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.