The hockey media loves to stir things up when things are going bad.
Eric Staal learned that first-hand last season, as both he and the Carolina Hurricanes team he captains struggled in the opening weeks of the NHL season.
After a three-point performance against Washington in the second game of his eighth campaign, Staal’s offence fell apart. He collected just two points in his next 14 games and the pundits were saying it might be time for a change for Thunder Bay’s hockey hero.
However, the 27-year-old said a trade was never in the cards.
“I think honestly that was just a lot of talk,” Staal said recently. “That’s kind of what happens when you have the start I had. Your name starts to swirl in certain areas with certain things and that’s life. That’s this game,” he said.
With five points in his first 16 games, Staal was looking anything but the Olympian he was just a year-and-a-half before.
But then, as the Christmas season swung into full force, GM Jim Rutherford decided enough was enough. With the Hurricanes struggling under coach Paul Maurice, Rutherford lowered the boom, replacing him with ex-NHL star Kirk Muller, giving him his first NHL coaching job.
The move spurred on both the Hurricanes and Staal, who Muller quickly restored confidence in, outlining the role he expected from his veteran captain.
Staal finished strong, essentially becoming a point-a-game player the rest of the way, winding up with 24 goals and 46 assists in 82 contests.
Now, with brother Jordan joining the Canes in a draft-day trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed to a lengthy 10-year, $60-million deal, older brother Eric won’t be going anywhere.
He’s good with that scenario.
“I’m excited about where are team is headed. We’ve added another good player with Jordan and hopefully we can add some more. There’s still talk about adding a player to enhance our lineup. So I’m excited to start the season,” Staal said.
That player came weeks later, in the form of ex-Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin, who signed a one-year deal to join a team that hasn’t tasted post-season play since 2009, the year the Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference final.
How much does Staal want to win?
Well, when the free agent season was in full bloom, and Zach Parise was still everyone’s top priority, Staal took it upon himself to make a personal plea on behalf of his team.
“I ended up getting his number and just fired him a text to see if he was interested. I knew he had a big decision to make. I thought it wouldn’t hurt. To try to land a player like that you have to reach out sometimes. I tried that. It never led to anything as far as giving a pitch as far as how good Carolina is. He found a home in Minnesota and is happy there,” Staal said.
It also says a lot about just how close he thinks the Hurricanes are to returning to contention.
With brother Jordan in tow, stars like Jeff Skinner ready to rebound and all-star Cam Ward in net, Staal said he’s convinced the team is only a player or two away from being a beast of the east – and that was before Semin made Raleigh, N.C. his new home.
“There’s no question. If you look at our team, you look at our lineup, you look at the people we have in place, if we can add just a little bit more we’ll be right there with those teams. They’re working hard to do that and for me I hope we’re able to add another elite player to the team and make us real dangerous once the season starts.”
In 642 career games, Staal has 250 goals and 324 assists, all with the Hurricanes.
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