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Are Eric Staal's Better Days Behind Him?

There is no denying that this was not a typical Eric Staal season, it was rather poor for him. Because of that and the Hurricanes yet again missing the playoffs, there is plenty of speculation that he could be on the move. But the question is whether this was just a bad season for him or is this the start of his decline? I look at some comparable players that had similar seasons and how they responded.

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

I've recently read a couple of comments that seems to indicate that some people believe Eric Staal is done and is no longer a 1st line center. They've said his points are in decline and he might not get back to where he use to be. I'm sorry, but I find this line of thought rather ridiculous. He had a poor season, a bad one for him, but that doesn't mean he's done! He's coming off a pretty serious knee injury, his typical line mates also entered the season with some injuries and it's rumored he and the coach might not have been seeing eye to eye. These are excuses and they really don't matter, but they can possibly explain why Eric's production dropped off so much this year.

He scored 61 points in 79 games, which was 9 points lower than his worst full season since his rookie year. But those 61 points were still tops on the Hurricanes and ranked in the top 50 in the NHL. And even though he had a "down year," he still outproduced Olympians like James van Riemsdyk, Henrik Sedin, Jeff Carter and others. If you want to argue about his leadership and his perceived quitting on the coach, ok, that's debatable. If you want to bring up his work ethic or lack of hustle on the ice, I can understand that. You can even complain that he isn't the best fit for this team and the younger players need a more prominent role, that's at least a logical argument. But to say he needs to be traded because he's done and isn't a 1st line player anymore is simply ludicrous.

So to support my argument, I thought I would do a little research and see if any other high profile players recently had bad seasons and were able to recover the following year. I tried to focus on guys that were around 0.90 PPG or higher (guys around Eric's career level), who suddenly had a bad season, but were able to rebound the next season. Here are some of the players I found. I decided to include only guys that were 2014 Olympians to limit the article. They had to be around or above 0.90 PPG, then drop off, then recover the next season. But let's start off with the Canes Captain, Eric Staal.

Eric Staal

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
12/13 48 18 35 53 +5 1.10
13/14 79 21 40 61 -13 0.77

Obviously this is a pretty significant drop off and Eric did to figure out how to be better. The biggest thing has to be his goal numbers, which have reached the 30 goal mark in the past 3 seasons. The thing that stands out to me is Staal's shot totals. Since Muller arrived, it seems like Eric style of play has changed from goal scorer to more of a playmaking role. In 10/11, he scored 33 goals and averaged 3.96 shots per game. That declined to 3.20 in 11/12 to 3.17 in 12/13 to 2.91 this year. I believe that if Staal can get back to shooting the puck, his goal and assist production will increase and I think it will also improve his on-ice demeanor.

Ryan Getzlaf

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
10/11 67 19 57 76 +14 1.13
11/12 82 11 46 57 -11 0.70
12/13 44 15 34 49 +14 1.11

As you can see, Getzlaf was quite productive in 10/11 even though he missed some time with a facial injury. 11/12 was not the same story. The whole Anaheim team struggled and Getzlaf was front and center. The team went through a coaching change and that did improve things, but it was still rough year. There was even a lot of rumors that Getzlaf was going to be traded. But Anaheim kept him and when the lockout ended, Getzlaf's game returned to a high level. Just over a month into the 12/13 season, the Ducks ended up extending him for 8 years at $8.25 million per season. Getzlaf has put his bad season in the rear view and was 2nd in the NHL in points this season.

Patrick Kane

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
10/11 73 27 46 73 +7 1.00
11/12 82 23 43 66 +7 0.80
12/13 47 23 32 55 +11 1.17

The former #1 overall pick has always been a supremely talented player, but one that also makes some questionable decisions. Kane and the Blackhawks were riding high coming into the 10/11 season, winning the Stanley Cup and Kane scoring the Finals winner. He had a pretty successful year, average a point per game. But things were as good in 11/12. Kane saw his stats decline and there were some rumors the Hawks could help solve their cap situation by trading Kane. They didn't and Kane rebounded, leading Chicago in points and helping them win their second Stanley Cup in 4 seasons.

