Would Carolina be better off trading Eric Staal?

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Expectations were already pretty low for the 2014-15 Carolina Hurricanes, but after a slew of injuries, the team is in such a state that grim comments like these ring true:

With all the doom, gloom and injuries, there’s the impulse to wonder if the organization might be best served by cleaning house or at least making some big changes. That’s an especially interesting consideration since new GM Ron Francis and head coach Bill Peters inherited this ‘Canes core from an old regime.

In other words, all the ingredients are coming together to produce the latest round of Eric Staal trade rumors.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that, at some point before the season began, the 29-year-old expressed a willingness to waive his no-trade clause to join the Toronto Maple Leafs. The asking price would be steep: possibly some combination of a first-round pick, occasional healthy scratch victim Jake Gardiner and one of Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri.

The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons shed some additional light on the rumors, noting the following:

  • A deal involving Gardiner and Kadri may be more realistic, as a first-rounder (particularly in the 2015 NHL Draft) would be too steep. (Some believe even that package would be too steep.)
  • Nothing has been discussed since the regular season kicked off.

HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman was a little more coy about the situation in his weekly 30 Thoughts for Sportsnet:

There’s no guarantee the Hurricanes move Staal, and he controls the situation. But teams are going to take a close look at him — just in case. You forget he’s still a week shy of 30.

Keeping in mind that this is pure speculation – possibly stemming from talks that cooled since the first meaningful hockey began, according to Simmons – would such a move be worth it for the Hurricanes or a team looking to grab the big center?

Carolina’s concerns

During the offseason, PHT readers were asked about various trade routes for Carolina. The most common answers were “Blow it up” and “Stay put,” but after that, a greater number of readers opted for trading Eric Staal than those who recommended moving the likes of Alexander Semin, his brother Jordan or Jeff Skinner.

(Names like Cam Ward were excluded because, frankly, that would have been too easy.)

From a box office standpoint, trading Staal could be risky for Carolina. He’s the captain, a four-time All-Star and a player who truly blossomed in the Hurricanes’ unexpected run to winning the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Let’s also not forget that Carolina isn’t necessarily a marquee destination for free agents; aside from Semin, the Hurricanes’ best players tend to come from the draft (Eric Staal, Skinner, Ward) or trades (Jordan Staal). The franchise may very well regret parting with its No. 1 center.

Staal’s value

That said, he’s two weeks from turning 30 and carries a hefty salary cap price tag of $8.25 million through the 2015-16 season.

Stats blogger turned NHL team employee Eric Tulsky broke down how quickly things tend to go so south as a forward hits the big 3-0:

In addition, we now have an estimate of how even strength scoring ability changes through a player’s 30’s. On average, players retain about 90% of their scoring through age 29, but the drop from there is pretty sharp — they hit 80% at age 31, 70% at age 32-33, and 60% at age 35.

If anything, Eric Staal might be showing earlier signs of decline. His 100-point season from 2005-06 almost seemed like a mirage, as he eventually settled mostly in the mid-70’s during what might be considered his prime years. The 2012-13 season provided some renewed hope for true dominance – his 53 points in 48 games would translate to 90 over a full season – but he dropped down to 61 points last season.

Plenty of teams would gladly add a guy with 60-point or 70-point potential, but that might not be satisfying at Staal’s price tag, especially at the cost of some nice assets. Still, Simmons lays out a solid argument for why Staal might be especially enticing:

But Staal, the Hurricanes captain, is the kind of gem of a player, if available, who would interest just about anybody. He is 6-foot-4. He has played some of his best hockey at the Air Canada Centre. He has had 100- and 90-point seasons in his career. He is coming off one of the few poor seasons of his career. But the year before, the shortened 48-game lockout year, he scored at 90-point pace.

The last Leafs centre to have a 90-point season was Mats Sundin. That was 17 years ago.

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It’s important to note that talks have reportedly simmered down, yet with Carolina struggling and teams hungry to improve, it’s plausible that they could rev back up again.