It's the middle of November and there has still yet to be an NHL game played this season. All fans have to be beyond frustrated right now but I think the Hurricanes fanbase might be among the most pissed off right now. This was looking like a season with a ton of promise for this team. They had one of their most eventful off-seasons in recent memory by acquiring Jordan Staal and Alex Semin and on top of that, their division is pretty much up for grabs right now. There was so much excitement and anticipation heading into this year regarding this team and now it is all put on hold until the owners and Player's Association come to terms with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Until that time, there isn't anything fans can do except wait and wonder about what could have been.
There are still a lot of things that are left up in the air with the Hurricanes this season, though. Most are wondering how the acquisition of Alexander Semin will turn out, but I think adding Jordan Staal to the mix is a little more intriguing, mostly because there is a lot about Staal that is uncertain. One thing we do know about him is that he was fantastic as a shutdown center for the Pittsburgh Penguins for the last six years and still has a lot of upside remaining. There are a lot who say that Staal can emerge as a huge scoring threat if he is given the right linemates and ice-time, which isn't too crazy to say if you look at his body of work in Pittsburgh and consider that he is only 24 years old, but one thing to remember is that Staal wasn't always confined to the third-line center role with the Penguins.
If you go back to the latter-half of the 2010-11 season, you may recall that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed significant time with injuries, leaving Staal as the team's #1 center during that stretch. There was also a brief time period last year where Staal was placed into this role as the Pens normal top-two centers were out with injuries. How did he perform during these stretches? Well, he had 23 points in 31 games from February to the end of the 2010-12 season and 4 points in the 5 games in October where Malkin was hurt. His numbers are decent enough but once agian, points don't tell us the entire story, especially with a player like Staal.
To get a better idea of Staal's performance, along with just about every other player, you need to take a closer look at their contributions on the ice, which is why I am currently doing a very ambitious project where I am tracking scoring chances, zone entries, zone exits and many other on-ice events for as many games as I can. You may remember that I did scoring chances for the Hurricanes last year, and while those are helpful, they still only tell you part of the story, which is why I will be expanding my studies this season (whenever it starts) and am currently tracking the previous year in my down time.
I am currently at the part of last season where Staal assumed the top-line center role for the Penguins, so after the jump we are going to take a closer look at his performance during the Penguins game against the Montreal Canadiens on October 20, 2011. The analysis starts after the jump.