It’s a what-if conversation that Eric and Jordan Staal have from time to time, on a subject that’s hard to ignore.
What if Eric Staal is traded by the Carolina Hurricanes this season?
What if he doesn’t re-sign with the organization and his days with the Canes come to an end after 12 seasons?
“That uncertainty has been a little bit of a topic,” Jordan Staal said this week. “It’s obviously out of our control, but it’s hard not to talk about scenarios.
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“It’s unfortunate, but we know if we play consistently well, things will go well and will go the way we want it to. We both love it here, and we want to play here, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Eric Staal, the team captain since January 2010, is in the final year of a long-term contract and is the Canes’ highest-paid player at $9.5 million. There is a no-trade clause in the contract, and Staal said again this week that he’d like to stay with an organization that drafted him in 2003.
Canes general manager Ron Francis said Thursday that he talked with Rick Curran, who represents Eric and Jordan Staal, in mid-December and that the decision was made to push back negotiations until the middle of January. Both sides say the length of a new contract and the financial terms have not been proposed.
The Canes, after an 8-5-1 December, believe they can become relevant in the playoff picture this season. But Francis must look at the big picture, and if a proper term and price for a contract extension can’t be agreed on, he would probably try to move Eric Staal -- who would become an unrestricted free agent after the season, if unsigned -- before the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline.
Again, Staal, 31, has the final say with the no-trade provision. He also said he likes the current makeup of the Canes (16-17-5), who host the Nashville Predators on Saturday after a 4-2 win Thursday over the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena.
The young faces in the locker room have energized Eric Staal, it seems. His younger, albeit bigger, brother also is playing a big man’s game, displaying his skating ability and physicality at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds.
“He’s a horse,” Eric Staal said. “He looks real, real good out there. When he’s controlling the play like he is, he’s just hard to play against.”
Eric Staal, after being used at wing earlier in the season, is centering a line with wingers Kris Versteeg and Elias Lindholm that has been productive of late: Staal has three goals and three assists in the past five games. Jordan Staal’s line, with Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil on the wings, is giving the Canes consistently strong two-way play, and all four lines have contributed.
On the back end, the “Red, White & Blue” group of defensemen – the top six are Americans, with three rookies in the mix – has done its part in front of goalies Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
“If we keep playing like we are, with the way our lines are set up, with the way these young kids are playing and developing, if I’m looking at it and you start unplugging holes, it’s going to make life a lot more difficult,” Eric Staal said. “I think the depth we have is the best I’ve seen in five, six years. Granted, we want a better record than what we have. But if we continue to play the way we’ve been playing the last month, we’re going to accumulate enough points to get back to right where we want to be, and all that kind of (contract) stuff will take care of itself.”
Jordan Staal, 27, came to Carolina in the June 2012 trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and soon signed a 10-year, $60 million extension. Staal was approaching the final year of his contract with the Pens and unable to agree on an extension, and often has said the opportunity to join his oldest brother on the Hurricanes was appealing.
“There may have been a few other factors involved, (but) I was excited about the chance to play with him, and it was a pretty major part of it,” Jordan Staal said.
The “playing together” part could end this season or after the season. Or not. Asked if he believed Eric Staal would be back next season, Jordan said he didn’t know.
“But I know how much he loves it here and how much his family loves it here,” Jordan Staal said. “I know he’s a great player.
“It’s a scenario that hopefully should work out at some point. It is a business, and we all know that, and we know it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. We’re going to play the best we can, and hopefully they’ll work out a new contract.”