Alex Ovechkin

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
10/11 79 32 53 85 +24 1.08
11/12 78 38 27 65 -8 0.83
12/13 48 32 24 56 +2 1.17

If you compare these 3 seasons to the Alex's previous 3, they could all be down years. But 10/11 was a year that Washington was the top team in the East and Ovechkin played well. But they failed again in the playoffs and the following season started out rough. They ended up firing their coach and while the did make the playoffs in 11/12, Ovechkin's production took a dip and it was rumored their were problems with the interim coach. The Capitals hired Adam Oates in summer of 2012 and after a slow start, things got better. Washington won the Southeast Division and Ovechkin's point production increased while winning the Hart Trophy.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
09/10 76 41 44 85 +10 1.12
10/11 81 31 29 60 -26 0.74
11/12 77 37 46 83 -9 1.08

Kovalchuk was actually traded during the 09/10 season and while he produced better in Atlanta, he was still a PPG player in New Jersey. The Devils started the 10/11 season very bad, Zach Parise got injured early on and they only won 9 of their first 33 games. John MacLean (now a Canes assistant) was fired and Kovalchuk ended up having his worst season in the NHL. New Jersey hired a new coach to start the 11/12 season, Parise returned and Kovalchuk had marked improvement in all aspects to his game. The Devils made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but lost in 6 games to the Kings.

Corey Perry

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
10/11 82 50 48 98 +9 1.20
11/12 80 37 23 60 -7 0.75
12/13 44 15 21 36 +10 0.82

The 10/11 season was quite a season for Corey Perry and he ended up taking home the Hart Trophy. But as with Getzlaf, 11/12 was a different story. The Ducks struggled, changed coaches and Perry saw his numbers take a dive. But Bruce Boudreau got his system in place and when the lockout ended, the Ducks were back to being a top team in the league. Perry's numbers only increased slightly, but they did increase. And they continued to increase this season, as he averaged 1.01 PPG. He like Getzlaf's also got a huge contract a coming off a "down" season, 8 years at $8.625 million per year.

Martin St. Louis

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
03/04 82 38 56 94 +35 1.15
05/06 80 31 30 61 -3 0.76
06/07 82 43 59 102 +7 1.24

03/04 was a great year for Marty and the Lightning. He was the points leader in the NHL, won the Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup. But the NHL was locked out the next season and when the league opened back up for business, St. Louis struggled. He actually dropped from 1st in the league in 03/04 to 4th on his own team in 05/06, 30 points behind Brad Richards. In the 06/07 season, Marty rediscovered his touch and points started flowing. He increased his point total by 41 and finished 5th in the league. Since then, he was been consistently around or above the PPG pace while getting closer to 40 years old.

Patrick Marleau

Season Games Goals Assists Points +/- PPG
06/07 77 32 46 78 +9 1.01
07/08 78 19 29 48 -19 0.61
08/09 76 38 33 71 +16 0.91

The Sharks had been one of the top regular season teams in the league for a couple of years and Marleau captain of the team and coming off his best season. 06/07 continued with the Sharks being real good and Marleau producing well. Then 07/08 happened and Marleau's had his lowest point totals in 01/02 and didn't score 20 goals for the first time since 99/00. There were a lot of trade rumors involving Marleau and the Sharks fired their coach in the 2008 offseason. Marleau got back on track under the new coach, registering just under 40 goals and increasing his points by 23. Since then, he has been stripped of the captaincy and put together one of his better seasons. He isn't producing quite to the level of his heyday anymore, but is still in the 0.80 PPG range.

Basically what I'm trying to get across here is that very good to elite players can have a poor season and it doesn't necessarily mean they are in decline. Maybe they were just unlucky, maybe they were fighting through an injury, maybe their were other factors or maybe it's a culmination of many things that affect his on-ice performance? I just wouldn't be so quickly to give up on Eric Staal. Maybe the Hurricanes/Whalers #2 all-time scorer deserves a little benefit of the doubt. Could he have lost a step and will never be the same player, it's certainly possible. But again, it also just could have been a bad season because of a multitude of factors. I guess we'll really find out next year, but will Eric Staal be scoring for the Canes or against them?