Eric Staal hasn’t been this excited about an upcoming NHL season in years.
With younger brother Jordan joining the Carolina Hurricanes fold following a blockbuster draft-day trade with Pittsburgh, Eric said he likes the team’s chances of finding its winning ways once again.
“It’s not only the fact that he’s my brother, but it was a great acquisition. He’s a very good player in the league who was added to our team and it enhances our chances of getting back to the playoffs and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup,” said Eric, who on Tuesday took a practice run with his newest teammate, skating in the annual Thunder Bay Midget Kings alumni game.
“So I was excited about that, and then the opportunity to play with him for years to come was pretty cool.”
The deal, which sent Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and a first-round draft pick back to Pittsburgh, was made public during Jordan’s wedding, just days after he turned down a 10-year, $60-million contract offered by the Penguins – the same deal he later signed with the Hurricanes.
It was an interesting few weeks Jordan said, praising his new bride for being so understanding on her wedding day, the spotlight clearly focused on her star husband.
“I don’t know if it stole the show, but it definitely halted the celebration a little bit,” said Jordan,who was joined in Thunder Bay for his nuptials by teammates Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury.
“But then we got back into what we were really there for and I think (my) wife forgave me for that.”
Jordan, with a Penguins sticker still on his helmet, said he knew agreeing to a deal with Pittsburgh likely meant he’d never play with his oldest brother, one of the main reasons he turned the original offer down.
“There’s obviously no better place I’d rather be, if I’m not playing for the Penguins, than playing for Carolina. I’m very happy about that,” he said.
“It kind of happened that way,” he added, when questioned why he signed the same deal with Carolina he’d rejected from Pittsburgh days earlier.
“I wanted to be (in Carolina) for a long time, and to play alongside Eric is a very unique opportunity and I’m very excited about the future.”
Jordan, who did not realize June 22 was the NHL draft when planning his wedding, said he’d heard rumblings the Hurricanes might be interested in acquiring his services. But even as the rumours persisted, he tried his best to ignore them.
Eric, who scored 24 goals and added 46 assists in a season that started slow and finished strong, said he had nothing to do with the trade.
It was all general manager Jim Rutherford’s doing, he said.
“I knew there was an opportunity for our team to make a pitch for him. I knew Pittsburgh wanted him to stay. There’s a lot of different things that went along … Ultimately Jim had to make the trade and he did and we’re fortunate to be able to grab him and keep him there a long time.”
Jordan Staal, who missed 20 games to injury last season, still managed to score 25 goals and collect 50 points for the Penguins.
But with Evgeni Malkin winning the scoring title and Sidney Crosby looking like the best player on the planet after his return from a concussion, the trade offered Jordan a chance to spread his hockey wings.
“I thought I did get a lot of good opportunities in Pittsburgh, especially with Sid out the last couple of years … As a player you want to keep pushing yourself and see what you can do and I know that opportunity is there in Carolina and hopefully I can really take advantage of it and show the league what I can do.”
He thinks he’s up for the challenge, though he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on himself coming to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, when his own Penguins eliminated Carolina in the conference final en route to his one and only Stanley Cup win.
“I don’t know about savior, but I’m definitely going to try to do my best to get that team back to the playoffs. And with the great players we have on the team, I think we can find a way to do it.”
Asked if they’d like to lock up a fourth Staal – youngest brother Jared split last season between the Hurricanes AHL and ECHL farm teams – Jordan deferred the question to older brother Marc, a defenceman with the New York Rangers.
Indeed the question was posed to the injured Marc Staal, recovering from a foot injury suffered against New Jersey in the Eastern Conference final.
The answer might not please most Carolina fans.
“No, I’m fine where I am. I’m happy where I am.”
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