The Carolina Hurricanes faceoff with the Minnesota Wild for the first time this season, marking the first time Eric Staal visits Raleigh this season.
It may not be the first time Eric Staal returns to PNC Arena to play the Carolina Hurricanes, but this Thursday feels a little different than last time. Last season, when he returned with the New York Rangers, he was still slumping. That was then and this is now. Staal is now helping lead his Minnesota Wild to top spot in the Western Conference.
His resurgence has lent itself to the opinion that Staal needed a change of scenery from Carolina. The fact that Staal is one of the main men of a serious Cup contender shows the quality he still possesses. Perhaps Canes fans are left with a sour taste that he is finally finding success after two and a half years of not. It is good to see the old Eric Staal back though. But it begs the question, is Staal the best Hurricane of all-time?
To be clear, we are looking at just the Carolina Hurricanes. In franchise history, there is no doubt Ron Francis is king. His time in Raleigh was shorter, relatively less successful than his Hartford days, but still worthy of being in the top 3 all-time Canes players. In truth, this competition is between Staal and Rod Brind’Amour.
Staal Has Records
In just about every offensive category, Eric Staal leads the Carolina Hurricanes. That includes games, goals, assists, points, and shots. His 100 point season in 2005-06 is the only in team history and he owns 7 of the 15 best offensive seasons (points) ever. Finally, his 43 playoff points from 43 games is by far the best from any Hurricane.
Eyes On Isles
From a purely statistics standpoint, there is no debate. No player has even gotten close to Staal’s offensive proficiency in a Cane uniform. Eric Staal is the best offensive player to ever lace up his skates for Carolina. It’s not all about the numbers though.
The Captain’s Log
During his time as captain, Staal always had trouble getting his team into the postseason. That was never really his fault as he wasn’t given much support from his team.
However, as time progressed, Staal’s captaincy began to be scarred by blown opportunities and missed playoffs berths. That really seemed to wear on Staal. His production steadily dipped from after 2013 till when his was moved in 2016. Throw in claims by the fans that Staal was lacking effort and his fate was sealed.
By the time Eric Staal was traded, Staal had gone from the team’s hero to a symbol of the old guard, and not part of the future’s plan. In his last years, Staal clearly wanted to find success more immediately, rather than buying into GM Ron Francis’ rebuild. Slowly, the captain and his team separated thanks to different visions of the team.
From the very get go, Eric Staal’s captaincy was going to be difficult. He only had to replace Rod Brind’Amour after all. This is where there is reason to question Staal’s status as the Hurricanes’ GOAT. Staal may have scored his way to Carolina’s only Cup, but Brind’Amour was conducting that championship train.
Rod Brind’Amour’s attitude, determination, grit, and leadership resonates more deeply in Caniac Nation today. Staal, even though he scored a lot, never quite lived up to Brind’Amour’s legacy as a leader. Again, that’s not necessarily his fault, but for many that is the difference.
The race is very tight between Eric Staal and Rod Brind’Amour. Both are iconic Hurricanes players and helped win the franchise its only Stanley Cup. However, for my money, Eric Staal is the Hurricanes best ever player. No matter your opinion on his final years in Carolina, there is no denying Staal’s impact on the team.
From a top draft pick, to a superstar, to a captain, Staal epitomized the franchise for more than a decade. For those outside Carolina, Staal was synonymous with the Hurricanes. That’s something no other Hurricane can really claim. Brind’Amour may have the heart, but Staal had the skill and recognition to keep Raleigh on the hockey map.