Staal needs to start revving for the Canes
Posted November 11, 2011
The Carolina Hurricanes have three players on the NHL All-Star Team Ballot. Goaltender Cam Ward, leading scorer Jeff Skinner and perennial All-Star Eric Staal.
Only one problem, Staal has not been playing like one.
The team captain has been frustrated all season and is currently ninth on the team in points. That is not going to help a team that struggles on a nightly basis for goals in a position to make the playoffs.
While Cam Ward’s numbers do not look as gaudy as other net minders in the NHL, he passes the eye test every night. Ward isn't asked to do what Martin Brodeur has done for years by facing 25 shots and by looking at the ballot, you can see the Canes aren’t using the Nashville method of having two elite defensemen and a plan in front of him designed to win 1-0.
Jeff Skinner has exceeded all expectations providing an offensive spark that the team needs in a complimentary role. If Staal was putting up his usual numbers, Skinner’s contribution would be a pleasant surprise instead of providing fodder for water cooler trade talk about the teams top player. Skinner is outproducing last season's Rookie of the Year numbers, and every game does something that wows the crowd. He is on his way of being a staple in the All-Star Game.
The simple fact is this, Eric Staal has to lead the Hurricanes in scoring if there is any chance for this team to be successful - and he knows it.
The coaching staff, in an effort get Staal going has put him on a line with Skinner and so far the experiment has received mixed results. Skinner has 14 points, just shy of a point-per-game pace, and the third member of the line, Chad LaRose, has done his part with nine points which is tied for second on the team. But it is the lack of production from Staal that has to be solved if the Canes are to be a serious threat in the East.
There is more to what Staal needs to do to be a successful player than just scoring, but in today's fantasy sports driven world, playing 200 feet, getting better in the faceoff circle and working on his defensive game isn’t something that the people paying money for tickets want to hear. If you are the highest paid player, you should be the highest scoring player. Staal would be the first to agree with you, which adds more pressure on him to produce.
If there was an easy answer to get Staal going it would have been discovered by now, but the truth is there is no easy solution. So what can be done to get the captain on the score sheet more?
Give Staal more minutes.
It would seem like the team should give him less because of the lack of production, but the track record says get him on the ice more; more chances to finally break through and get the good feelings back. He has done it before, and has had slow starts, and if the Canes were not on a three-game losing streak, maybe this slow start wouldn't be as startling. The reality is the Hurricanes are on a three-game losing streak and are averaging less than one goal a game during it. When your top player isn't scoring and your team is losing, it becomes a concern.
Get a winger to play with Staal.
It is not a secret that Staal has played his best hockey with a playmaker on his wing like Ray Whitney or a speedy power forward like Erik Cole. The problem is none of those types of players are on the current roster and how many times can you keep bringing players back? Adding more talent is always the best option when possible, but to get a player that can make a difference in a trade means you have to give up a player that has value to the team. As much as fans love to make trades, with a salary cap in place teams just can’t go out and acquire another team’s best player to make their team better.
Is it something that GM Jim Rutherford should do? Yes, especially if the deal is there for the Canes, but salary limitations, what you have to give up in return, are all factors before saying 'go out and get this guy.' Also, most NHL teams aren’t in the charity business. If you want to add a superstar you have to give up a lot and the Canes aren’t the club that gives up high draft picks and talent for one player. Making a trade for the sake of a trade doesn’t have the impact it used to have, so a deal has to be the right one.
Promote a younger player to get time alongside Staal.
The team has done that by moving Skinner to Staal’s wing. Even though Skinner has been very productive on a line with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, the team has put the most talented young player on a line with Staal.
Will this work? Only time will tell. Would putting Zac Dalpe or Zach Boychuk on the other side help with the offensive numbers? They might, but it is not a fact that if you put two younger players on a line with Staal that scoring magic will happen. Also take into consideration you are asking Staal to be more defensively responsible in that scenario.
If you only care about offense, put him on the wing.
He has played there before when he was playing through injury a few seasons ago and had a few productive games, but it is not a place where he is comfortable. The major concern with moving a struggling player around is what happens if the results don’t come? If it works, great, but it can be a path that leads to more frustration.
No matter what suggestions, changes, gimmicks are used one thing is clear, Eric Staal has to figure it out on his own. Unless he gets out of this funk, it doesn’t matter what is written or talked about, no stats or voodoo can help the Canes get to where they want to go. The captain has to steer the ship, and the Canes are in for rough sailing until that happens.