Let’s not kid ourselves, Eric Staal was one of the best players ever to don a Carolina Hurricanes sweater. The Canes Country Staff voted on it and his franchise stats speak for themselves. Staal is a very good hockey player, which is why he’s been resurrected with the Minnesota Wild. But what was best for Staal and the Hurricanes franchise was to move on.
It had become uneasy to have Staal around. It seemed like the team was going nowhere with him despite the numbers he was able to put up consistently. They hadn’t claimed a playoff berth in his time as captain. He lost that jump in his stride that he had when he was 22 years old. Ten years later you won't have the same jump, but he seemed to be missing the drive he once had. Now with a fresh start in Minnesota he’s had a little more jump in his stride.
Once he left, other players gained a larger leadership role like his brother Jordan, Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner, and Victor Rask. Ever since the turnover in leadership, in just over a year, the Hurricanes have scored seven or more goals three times. Last year the team averaged 2.39 goals per game; this year, that number has increased to 2.54 per game. Although it’s not a humongous increase, it's significant enough to show that the Hurricanes’ offense is faring well without Staal.
Production wise, seven players finished last season on the Hurricanes roster with 30 or more points. Right now, eight players currently have 30 or more, and there are still 15 games left in the season.
Although Skinner has lost and retained the ‘A’ this season, he has been the best Hurricanes player and has led by example well. He currently has 45 points and leads the team in goals with 23, but rookie Sebastian Aho is on his tail with 20. Every time Skinner is on the ice, you can feel his presence from your living room if you’re watching at home. Skinner can find himself in good positions and create good chances even if they don’t work, but it’s the reason he has 222 shots on goal. He’s able to work both ends of the ice as he’s 13th in takeaways this season with 54. Skinner has been able to find his game again, and he looks like the 2011 Calder Trophy winner again. How much of that can be chalked up to Staal’s departure is open for debate, but the end result isn't in question.
Someone who has been able to show leadership without it being asked of him is Slavin. This season he’s second in the league in takeaways and recorded his first career hat trick against the New York Islanders. Slavin can read the game of hockey so well and can get in position and never seems to make huge mistakes.
In Staal’s time with the Hurricanes as captain, they never once made a playoff appearance. Bill Peters’ leadership has this team trending in the right direction as they were in playoff contention for most of the season despite never finding their way into the Wild Card position.
Without Staal, the team has become more well rounded as the younger guys have began running the ship. Their efforts came close to a playoff berth, but they still need a little more time. Moving on from Staal was difficult, but necessary. It was the best thing for this franchise and his departure continues to have impacts throughout the organization.