Going in, Eric Staal knew this season was going to be tough.
He just didn’t know how tough.
This week, the Carolina captain admitted the uncertainty of a contract year — he’s in the last of his monster seven-year, $57.5 million deal — has been hard to deal with.
“It’s been more challenging than I thought it would be, but I’m doing my best,” Staal said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “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.”
The Staal contract situation has dragged on throughout the campaign. Just prior to the start of the regular season, reports suggested he and the club weren’t close on an extension but, in November, he expressed his desire to remain in Carolina.
In early December, though, another report surfaced — claiming GM Ron Francis and Staal’s agent, Rick Curran, had mutually agreed to put off any contract talks until the new year.
Well, the new year is upon us.
And not much has changed.
The next big benchmark, of course, is just 48 days away — the NHL’s annual trade deadline, where Staal figures to be in play, assuming he’s not extended by that point.
That will only add another layer to what was already a complex situation; the ‘Canes seemingly have to get something in return for Staal should they opt not to re-up with him, even though they are technically “in” the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
(Carolina is just four points back of New Jersey for the final wild card spot, but would need to leapfrog four teams — Philly, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Tampa Bay — to get there.)
In response to all this, Staal offered up the usual cliches.
Which, given the circumstances, is pretty fair.
“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,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”