Canes' Eric Staal, Cam Ward not immune from trading block

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 15, 2014 

— It’s hard to imagine the Carolina Hurricanes without Eric Staal or Cam Ward.

They starred on the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup team. They’ve become fixtures with the franchise. Staal has been the team captain since January 2010.

But the Hurricanes now have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs five straight years, and change is on the way. What once was unthinkable – the possibility of Staal or Ward being traded – could be part of the conversation should the Canes decide major moves are necessary.

Odds are, both will continue to be Hurricanes. Next season will begin, and Staal will be at center, wearing No. 12 with the “C,” and Ward in No. 30 and back in net. But so much uncertainty surrounds this team heading into the offseason, and anything seems possible.

Staal was asked Tuesday if he could conceive of himself playing for another team.

“I’ve never thought that, dreamed that or wanted that,” he said. “But obviously with where we’re at and where it’s been at the last little while, everything is going to be evaluated. And I know that. I’m smart enough to know everyone’s going to be in a position to be looked at and figure out what’s best for this organization and this team.

“For me personally, I think I can be part of the right things going forward. Obviously, my career isn’t going to be forever, and I want to play in the playoffs. I don’t want to continually miss the playoffs and have these type of interviews at the end of a season.”

The Canes’ Jordan Staal said he has sensed his brother’s growing frustration, especially late in the season as the team fell out of playoff contention.

“You could really hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes – he wants so much more,” Jordan Staal said.

But despite the disappointment of the season, Eric Staal did not sound like a player saying he has done all he can for a franchise and now was willing to move to a new team or Cup contender should the Canes believe it’s best to deal him.

“I’ve been here a long time. I love it here,” he said. “I’ve had success here, and I know and believe that we can have it again and I can be a part of that. Hopefully we can continue to improve and get better and get back there.”

Staal noted the end-of-season evaluations don’t just involve the players. While saying he believed Canes coach Kirk Muller and his staff “did a good job,” he said everyone must held accountable when a team fails to reach the playoffs.

“Everybody has to do a better job than we did,” Staal said. “That includes the coaches. Everyone comes under the microscope and is evaluated when we miss the playoffs.”

Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006 as the MVP of the playoffs and became a workhorse goalie. But back issues, a knee injury and then a groin problem this season have limited his appearances, hindered his effectiveness and led to questions about his durability at age 30.

Ward played in 30 games this season, his fewest in a full NHL season since 2005-2006. He had a 10-12-6 record, with a 3.06 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, as Anton Khudobin emerged as the Canes’ No. 1 goaltender.

“I struggled to get comfortable all season long,” Ward said Tuesday. “Obviously I got the injury, and coming back from that I felt like I was playing catchup. I wasn’t able to get consecutive games to try and get my game going. Anton had a great season. I was never able to get into a rhythm.”

Before the NHL trade deadline, speculation began that Ward might be available, given Khudobin’s good play, or that the Canes could wait and deal him in the offseason.

“Obviously it’s not something that you want to hear,” Ward said. “My family and I consider this our home and have for nine years and I definitely want to be a Hurricane moving forward. To hear those rumors is difficult but you don’t want to make too much of it because I wasn’t told anything.

“I do believe I’ll overcome this and get my game back to where it used to be. I hope that’s here in Carolina.”

Forward Jiri Tlusty said he didn’t want to think about a Canes team missing either Staal or Ward.

“Both are really classy guys and have been the core of the team,” Tlusty said. “It will be interesting what management will do, but it’s always a pleasure to be around them.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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