You old-schoolers out there probably remember the old James Brown routine where near the end of his show where he would feign exhaustion and collapse to the stage. This was always followed by a member of his entourage stepping up to wrap a cape around The Godfather’s shoulders with the intent to escort him off the stage. Then after a few steps, Brown would dramatically throw off the cape and re-take the stage with renewed vigor hollering. ...."Is it gonna be hot in the hot tub!?" Wait that was Eddie Murphy.
In Game Seven of the Devils series, the image of Staal leaping over the rail, hitting Warp Factor 8 in two strides, and then burying the puck past Martin Brodeur’s right shoulder to close out the Devils in Game 7 sticks in my mind as high drama befitting a old James Brown show at the Apollo.
How many times when the Canes were down did you hear the Barry Melrose’s’ of the hockey world say, "Now is the time when Eric Staal needs to step up." You heard it after a lousy Game One loss to the Devils. And you heard it after Staal was tossed about like a rag doll in Game One of the Bruins series by Zdeno Chara. You heard it when the Canes let the Bruins back into the series. Each time, Staal answered the bell.
The Good: When the Canes selected Eric Staal with the second pick in the 2003 draft, some skeptics postulated that while Staal might emerge as a nice play-maker, but that he probably wouldn’t bring the physicality of Nathan Horton or the finishing skills of Nikolai Zherdev. Think again pundits. Eric Staal, v2009, leads by example, brings the speed and acceleration of a more compact player, and demonstrates physicality on and in pursuit of the puck (he’s very Staal-like in that regard). He also has the icy finishing skills of Delta Force sniper.
Just a side note stat: Four of the eight players who scored 40 goals or more in the regular season were 2003 draftees (Carter, Parise, Staal and Vanek). You’ll have to dig deep to find Zherdev or Horton.
The Bad: Now I’m struggling a bit. The only thing I can say is that there are nights when he just isn’t am uber- dominant presence. He’s no Joe Thornton in that regard, but when Eric is off, the Canes et al tend to funk out. He’s highly paid and enjoys celebrity status in the league, and he deserves it. Staal’s still a bit of a liability in the faceoff circle. Not the flailing fish he once was, but there’s still room for improvement.
The Drama? The decline of Rod Brind ‘Amour’s game, coupled with Jim Rutherford’s statement that Rod will need to compete for a spot on next season’s roster, might be an indication of some pending clubhouse drama. How Eric comports himself will be very important. He has to continue to lead by example while it all plays out.
The Stats: While Eric’s season point totals the past few seasons haven’t approached those he posted during the ’05-’06 Stanley Cup winning season, his 75 points this season and his top-five finish with 40 goals – eight of them game winners - bear witness to his emergence as a dominant player in this league. He and his line draw the best defensive pairings every shift, every night. Despite this nightly grind, Staal remained near the top in playoff points until the Canes hit a wall against the Penguins in the conference finals.
Here are some highlights for all you statisticalists.
· Iron Man – Top ten in games (82), goals (40), power point goals (14) and game winning goals (8)
· Playoff Stud - Still among the top ten in 2009 playoff stats for goals (10), points (15) and power point goals (3).
· 26 Shifts per game – Go-to-guy in every situation
Staalsy Franchise: Eric made $5 million this season with a cap hit of $4.5 million. He’ll make more in each of the coming four seasons and is locked-up thru 2013. Coast to coast and station to station, Eric Staal is the face and future of the Hurricanes franchise... When asked to comment on this analysis of his just completed season, Staal responded, "I feel good! Heh! "