When Hurricanes captain Eric Staal was dealt to the New York Rangers just before the trade deadline on February 29, the team was left with three alternate captains for the remainder of the season. Justin Faulk’s injury left the primary leadership spotlight on the former captain’s brother, Jordan Staal. Faulk and Staal have proven their leadership on the ice, so who will be the next Hurricanes player to don the "C?"
Staal joined the Hurricanes in June of 2012 after a peculiarly timed trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins during his wedding. As if that alone didn’t make for an odd transition, the following regular season didn’t begin until January due to the lockout, and he only had half a season to get his settle in with his new team.
In his first year with the Hurricanes, Staal didn’t adjust as well as expected. The season was cut to 48 games, giving the center a short timetable to get comfortable. He managed to play all 82 games the following season and put up decent numbers, but he certainly performed under the threshold of what fans had expected of him considering the price the team paid, extending his contract by 10 years at $6 million per.
After suffering a broken leg in the 2014-15 pre-season, Staal played 46 games and only recorded 6 goals and 18 assists. However, after a summer of rehab and getting back on a regular schedule, Staal came into the 2015 season with everything to gain.
His 2015-2016 numbers of 20 goals and 28 assists don’t do him justice. The line of Staal, Joakim Nordstrom, and Andrej Nestrasil was the most efficient line on the team with 17 goals for and 11 goals against. Staal was also exceptional in the faceoff circle, securing 57.8 percent of his faceoffs, helping the Hurricanes finish second in the league with an overall faceoff percentage of 53.7 percent.
Justin Faulk, for whom there is also a viable argument to be made as deserving of captaincy, was blistering hot to start the season. His first 12 goals were scored on the power play, which kept him at tops in the league for goals on the man advantage for the majority of the season. Faulk finally recorded his first even-strength goal on December 26 against the New Jersey Devils. He also managed to lead the team in scoring until his injury.
His play since developing in the organization has shown that the 24-year-old isn’t even close to his ceiling. If not for his injury, he would be looking at a 50-plus point season. Faulk’s production and leadership on the ice have given the team a hopeful outlook for the future.
But what if naming Staal, Faulk, or any other player the permanent captain isn’t right for them like it wasn’t for Eric? It’s certainly not ideal to strip two of your players of captaincy and keep them both in the franchise, as San Jose did with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, although it worked out pretty well with some minor kinks.
The right approach might be to follow a similar path taken by the Minnesota Wild, who never settled on a captain until almost a decade into the franchise’s existence. Prior to Mikko Koivu’s permanent selection in 2009-10, the captain’s "C" was rotated on a monthly basis. The Wild have made the playoffs the last four years under Koivu’s leadership.
If the Hurricanes were to implement a similar model, what would the rotation of captaincy look like? Certainly Staal and Faulk would be the pick of the litter, along with veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey. Despite his injury flaws, Jeff Skinner stepped up the intensity of his play after the captain left for the Big Apple and finished first in team scoring, so he would another candidate.
Should Noah Hanifin also be considered as a dignified young man who carries himself well and plays a mature game at 19 years old? Victor Rask is as cool as a cucumber, and he’s a very collected individual that doesn’t say much but can always be expected to show up in an impactful way on the ice.
The rotating captaincy has worked well for the Wild and could be the best option for the Hurricanes as the team is still trying to find out who fits best in that role and sharpens its identity going forward.