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How Jordan Staal Stacks Up as a Top-Line Center

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The Canes’ top center proved to be the team’s best two-way player in 2016-2017. Looking inside the numbers, he compares favorably to some much bigger names.

Jamie Kellner

Last week, we reviewed the season of Carolina Hurricanes alternate captain Jordan Staal. In the non-goaltending department, Staal may be the most polarizing player on the Hurricanes’ roster, due in large part to his contract, which pays him $6 million per year through 2023, the highest salary on the team.

For that kind of money, many believe that Staal is not a true number one center, and should have more points in addition to his defensive responsibilites, which are largely above reproach. However, after looking into the numbers, it may be that the criticism of Jordan Staal might largely stem from the fact that “Staal” is his last name.

Let’s look at three top line centers, who all missed games for injury this past season. Their raw stats are in a table below, including points per game (in all situations), points per 60 minutes (at 5-on-5), and goals-for percentage; a GF% over 50% means that the player was on the ice for more goals for than goals against.

Player Comparison

Statistic Player A Player B Player C
Statistic Player A Player B Player C
Age 29 28 34
Games Played 76 75 80
Goals 12 16 18
Assists 40 29 40
Points 52 45 58
Points per Game 0.68 0.6 0.73
Points/60 1.38 1.93 1.4
Corsi for Percentage 54.6% 56.2% 49.7%
Goals for Percentage 47.6% 51.2% 60.0%
Faceoff Percentage 52.7% 59.1% 55.2%

Player C is the weakest possession player but performed the best on the stat sheet. With .73 points per game he beat out players A and B but the 1.4 points/60 shows that these are likely due to increased power play usage. Player C also had the worst possession numbers, but the best goals for percentage, suggesting that he is on the ice in the defensive zone but leads a counter attack.

Player B has the weakest total scoring numbers, with only 0.6 goals per game and seven fewer points than the second-place player. With 1.92 points/60 and a 56.2 cf%, however, he was the most effective of the three players at scoring and driving possession at even strength. Though player B had fewer goals, he drives more offense and shots than either of the other players in this comparison.

Player A is a combination of both players B and C. Player A has the second most points and is second best in possession. Where player A falls behind is in goals for and faceoff percentage. Player A was on the ice for more goals against and was the worst in the circles.

So, who’s who, and what are their contracts?

  • Player A is the reigning Selke Trophy winner, the Los Angeles KingsAnze Kopitar, who has a $10 million cap hit through 2024 and was the highest-paid player in the NHL (in terms of salary) last season.
  • Player B is Jordan Staal who, as mentioned earlier, has a $6 million cap hit through 2023.
  • Player C is 2017 Selke finalist Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild, who has a $6.75 million cap hit through 2018.

Staal has the lowest cap hit of the three, with a cap hit $4 million less than Kopitar and a contract that ends a year before Kopitar’s (who is also a year older than Staal). Now that contract doesn’t seem quite as outrageous, does it?

On top of the stats broken down above, Staal also plays a huge role for the Canes when killing penalties. He led the team in shorthanded shots (15), shorthanded faceoff wins (79), and ranked second in shorthanded takeaways (11). His impact is extremely visible: during the seven games he missed this season, the Canes went 2-3-2 earning just six points in seven games.

All of this is to say that the Carolina Hurricanes are a quantifiably worse team without Jordan Staal on the roster. He may not blow you away with extremely high point totals, but he is a player that’s going to push 50 points every season, dominate the faceoff circle, and lead the penalty kill. It’s hard to ask for more than that from one player without getting into the upper reaches of NHL forwards.

Canes fans should be mad that Staal isn’t a Selke finalist this season. His value to the team goes beyond a contract value. Whether he’s the prototypical top-line center is almost beside the point, because he is the linchpin for all the other forward roles on the team, and without him the Canes simply aren’t the same team.