staal’s scoring ability, replacing it by committee can build a deeper and potentially more competitive lineup. And that Carolina has missed the post-season each of the past six seasons signals the need for some major changes. Staal could be the first big piece to head out.
As the season moves along and the trade deadline approaches, if Staal and Hurricanes GM Ron Francis are still at an impasse and Carolina’s longtime captain hasn’t changed his asking price, it will be more likely Staal is sent packing by the Hurricanes than it is the team gets tied up in a bidding war for the longtime Hurricane. And, really, if it’s $9 million Staal is after, that’s the right move for Carolina.