Maniscalco: Eric Staal understands what he has to do
Posted August 5
Eric Staal has been under the microscope for the past few seasons. Being the team captain and highest paid player of the Carolina Hurricanes, he knows that he will be.
The Hurricanes made quite a few changes to the organization this off-season and the examination of his play will be more intense than past years. There is a new coach, a different general manager, but the face of the team is still Staal, and success or failure this year will be measured by his play.
He understands this.
“There is slightly more pressure I’m putting on myself because I want to see this playoff drought end,” Staal said.
The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since 2008-09. That five-year absence is the most glaring mark when people talk about the worth of Staal. Right or wrong, players are measured by the organization’s winning percentage, or how a team performs in the playoffs. The past five years, Caniacs would love to have the chance to have any playoff numbers to look at.
Staal understands this. It is clear how much the Hurricanes season ending at game 82 has bothered him.
“Making the playoffs is a big thing for the people in the organization and for the fans,” Staal said. “Obviously that hasn’t happened. It is time to get the ball rolling in a positive direction.”
The Hurricanes' captain, however, is dealing with another off-season injury. Last year, he suffered a knee injury at the World Championships, which admittedly or not, slowed the center down.
“This injury is much different than last year where the surgery was much more drastic,” he explained.
This year, he underwent surgery to repair a core injury. A week after the procedure Staal said he feels good, but still has to take it slow, and didn’t want to put a timetable on when he could return to full hockey activity.
For the next few weeks he has to recuperate instead of prepare for the upcoming season, but he has already begun to rehab the injury in Raleigh. Staal is a notorious slow starter and having to use training camp to get up to speed doesn’t bode well.
Staal understands this, but knows there is a bigger picture.
“The focus is on getting to 100 percent health, at any point of the season you want to do your best and go from there,” he said.
Staal has only recorded a point-per-game season four times in his 10-year career. Numbers alone rarely tell the whole story of a player’s impact on a franchise.
If we are looking at Staal’s numbers, there is one that brings on the majority of the criticism, his contract. Staal was the third highest paid player in the NHL last year. That number matters most to fans today and it should.
It also matters to him.
Staal understands the burden that comes with being well-compensated to play a game. The important thing to Staal is that no matter the number on his paycheck, he is the same person,
"It does not change me as a person or a player,” he explained. “I have always been very competitive from the time I was 5 years old. I have always had that drive. I am being paid like and I am expected to be that guy.”
The other area of Staal that has come under question is that of his leadership. This is something that is not easily measured, but winning teams rarely have a leader questioned. Since Staal was given the "C" on Jan. 20, 2010, the Hurricanes record is 149-134-45, which is a winning record, but not a playoff mark. It is unfair to pin a team’s fate on one or two players, but it is something that comes with the territory of being the team’s captain.
Staal understands this.
Staal said that he is more comfortable in the leadership role of the team and couldn’t stress the disappointment enough of missing the post-season, especially these past few years.
“No excuses, we weren’t at the level to make the playoffs,” Staal said” “The power play was lacking, we could improve our defensive game and there were depth issues with the organization.”
While that might not read like much to the critics, it shows how Staal is growing into the role of being okay to say what is wrong with the team.
The trade whispers surrounding Staal, real or not, were spoken a little louder this summer, yet he is still here.
“I’m excited for the new start,” Staal said. “We have a really good group of young guys who are getting better. To make steps forward and be a playoff team, to start the season and start winning that’s where it is fun.”
Fun is something the captain would love to have beyond next years 82-game regular season. Carolina needs its leader to fill the stat columns, but more important it needs him to lead the team to wins this season.
Staal understands that.