It was a year of firsts for Hurricanes center Eric Staal. Last season marked the first time Staal missed significant time in the lineup, sitting out a combined 12 games due to injury and personal tragedy. Coming into 2009-10, he had missed just one game in his career, and that came all the way before the lockout, back in his rookie season of 2003-04. Those 12 missed games also surely cost Staal a fifth-straight 30-plus goal season and perhaps a shot to get the seven he needs to reach 200 for his career.
But it wasn't all bad for Staal. While the Canes faltered early and were never able to get back in the playoff hunt, Staal's appointment as captain in late January sparked a late-season run that saw him score goals at a pace equal to anyone in the NHL. It signaled a good ending to what was an otherwise up-and-down season for both the Hurricanes and their franchise player.
The Good: After failing to lead the team in scoring in 2008-09, Staal was back on top last season by registering 70 points in 70 games, the third time in his career he's averaged a point per game. He was second to Jussi Jokinen in goals (30 to 29), but led the team in assists with 41, 31 of which came at even strength. He also led the team in power play goals (13) and was 13th in the league in shots on goal (277) — a number that would've likely been in the top five had he not missed a good portion of the schedule. His 20:42 minutes of ice time a night finished 17th among forwards and he was on the ice for 101 of Carolina's goals, a staggering 43.9 percent. He also tied for the team lead in plus/minus at plus-4. His ascension to team captain seemed to motivate him down the stretch. Finally, he helped lead Canada to gold at the Winter Olympics.
The Bad: Staal looked hurt right out of the gate this season and didn't take time off to heal until early November. By then, Carolina had already dug itself a huge hole that is was unable to emerge from. His 29 goals, while solid, were the fewest he had since he scored 11 as a rookie, and his 70 points matched his post-lockout low from 2006-07. After improving to more than 45 percent in the faceoff circle in 2008-09, Staal regressed — perhaps due to his early season upper body injury? — to a career-low 41.8 percent, a number that needs to vastly improve in 2010-11 with the retirement of circle ace Rod Brind`Amour. He leaned too much on attempted wraparounds in the offensive zone, which rarely producing scoring opportunities when attempted due to their predicability. While he was a force the last couple months of the season, many wondered if Staal was only able to turn it on once the pressure was off — though past playoff performances would suggest he does just fine under pressure.
The Money: Staal earned a team-high $6 million in 2009-10, the first year of a seven-year, $57.75 million contract that registers a cap hit of $8.25 million. His no trade clause kicked in on July 1, 2010, according to capgeek.com.