The uncertainty, Eric Staal admits, has weighed upon him more than he has let on at times. It isn’t just about playing out the final year of his contract without knowing what comes next. As a player, he can deal with that. As a husband and father and brother, it gets a little tougher.
As the season rolls on with no negotiations between Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes, with the trade deadline now a mere seven weeks away, with a resolution likely coming soon one way or another, Staal’s season in limbo approaches a conclusion.
The Hurricanes’ captain has said all the right things and handled the thousands of questions just about everywhere the team goes as well as he can, but there’s only so much he can say when such an important issue remains unresolved.
“It’s been more challenging than I thought it would be, but I’m doing my best,” Staal said. “Doing my best to contribute and try and help this team win and play hard. I have a family. There’s things you think about. My brother’s playing here. There are a lot of different things you think about. You try not to worry about it too much, and play, and hopefully we can get on a little bit of a run here and go from there and let it sort itself out. We’ll see what happens.”
Staal knows as well as anyone that this is a business, one that has compensated him quite well over the years. Just because he has spent his entire career here doesn’t mean he will spend his entire career here. Just because he understands that reality doesn’t make it any easier to contemplate drastic change.
The Hurricanes have invested a tremendous amount in Staal over the years – his $9.5 million salary, among the top 10 in the NHL; the captaincy; a no-trade clause and, until recently, he was the most visible face in the franchise’s marketing, a position since ceded to Justin Faulk – but Staal has invested himself here as well.
All 889 games of his NHL career have been played for the Hurricanes. He has lived here for 12 years. He has raised a family here. His brother Jordan came here to play alongside him, albeit without the success they envisioned. For a 31-year-old, that’s a lifetime.
That doesn’t have any impact on the business side of his stagnant contract negotiations with general manager Ron Francis or any potential trade ahead of the Feb. 29 deadline, but it does have an unavoidable personal impact on Staal and his family. Whatever is going to happen will happen, and Staal is going to be swept along with it.
In the meantime, there are hockey games to be played, continuing Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes are still mathematically in playoff contention, although the picture is grim: four points back going into Monday night’s games, but with five teams to jump.
Staal likes the way the team has played under Bill Peters, likes watching Faulk and Noah Hanifin and the team’s young defensemen surprise on a nightly basis. He thinks all of that will help bring the Hurricanes success in the long run. He also knows he won’t be around to see it unless the Hurricanes find more success immediately.
“Any normal guy would like to not worry about it, especially just the way life goes. At the same time, there’s nothing more I can do,” Staal said. “I just have to play. We have to win. We’ll go from there. We’ll see what happens. I like this group. I like these kids on (defense). They’re legit. We can build going forward. They’ve done a good job, Ronnie and Bill. This is near where they’ve been trying to get to, and we still have to get there.”
One way or another, after months in limbo, Staal’s future will come into focus soon enough.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock