In many ways, Jordan Staal’s season epitomizes that of the Carolina Hurricanes: Unquestionably talented but disappointingly unproductive.
Staal had two points in Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders, including his first goal in 12 games to give him eight points in the past nine. Like the Hurricanes, who have two wins in three games since they were eliminated from the playoffs, it’s too late to do any good, not since their March-April collapse after Cam Ward went down and everything changed.
They lost games they deserved to lose. They lost games they deserved to win. (More of the former than the latter.) And they missed the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven seasons and 10th time in 15 seasons in North Carolina. They made the playoffs three times in their first five years here … and only twice since.
This season was supposed to be different, with the addition of Staal and Alexander Semin. It wasn’t.
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The Hurricanes invested $60 million in Staal, not to mention giving up Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick to get him from the Pittsburgh Penguins in their biggest trade in years. The idea was to give the Hurricanes a one-two punch at center to rival just about any team in the league except, perhaps, those same Penguins.
That isn’t how it worked out for the Hurricanes.
Even with Tuesday’s goal, Staal remains one goal behind Sutter, 11-10, and he’s a staggering minus-19 compared to Sutter’s plus-3 – and while Sutter’s plus-minus defies direct comparison because he plays for a much better team, Eric Staal is plus-9 for the same lousy team Jordan Staal is on.
Despite developing some early chemistry with Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal hasn’t produced anywhere close to the level the Hurricanes were counting on this season. He hasn’t even come close to matching his per-game production in Pittsburgh the past two seasons, where he had a less significant role than he has been given here.
This was supposed to be a seamless transition for Staal, joining a team where his oldest brother already served as captain, but that hasn’t been the case. His unexpected season of adjustment isn’t the reason the Hurricanes missed the playoffs – far from it – but it didn’t help.
That only puts more pressure on Staal to pick up his game next season. On paper, the Hurricanes still have a core group of forwards that should allow them to be competitive, which should allow the Hurricanes to concentrate on improving a defense that ranks among the worst in the NHL.
“We’ve been strong in areas, but obviously not strong enough,” Eric Staal said Tuesday. “I feel like now, with the commitment ownership has made and the direction we’re headed, we’re going the right way. Hopefully when we get on that right path it’s going to be a sustainable path for a long period of time.”
As for the Penguins, they haven’t missed a beat. Sutter has provided a stabilizing presence at center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with only a slight drop-off from Jordan Staal, while Jussi Jokinen – sloughed off on Pittsburgh in a money-saving move – has been an absolutely critical piece for the Penguins with Crosby out.
The Hurricanes need both Staal brothers to be dominant two-way centers next year. There’s no reason they can’t do that. Like the shootout win, Jordan’s two-point game Tuesday in the Hurricanes’ penultimate home appearance and recent production augurs well for next season, but it’s too little, too late for this one.