All Carolina fans breathed out a collective sigh of relief when it was announced that Eric Staal would be ready for the 2013-14 season after suffering a sprained MCL while playing in the World Hockey Championship. As team captain, Staal's presence would have been missed in the locker room if he was out for a longer time but his impact on the ice would have been an even bigger void to fill. Staal has been the Hurricanes best offensive player for the last eight years and he is coming off one of his best seasons of his career. There is normally a lot of criticism directed towards Staal and his large contract but this year, he earned every penny of his $8.5 mil. salary.
After being held without a point in the first two games of the season, Staal recorded a hat trick in the Hurricanes 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres and didn't look back after that point. He finished the year with 18 goals and 53 points in 48 games, which is pro-rated to 90-91 points in a full-season, and his line with Alexander Semin & Jiri Tlusty basically carried the team offensively for basically the entire year. Seeing how there were only 12 games this year where Staal did not record a point, it's more than fair to say that the Hurricanes scoring woes can't be pinned on him and his line. All but 10 of his points also came at even strength, so that makes his season even more impressive.
It was quite a special year for the oldest Staal brother and it's a shame that the Canes had such a bad season because Staal's production, along with the rest of the first line's, ended up being "wasted" in a way. Staal still has plenty of good years ahead of him, but it will probably be difficult for him to replicate his even strength point-production from this past season. It's not that Staal isn't capable of scoring at an elite rate, because he is, but more to do with the fact that Staal's past season was so absurd and very few players have been able to produce at that level annually. For some perspective, Staal had more even strength points than any other player in the NHL and the second highest 5v5 scoring rate, (trailing only Sidney Crosby) which was also the seventh highest since 2007-08. Staal is a fantastic player, but expecting him to continue producing at this rate is unreasonable because so few players have been able to do it.
That being said, Staal will still be only 28 years old at the start of next season and is now playing with better linemates than he ever had before, so Staal can still perform at a high level even if this season was an aberration of sorts. After the jump, we'll take a closer look at the year that was for the Hurricanes captain and get a better idea of what to expect from him in future seasons.no comments