Philly Sports Live

What We Learned: What should Carolina Hurricanes do with Eric Staal? (Puck Daddy)

(Hello, this is a feature that aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.) It’s no secret at this point that arguably the two most important players in recent memory for the Carolina Hurricanes are now major points of concern. Eric Staal and Cam Ward have long been talked about in trade rumors, largely because they are in their declining years on a rebuilding and improving team, are both UFAs at the end of next season, and cost a combined $14.55 million against the cap for a budget team that never actually comes all that close to the ceiling. A lot of this, too, has to do with the fact that Staal has slowed down in his production somewhat over the last two seasons (about 0.73 points per game as opposed to the 0.85-plus he put up every season since the 2004-05 lockout), and he’s coming in at one of the highest cap hits in the league for any player, at $8.25 million. Staal will be 31 at the end of October and he’s certainly not worth that much, and for a team that looks to be moving toward a future without Staal as its clear best player, the prospect of trading him while he’s still carrying value in the marketplace is tantalizing. The problem with any looming Staal rumors, though, is that cap hit. Because no one has $8.5 million in space lying around. Hell, even if Carolina were to retain as much as 50 percent of his salary and cap hit, many teams would still be in tough to make $4.125 million work unless the Hurricanes took bad money back as well. And would they, given their own budgetary constraints that have little to do with the cap itself? Someone would have to make it very much worth their while. And Staal still provides significant value for the club, too. As Travis Yost recently noted , the Hurricanes were a pretty decent team in the second half of the season; better than most teams in their division by a pretty wide margin after shuffling along at roughly 50 percent possession for most of the first half. Staal was a big driver there, too: his relative possession numbers came in at plus-2.2 or so for the first half, and then a whopper plus-10.9 in the second half. That’s as the entire team improved, which tells you a lot about how good he was. [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Hockey: Sign up and join a league today! ] However, we cannot discount how much of that had to do with Jordan Staal’s return to full health. He played just five games in the first 41 for Carolina, having been out of the lineup entirely until Dec. 29. If you break it down by that date and not the first 41, Eric Staal goes from 53.1 percent possession to a stunning 59.9 percent. Likewise, Eric Staal’s scoring numbers took off when his little brother returned to the lineup; he had 20 in 31 games (0.65 per) to start the season, and then finished with 34 in 46 in the back half (.74). Jordan Staal has long proven useful on just about any team — think how much the Penguins miss him even now — and Carolina is no different. The question, on some level, is how much of the production jump is driven by Jordan, and how much of it is Eric still being a pretty damn good player. I mean, even if you accept that they’re playing together for most of the year given how immovable the contract is, this is a pretty good list of comparables across 12 different statistics for players who were of roughly the same age (via Emmanuel Perry’s Similarity Scores tool):