Through five torturous seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes are slowly crawling out of the hole that they were left in after making their final playoff appearance in 2009. With those aching memories of Alexander Semin and dispiriting loss night after night now in the past, the focus on the future of the organization sets them apart moving forward.
Even with many changes in high-power positions within the franchise after Ron Francis took full reign of the team, change is still imminent.
At the end of the 2009 calendar year, the Hurricanes were at their lowest point as the worst team in the NHL. Well into the New Year of 2010 Eric Staal was called upon to inherit Rod Brind’Amour’s team as captain. As the team was not in good standing at the time, the timing wasn’t necessarily the best for a young captain either.
Now years down the road, this Hurricanes team is moving in a completely different direction that is trending upward and so are many of the young faces on the team. Eric Staal on the other hand? His production has steadily dwindled.
There’s no feel on what the future holds for the elder Staal brother as contract negotiations are still up in the air. Despite unsettled negotiations, there’s no opposing the fact that many fans are displeased with the performance of their once beloved all-star captain and face of the franchise.
How can one argue that his game is visibly different from the way he played as a 21-year-old young gun that totaled a 100-point season? 10 years later at 31, you can’t skate as fast as the young guns that hold your former spot and your body cant take the physical beating it once could - that is unless you’re the ageless Jaromir Jagr.
As this current team continues gain traction and Eric Staal finds himself in the latter half of his career, he still serves as a big body, seasoned veteran presence that is essential to this club. However, it is time to turn the page to a new chapter. And although Eric Staal serves a vital leadership role to his one and only franchise it is time to let a young, exceptional defenseman inherit the team as captain.
From the beginning of the season, Bill Peters and the team have worked on playing a 60-minute game on a consistent basis. It took some line juggling and call-ups, but it appears as though the consistency has found some light. They’ve shown in games against the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, and New Jersey Devils that they have the talent and skill level to put top teams to the test, but struggle to win games or get points when trailing and even times when ahead.
For Justin Faulk, it has been effortless to produce points this season and he should certainly be a top Norris Trophy candidate. Despite his weapon of a slapshot that was drastically improved last year, he’s appeared more defensively aware on the ice compared to last season. He has 45 blocked shots, is 12th in the league for ice time among defenseman with 24:43 per game, leads the league in power play goals with 12, is tied for second on the team with 14 goals and 16 assists and leads the team in points. If he isn’t trending upward, then who is?
The team needs a change of leadershipp, the face of the franchise should be in sync with the direction the team is going and what better time than now? If Eric Staal understands the business side of the game and is content if the hurricanes want to trade him, why trade a still valuable part of the franchise?
"Hopefully they want me to stay here, and if they want to go in a different direction and do different things, then, hey, that’s life. I’ll move on and go from there," Staal said.
He wants to be part of the upward climb of the team and has been. He’s stood as the captain of the team as long as they needed him to be, but he doesn’t fill that need anymore. Justin Faulk does.
Put an "A" on Staal’s sweater, give him a two or three-year contract somewhere around $4 million per year and let him ride out the rest of his career with the team he’s grown with.
Justin Faulk was given the permanent alternate captain imprint at the beginning of the season and has been given the same responsibility in temporary positions, but he’s run with being a leader this season. His game isn’t going to change because of a "C" on his sweater and that’s how it should be. Lead by example on and off the ice, work hard, and the results will come and that is what you see from the 23-year-old former second rounder.
If the Hurricanes want to get over the hump they so desperately need to, they’ll make the decision to make Justin Faulk the sole leader of this team.