Carolina Hurricanes: Will Eric Staal Return in the Offseason?

Feb 26, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal (12) watches against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena. The Boston Bruins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal (12) watches against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena. The Boston Bruins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the Carolina Hurricanes and their former captain Eric Staal cross paths once again this offseason?

Just over a week ago the Canes traded longtime captain, and franchise center, Eric Staal to the New York Rangers for former 89th overall pick (2015) Aleksi Saarela and two future second round draft picks. An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Staal will be shopping for a new contract this summer.

The Eric Staal trade is the franchise’s biggest statement since the Jordan Staal acquisition on draft day in 2012. It is General Manager Ron Francis’ defining move; the man of few words has finally put his mark on this Hurricanes team. The move, while heavily anticipated, still leaves the team without their franchise leader, and without an identity.

The Canes had been in the playoff hunt for the better part of three months, which made Francis’ job as the general manager of a rebuilding team very difficult. Does he sell away the anchor of his team for the promise of long term future success? Or would the fan base and young team benefit more from a playoff berth in what has been an impressive season?

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Ron Francis and his camp did nothing to tip their hand leading up to the trade deadline. Two decisive losses to Eastern Conference teams and a season ending back injury to forward Andrej Nestrasil, all within a matter of days, certainly made his decision easier. Just hours before the Hurricanes took the ice at PNC Arena against the St. Louis Blues on February 28th, news broke that captain Eric Staal had been traded.

During the intermission of the emotional matinee game, Ron Francis

addressed the media

regarding the blockbuster trade and the future direction of the franchise.

Francis revealed during that interview that he and Eric’s agent had been in conversation going back to last summer, but that they ultimately could not agree on contract


. Francis went on to say that he didn’t think Eric would have a problem fulfilling his wishes with another team in the offseason. So why is that relatively short answer so telling?

Because Francis seems to insinuate that he, the GM, expects Eric to ultimately sign a medium to long range contract elsewhere in the offseason. He indicates that contract talks were active, but we can read into his statements that the Canes were looking for a short term contract, while the 31-year-old center was pushing for a longer term contract.

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Captain Eric Staal was having a bit of a down season in terms of offensive production, with just 10 goals and 33 points through 63 games. For perspective, Staal has had two seasons with more than 80 points, and five seasons with 70 points or better in his twelve seasons with Carolina. He has been trending down significantly in offensive production since an impressive 53 points in 48 games in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season.

While Eric’s value as the team leader and franchise face is unparalleled, his recent play was just not sharp enough for Francis to grant him a long term contract extension that would likely have keep him in Raleigh until his retirement. Perhaps Staal will be rejuvenated by the move to a Stanley Cup contending team, and that will lead to an increased offensive output. This could sway Francis to entertain a longer term deal with his former franchise player and friend. A rejuvenated Eric Staal, though, would likely go for a much higher premium on the free agent market than Francis is likely willing to pay.

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All things considered, Eric Staal’s return to a Hurricanes team that is dedicated to a youthful rebuild is doubtful, as both parties involved would need to change their expectations regarding future contract parameters. Ron Francis would likely have to grant Eric a longer term deal, while Eric would have to return to the team making significantly less money; maybe even less than his brother. This summer will be an entertaining one for Hurricanes fans, and whether or not Eric will be in the middle of the action remains to be seen.