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Billion Dollar Babies - Staal Joins Elite Company

With a stroke of a pen yesterday, Eric Staal signed a contract worth more than any other contract in franchise history. But not only is the deal significant as far as the franchise is concerned, it also slips him into the highest class of players in the entire league. Whether he likes it or not, Staal will now be compared to the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Evgeni Malkin and Jason Spezza.

How does he stack up? Let's take a closer look.

First we will compare the contracts of each.

  • Ovechkin- 13 years, $9.5M average per year

  • Crosby - 5 years, $8.7M average per year

  • Lecavalier - 11 years, $7.7M average per year

  • Malkin - 5 years, $8.7M average per year

  • Spezza - 7 years, $7M average per year

  • Staal - 7 years, $8.25M per year

Staal's contract in average dollars, puts him ahead of Spezza and Lacavalier, and below Crosby, Ovechkin, and Malkin. Keep in mind that Crosby and Malkin will both be back on the market before Staal. Their subsequent deals will more than likely push their averages even higher.

Now let's take a look at average points scored per game played. (lifetime NHL)

  • Ovechkin GP-245 P-310 PPG average 1.26

  • Crosby GP-213 P-294 PPG average 1.38

  • Lecavalier GP-710 P-602 PPG average .848

  • Malkin GP-160 P-191 PPG average 1.19

  • Spezza GP-322 P-345 PPG average 1.07

  • Staal GP-327 P-283 PPG average .865

Staal's contract falls pretty much in line except when you compare it with Jason Spezza's who has a higher points per game average, but is making less money. We could also compare points scored per playoff game, but each of these superstars continue to score about a point per game in the second season.

So why are some analysts claiming that he might be a bit over-paid? Perhaps if you look at his yearly average wage and factor it in as being paid in 2009-10, it might seem that way. But the Hurricanes wisely structured the deal so that it is backend loaded. The exact breakdown of how the high-scoring center will be paid is as follows-

  • 2009-10 $6M

  • 2010-11 $7.5M

  • 2011-12 $7.75

  • 2012-13 $8.5M

  • 2013-14 $9.25M

  • 2014-15 $9.25M

  • 2015-16 $9.5M

If you look at the first couple of years, the dollars are not that far out of whack. The big money kicks in later in the contract, at which time Staal would probably be expected to be Captain of the team. If the salary cap keeps going up relative to what it has been and the highest scoring players in the league continue to get raises, this contract might seem like a bargain in three or four years.

There are also intangibles to take into account. Eric Staal is the face of the franchise. He has been on the cover of a major video game, he has been the MVP of an All-Star game, he's constantly in photo shoots and NHL ad promotions. He gets the Hurricanes logo out where it has never been before. To lose him would be losing invaluable exposure that the team has never had and could never replace. Can you put a price tag on that?

The best thing about all of this? Staal seems to love it here. He's happy. A lot of players in his position would be seeking the bright lights of a bigger city or market. They might be longing to play closer to home up north. Maybe the ad money would be better? Perhaps there would be other advantages as well? But this kid has a level head to go with his broad shoulders. He fits right in this market and with the Hurricanes family, seemlessly.

There are a few extra special players in sports who have a certain quality about them which can't be explained. While they might not lead the league in scoring, they always seem to score the big goal, or make a key play when the team needs it the most. Their teammates look to them to lead the way, and somehow they come through. Eric Staal has shown that he can be that type of player.

So will he live up to his big contract? Time will tell, but in my opinion he's well worth the risk.