While the Carolina Hurricanes have had a relatively short tenure in their home in comparison to much older franchises, they’ve had enough time to establish some legendary names. There are players whose name is held in such reverence in Raleigh that they border on royalty.
Rod Brind’amour is one of them, and Glen Wesley is another. Most fans remember the heroics of Arturs Irbe in 2002. There’s Cory Stillman, Shane Willis and of course, the patron saint of Hurricanes hockey, Mr. Ron Francis.
Of the active players, there are those who are poised to join the pantheon of Hurricanes legends and have a spot in the rafters already reserved for them. While struggling of late, Cam Ward is one. The other? Known often by simply “The Captain” – Eric Staal.
As Staal made his name in the organization and his brothers followed, they established themselves as the team’s first family of sorts. He has constantly led the team, been a catalyst, and has always been dependable for top-line offensive output. He is among team leaders in more categories than is fair to list.
However, Staal hasn’t quite been himself lately.
Granted, he currently leads the team in points, at 14. That being said, Staal is also skating at a -13 and has a microscopic 7.1 shooting percentage. He is also leading the team in penalty minutes (PIM) at 24 for some reason. 24 isn’t that much? In 2010-11, Staal had 48 PIM … all year. It’s November, and he’s already halfway there. His highest total in season PIM was in 2005-06 where he had 81. In that season however, Staal also had 100 points on 45 goals and 55 assists. Oh yeah, and a Stanley Cup.
The stats sheet for Staal is weird in all sorts of places. His 49.2 percent success rate in the faceoff circle is helping a ton, though that is more or less the dominion of Manny Malhotra at this point. His five goals on the season is great, but at this point in the season, a lot of guys should be pumping out more points — especially the captain.
It gets weird because these stats are all “pretty good” and generally in the top half of the team, but they’re not what a team captain needs to be putting out. There’s been a mountain of questions regarding what’s up with the top line. Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin needed to be a line so great, they got a catchy name. Yet, they were insanely yawn-worthy.
Head coach Kirk Muller has put hotshot forward Jeff Skinner into Semin’s spot after losing the veteran to a concussion. Skinner-Staal-Tlusty could bring the second coming of the BBC Line, or they could be a curiosity.
In the end, Staal seems to be finding at least what county his niche is residing in, if not settling back into it outright. His shooting percentage and plus/minus are absolutely areas of concern, but knowing that the other stats are trending up is comforting. Once Staal is able to stop hemorrhaging penalty minutes, find chemistry with his linemates and get more judicious with his shots– he will carry the rest of the team with him.
The urgency is obvious when one considers the leadership vacuum that would be left with Staal underperforming for any extended period of time.