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Staal, Brind’Amour Both Exhibit Class In ‘C’ Exchange

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For those of you who are Facebook users, you probably know about "I’m With Coco," a fan page supporting Conan O’Brien in his struggles with NBC over control of "The Tonight Show."

The O'Brien-Jay Leno fiasco has its similarities to veteran Rod Brind`Amour passing on the Hurricanes captaincy to Eric Staal yesterday. But unlike "The Tonight Show" drama, this move doesn't require picking a side, even though some have decided to.

Both situations involve a red-headed up-and-comer pegged to succeed a grizzled veteran best recognized by his unique face — one battle-scarred, the other sporting a jutting chin. Also, there was a clear plan of succession: Leno was told back in 2004 that O’Brien would take over "The Tonight Show" this year, while Staal was openly labeled the future captain as soon as he inked his long-term deal prior to last season.

That's not to say there aren't differences. Leno left "Tonight" at the top of his game, leading the late night ratings over rival David Letterman. In fact, he was more or less forced from the spot when O’Brien was promised the show during his last contract negotiation. Brind`Amour, on the other hand, has slowed the past two seasons, hampered by the accumulating injuries and aging that seemed to avoid him for much of his career. No longer the player he once was — Brind`Amour mentioned to the media Wednesday that the best way for him to lead was to do so on the ice, and playing less than 10 minutes most nights didn't allow him to do so — Carolina's No. 17 agreed with Jim Rutherford to relinquish his captaincy to Staal.

Leno also agreed to let go back in '04, setting off a five-year plan that would leave "Tonight" for O'Brien. But as the time approached to hand over the reins, Leno — still dominating the scene — continued to have the late night bug. In an effort to keep him from heading to a rival network and competing with Conan head to head, NBC hatched a plan that would feature Leno on a new show before O'Brien. When it stumbled, a panicked NBC pulled the plug on both Leno and O'Brien, and today announced that O'Brien had parted ways with NBC, paving the way for Leno's return to "The Tonight Show."

While we're only one day into the Staal captaincy, you can bet there will be no backpedalling by Brind`Amour. Like Leno, he knew years ago that one day this young pup would replace him as the top dog. And while Brind`Amour — or anyone, really — didn't envision it happening in the middle of a season, eight months removed from a visit to the Eastern Conference Finals, he handled the move with the class, dignity and professionalism he has exhibited for 21 years on and off the ice. Was he happy about it? I'd guess no, but Brind`Amour has never been about personal goals, accomplishments or recognition, but rather integrity, the team and, most importantly, the game of hockey.

As for Staal, this could not have been easy. When Brind`Amour took over for Ron Francis as Carolina's captain, the choice and timing was easy. Coming out of the lockout, Francis had retired. Brind`Amour — a long-time wearer of an "A" in Philadelphia and Carolina — was the obvious choice. The Canes were rewarded for that choice when Brind`Amour hoisted the Stanley Cup June 19, 2006, on the RBC Center ice.

Right now, in the middle of perhaps the Hurricanes’ most disastrous season, neither the timing nor the decision was so easy. But Staal — still just 25, but in in his sixth NHL season and seventh professionally — handled the transition with poise and character, surely guided by the lessons learned under both Brind`Amour and Francis.

We won't know until well down the road if naming Staal Carolina's fifth captain and the franchise's 13th was the right move — that starts tonight — and some will always question the timing of the change. One thing we do know is it's not time to pick a camp and argue for it. What's done is done.

The NBC late night battle has those standing behind Jay and others with "Coco." When it comes to Staal and Brind`Amour, I'll just say this: I'm with "Both-O."