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Should Eric Staal Play Wing Or Center?

Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis was recently quoted as "liking him at left winger."

Eric Staal fires up the crowd in Carolina
Eric Staal fires up the crowd in Carolina
Kevin C. Cox

Eric Staal has played in 769 regular season games for the Carolina Hurricanes and has racked up 668 points so far in his career.  Add in 43 more points scored in 43 career playoff games and he has done a lot of damage while wearing the sightless eye.

Most of those points were scored while playing center.

Staal has played center throughout almost all of his career and racked up 209 points in 185 OHL games as well as 77 more points in 77 AHL games, at the same position.

The exception to that was while participating in the 2010 Olympics, he played left wing mostly with Sidney Crosby as his center and Rick Nash at right wing.  Staal totaled six points in seven games as Team Canada won the gold medal.

When Jim Rutherford acquired Jordan Staal, the general consensus around the league was that the Canes had just solidified the middle of their ice for many years to come.

But something went wrong.

During the past couple of years, the Hurricanes were not as dominant at center ice as they thought they might be.  Last season, in an effort to find some type of consistent line chemistry, coach Kirk Muller moved Eric to Jordan's wing for a few games to see what would happen.

One might think that the brothers would have instant chemistry together, but nothing much happened with that combination either.  While Eric and Jordan played about 85 even strength minutes together, not very long in the grand scheme of things, Eric did not score a goal during that time, and just totaled two points overall.

The powerplay was not any better.  The Captain scored a career low, one powerplay goal all season long, and spent plenty of time playing alongside his brother.

(stats from Dobber Hockey and Extra Skater)

It seems Eric is more comfortable and plays better while at center ice, but new Carolina GM Ron Francis was recently quoted as saying that he likes him at left wing.

"Francis added he liked seeing the captain as a left winger because it makes it easier to double-shift him around the lineup. This was one of the most interesting parts of the conversation. Asked what he's looking forward to hearing from coaching candidates, the first thing he said was, "Line pairings." He wants to hear how the interviewees would structure the roster, particularly the forward lines. "It's more about finding good pairs," he said. That way you can be flexible with the third man."

The preceding was taken from Elliotte Friedman's "30 Thoughts", which is always worth a read.

Friedman also asked about Staal's future in Carolina and Francis answered, "it depends upon the budget".

When I enquired about Eric Staal's future, the GM replied, "It depends on our budget." He could say that about a few players. Those numbers should be known in the next week or so.

Now before anyone gets too excited or upset, I believe our GM was referring to Staal's future contract.  The captain's contract is up in two years, meaning he will need a new deal.  Will the Canes have the funds to re-sign him, or should they let him walk?  (Again, another topic for another day).  Staal's performance this coming season may help to determine the future "budget" numbers.

I'm not sure what Friedman refers to when he says the "numbers should be known in the next week or so."  Staal's salary for next season is already a part of the budget.  I am sure the new GM is not going to make a trade simply to remove Staal's salary from the books when he can buy out Ward or can adjust other salaries to make the numbers fit the budget in other ways.

But back to the main point of the article.  Should Eric Staal stay at center, where he has had most of the success in his career, or should he play at wing?