As the Carolina Hurricanes enter the 2014-2015 season, they once again find themselves in an familiar situation. Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner will be out of the lineup opening night due to injuries sustained in the preseason. Bill Peters will begin his first season behind the bench as head coach and Ron Francis will be looking on in his first term as General Manager.
Though, what has remained constant is the "C" on Eric Staal’s sweater – well, that and the Hurricanes post-season progress. Carolina’s playoff drought has resulted in rumors of possible re-location to Sin City while owner Peter Karmanos looks for new investors in the team.
Staal assumed the captaincy role in January of the 2010-2011 season from the man who hoisted the one and only Stanley Cup in franchise history, Rod Brind’Amour. The decision paid off soon thereafter as Staal recorded his first hat trick of the season in his first game as captain.
Facing facts, however, the Canes have yet to make the post-season with Staal as captain. There could be various reasons leading to that result, but if the leader isn’t on his game it’s definitely a factor that plays in.
From Carolina’s Stanley Cup campaign up until the 2011-2012 season, Staal tallied at least 70 points each season. Even in the shortened season he produced point-per-game numbers. His cap hit ranks in the top 10 and has the 11th-highest salary in the NHL per CapGeek making him one of the top paid players in the league. Unfortunately, his numbers haven’t showcased his ability to be an elite player recently, as last year was one of the worst in his career.
Criticism has increasingly been lobbed in Staal’s direction as a player who doesn’t show enough effort. "Whether people think that or not, I’m out there competing as hard as I can," Staal told the News and Observer.
After being passed over for the 2014 Canadian Olympic team Staal told the News and Observer, "Does it feel good to get left off the team? No. Am I good enough to be on the team? Yes. I feel I’ve proven that. Do I think they made a mistake in not taking me? I hope to prove that." Staal went on to record just seven goals after the Olympic break.
It’s no secret that the Hurricanes perform better when Staal is at the top of his game. In 2006, Staal recorded 100 points, placing 7th in the category in the NHL. Rod Brind’Amour had the all-around best season of his career in 2006 and helped project the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup. It wasn’t his best year number-wise, but his effort and leadership helped take the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final. So does Staal have to have a career season in order for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs? Not necessarily.
However, it would be beneficial if he can approach his role as captain even more seriously than in the past. It’s been brought up by some fans that he doesn't seem to be the most vocal leader and his effort on the ice doesn’t always show as he seems slow at times when knocked down or during line changes. He also doesn't seem to be the most emotional person, (unless he’s yelling at the referee).
Last season he recorded 36 penalties with 12 of them as tripping infractions. Staal averaged .44 penalties per game. Penalties are going to come no matter what, it’s a part of the game. Mind you, tripping is categorized as one of the most frowned upon minor infractions of the game if they continue to pile up. It sometimes can be a sign of a lackadaisical attitude.
Staal is aware of what he has to do. As a captain he has to meet certain expectations and although they can be overwhelming to meet, he’s put in this position for a reason and he’s had enough time to adapt to his role.
There’s no doubt that the Canes need their captain most right now. It’s also more or less a make or break season for Eric Staal because his contract expires in 2016 and he’s been subject to trade rumors in the past. Carolina's postseason record doesn’t help his situation – he needs to be a Brind’Amour-esque captain, with fire, enthusiasm, and passion.