New Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller had a lengthy discussion with Canes captain Eric Staal prior to tonight’s game against Florida.
What words of wisdom did the new bench boss offer?
“I just said to him, ‘I don’t need you to be Superman,'” Muller told The News & Observer. “I told him, ‘I just want you to go out here tonight and be my hardest-working player. Just play hard, have fun, enjoy the game.’
“If he’s a better player, and 19 other guys out there are better tonight than they were yesterday, then we’re a better team. He doesn’t have to take the burden of having to do everything. … All he has to do is go out and lead by example. Play hard, do the little things, great body language and have fun and just be the player that he is.”
Getting Staal out of his season-long funk is at the top of Muller’s to do list. Not many teams rely on or have more invested in a player than Carolina does with Staal — he’s the team captain, the holder of most franchise scoring records (since the move to Carolina, that is) and the highest-paid player by a longshot — Staal makes almost $2 million more than the next highest-paid ‘Cane, Cam Ward.
This could explain why Muller’s taking the “you don’t need to be Superman” approach. Words like ‘burden’ and ‘accountability’ have been synonymous with Staal’s struggles this season, so lightening the mental weight could be the first step in reclaiming his game.
One final thing to consider regarding Staal’s struggles: At last year’s trade deadline, ‘Canes GM Jim Rutherford acquired Cory Stillman from Florida and reunited the Staal-Stillman-Erik Cole line. The trio was stellar down the stretch and a driving force behind Carolina’s playoff push, but Rutherford failed to bring back Cole (who signed in Montreal) and Stillman (who retired after failing to reach a deal with the ‘Canes.)
Considering Rutherford then spent $14.25 million on Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky, people are now wondering if he shouldn’t have done more to retain Staal’s running mates.
Bummed out on this holiday? Look on the bright side: at least you’re not as sore as Florida Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic likely is right now.
Not long after suffering three defeats at the hands/fists of Evander Kane, Petrovic likely lost another bout to Nashville Predators tough guy Anthony Bitetto.
(Note: some might consider this more of a draw, for what it’s worth. You can watch that latest fight in the video above.)
Hey, at least Bitetto didn’t taunt Petrovic after their fight …
It was a rough night for the Panthers overall, as they suffered a gruesome injury or two and fell to the Predators by a score of 5-0.
Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, and so are rumors about hockey fans bundling up for outdoor games next season.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went over two possible outdoor matchups coming for 2016-17 during Saturday’s Headlines segment.
A smart move for a potential game in Winnipeg: Imagine the Jets hosting a game in Winnipeg in February? Ilya Bryzgalov almost turned off his TV in protest.
Instead, Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Jets are likely to host the Edmonton Oilers in October. That would be a smart logistical move, as long as it isn’t too hot.
(Also, playing it then would hopefully increase the odds of the mainstream sporting public seeing Connor McDavid in an outdoor game.)
Toronto’s turn: Friedman reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to host the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Winter Classic (or at least an outdoor game), almost certainly on New Year’s Day 2017.
The two teams combined for a great Winter Classic at Ann Arbor in 2014, so that could be a fun time.
Keep in mind these are reports (and well-placed ones at that) rather than official announcements for the NHL. These things could always change.
Related: Could the Penguins host the Flyers outdoors next season, too?
“Costly victories” may have been one of the themes of Saturday night, as some teams paired impressive wins with worrisome injuries.
The good news is that, in each case, it appears that the early word is optimistic about those players (Tyler Seguin got stitched up in the Stars’ win, for example).
The Anaheim Ducks are reportedly readying to recall Anton Khudobin on Sunday after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury during a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Richard Panik.
Again, so far the hope/expectation is that this might not be a major issue:
The pessimistic take would be to wonder “Uh oh, is the Ducks goalie carousel starting again?”
Frederik Andersen has seen some runs as Anaheim’s No. 1 guy, so maybe this issue is a reminder that the Ducks may be better off keeping both Gibson and Andersen around … at least while they can.
For two periods, the Dallas Stars seemed to say, “Are you sure the Washington Capitals are the best team in the NHL?”
They chased Braden Holtby and built a 4-0 lead through those first 40 minutes, and that was enough … but barely. The Stars beat the Capitals 4-3 on Saturday, which accomplished the following:
- Dallas ended Washington’s winning streak at five games. The Stars have now won three straight.
- This win slides the Stars ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the highly competitive Central Division. While both teams sit at 77 standings points, Dallas holds three games in hand.
- By passing Chicago, the Stars now lead the Western Conference as a whole.
Impressive stuff. Some might even call it a statement game, although others may hold that nail-biting ending against them (possibly arguing that the Stars’ flaws may come back to haunt them in the playoffs).
Dallas’ biggest concern likely has little to do with doubters. Instead, they must monitor the statuses of forwards Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.
Long story short, the Stars are red-hot, yet bigger challenges likely lie ahead.