It seems as if criticism comes most often when expectations are not met. We set the bar either too high or too low for individuals, but in rare cases that bar is set right where it should be. Eventually though, that bar then becomes the plateau of performance.
What we tend to point out in most players’ careers are the numbers in the goals and assists columns. And who’s to blame? It’s a game based primarily on a score sheet with the sole purpose of putting as many pucks in the net as it takes to win games.
When expectations are blown out of proportion, it is often that the bad overshadows the good. Jordan Staal stepped off the plane at RDU airport in 2012 and was immediately saddled with the obligation of being alternate captain. I understand that he was a captain in Pittsburgh and he’s the captain’s brother, but Martin St. Louis wasn’t handed a ‘C’ when he was dealt to the New York Rangers in exchange for their captain. Not only did it seem like a questionable decision on management’s part, but were there really no other candidates in the locker room? He was given a captain role without playing a game in a Hurricanes jersey. It’s nothing against Jordan, but the ‘Canes were asking way too much from this guy far too soon.
After eight seasons in the league, Jordan Staal’s performance was head-scratching to some last season as he recorded only 15 goals and 25 assists for 40 points. With that sub-par performance, some believe he will not live up to the $60 million 10-year contract extension he was given in 2012.
However, excessive number crunching can misrepresent how well a player fills his role. Ron Francis may have a different plan in mind but Jim Rutherford said if Jordan is a 20+ goal scorer, then they’re getting what they paid for. Some may argue Rutherford overvalues a player’s worth, but he did something right in 2006.
Nevertheless, Staal’s production numbers have not been up to par, but is he really the one to blame? Not to takeaway anything from his linemates, but he hasn’t really had wingers who compliment his abilities. Staal’s assist numbers speak for themselves showing he can make the play happen, but it’s not a two-way street.
According to Left Wing Lock, Staal was paired with Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer most frequently at 9.78% going up against other team’s top lines at even strength.
If the Hurricanes are looking to muster more point production out of him, Staal needs linemates who can feed him the puck now and again. Ideally the line of Staal centering Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner could be a deadly weapon assuming Lindholm and Skinner’s chemistry maintains its consistency. Lindholm appeared to have adapted to the pros a little better after his short stint with the Checkers in the AHL. Staal and Lindholm have been highly regarded to play a solid two-way game and that could work in the team’s favor if put together. In several instances, Lindholm showed the ability to create plays for others while also showing the ability to finish plays as well. He’s also three days younger than me.
Although Staal seemed to fit his shutdown role like a glove or perhaps Richard Sherman, his purpose on the team may alter going in to next season. Without much change to the overall roster, head coach Bill Peters is determined to make changes as far as team performance is concerned. Jordan is a jack-of-all-trades and shouldn’t be limited to being the teams’ primary shutdown center.
On one hand, he could be used as the team’s first line center with Alex Semin on his right and his brother, Eric, on his left. In this case, Tlusty would drop down a line with Jeff Skinner on the left wing centered by Elias Lindholm, who had a faceoff percentage of 46.3. With room for improvement on the faceoff dot, it could be a viable option. Jordan also proved he can be just as good at winning faceoffs as his brother with a 52.7 faceoff percentage while Eric had a 54.4%.
General Manager Ron Francis stated that he liked seeing Eric at left wing because it makes him easier to double shift through the lineup. Although production numbers weren’t very high while the brothers were paired together, it takes time for lines to mesh even if they are family. If in fact he does get assigned on the production line with his brother and Semin, his playmaking role will likely stay the same but he will definitely have a scoring role as well. It’s a scenario that’s not out the window yet.
The aforementioned lineup of Jordan centering Lindholm and Skinner on the first line could light up the scoreboard just as much as the first. It’s safe to say they’re a line with organic chemistry as a handful of goals came off of each others’ stick. Jordan knows he’s capable of feeding the puck to Skinner and Lindholm when given an opportunity. If Jordan’s line is still given the responsibility to shut down other teams’ top players, this trio is the one to do it. Skinner’s two-way play could use a little work but it won’t improve if he isn’t given the opportunity.
While also filling special team obligations Jordan Staal has the ability to center a line that can produce while also shutting down opposing top players. He can be effective defensively with his long reach averaging .62 takeaways per game last season while that long reach can also help puck protection.
Using him properly in the lineup and assigning him with linemates that can get the job done like he can is critical to get every dollar out of the 25-year-old Canadian. Staal an unselfish two-way center who makes his linemates better and with a plus-2 rating at the end of his season his role of being a shutdown center shouldn’t be taken for granted. Despite having lower production numbers than anticipated, he still managed to play at a high level. He led the team in hits with 194.
As the direction of the team shifts into a new era, can we expect Jordan to do the same?