The Eric Staal era with the Carolina Hurricanes is over.
The Canes on Sunday finally made the move that had been anticipated for some time, trading their captain to the New York Rangers in exchange for Finnish prospect Aleksi Saarela and second round picks in the 2016 and 2017 NHL Drafts.
Staal, 31, had served as the Canes' captain for the past six years, assuming the mantle from Rod Brind'Amour on January 20, 2010. In his six years as captain, the Canes underwent near-continual upheaval, cycling through three coaches while failing to make the playoffs in any of those seasons.
Despite the challenges, Staal grew into the role. Never one to be a fiery leader, Staal instead led by example, learning at the feet of his predecessor while putting his own stamp on the organization. Later in his career, as his production declined, Staal found himself bouncing around the lineup, including a stint playing wing on a line centered by his brother Jordan.
A Stanley Cup champion at age 21, Staal put down roots in the Triangle early in his career and often spoke of his desire to remain a member of the Hurricanes with trade winds swirling around him. He and his wife have raised three young boys while in Raleigh, and he always was instrumental in community efforts through the Canes' Kids and Community Foundation as well as through his "Eric's Entourage" program for disadvantaged youth, which eventually morphed into the Staal Family Foundation shared with Jordan.
Staal's production declined in recent years. The two-time 40-goal scorer did not hit double digits in goals this year until last Tuesday against the Flyers, the latest it has taken Staal to reach ten goals since his rookie season in 2004. His 33 points are also on pace to be a low mark since his rookie year. Despite that, Staal has proven to be a clutch playoff performer, which the Rangers are counting on as they make their push to the postseason.
More will be forthcoming on this deal in the next few days. The Canes could still move other players before Monday's 3:00 deadline, but with Staal now elsewhere, the long-awaited remake of the Carolina Hurricanes has finally begun in earnest.
The release from the team is below.
CANES ACQUIRE SAARELA, PICKS FOR ERIC STAAL
Rangers send second-round selections in 2016 and 2017 to Carolina
Ron Francis, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has acquired center Aleksi Saarela (al-EHX-ay sah’ah-REH-lah), a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft from the New York Rangers in exchange for center Eric Staal.
"Eric has been the face of this franchise for a long time, and we thank him for his dedication, leadership and many contributions on and off the ice over the years," said Francis. "We felt this was an important opportunity for us to continue our work in building an organization that can consistently compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs."
Saarela, 19, currently plays for Assat Pori of the Finnish elite league, SM-liiga, leading the team in goals (18) and ranking second in points (31) in 46 games played. The Helsinki native won a gold medal alongside fellow Hurricanes prospect Sebastian Aho at the 2016 World Junior Championship, totaling four goals and three assists (7 points) in seven games. New York’s third-round selection, 89th overall, in the 2015 NHL Draft, Saarela has totaled 47 points (25g, 22a) in 156 games during parts of four seasons with Lukko Rauma and Assat Pori in Finland’s top league.
Staal leaves the Hurricanes as the team’s all-time leader during its North Carolina history (since 1997) in games played (909), goals (322), assists (453), points (775), hat tricks (13), penalty minutes (674), power-play goals (105), shorthanded goals (16) and game-winning goals (47). He ranks second to only Francis in franchise history (since 1979) in goals, assists, points and power-play goals, ranks first in franchise history in shorthanded goals and hat tricks and third in games played. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff scoring (43 points), and led the team with 28 points (9g, 19a) during its 25-game run to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship. He represented Carolina at four NHL All-Star Games, serving as captain of Team Staal at the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, and being named the 2008 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in Atlanta. The Hurricanes drafted Staal in the first round, second overall, in the 2003 NHL Draft.