Does Eric Staal want to stay in Carolina?

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So, according to Le Journal de Montreal’s Renaud Lavoie, ‘Canes captain Eric Staal is seeking a $9 million annual salary on his new deal.

That’s… interesting.

For starters, let’s get one thing straight — Staal’s ask is high, but that’s how these things work. One side high-balls, the other side low-balls. It’s Pawn Stars, basically.

The real story is what’s behind the ask. In the case of Giordano, it was about getting fair market value; he was coming off a Norris-worthy campaign and, given the big-money deals signed by fellow blueliners — like P.K. Subban — it was time to get his. The Flames understood it, and both parties knew he was staying in Calgary.

So that was that.

In other instances, though, the ask can mean something totally different.

It can force the way out.

There was some belief that Dougie Hamilton‘s financial demands were, in part, to get out of Boston. Those rumblings got louder when Bruins GM Don Sweeney said he made Hamilton a “very significant contract offer,” and even louder when Hamilton wouldn’t deny he wanted to leave the organization.

Same thing with Ryan O'Reilly in Colorado.

The two sides already had a contentious relationship prior to his June trade to Buffalo. After the trade went down, the the Denver Post reported O’Reilly wanted to become the NHL’s youngest $8-million man, which Colorado balked at:

O’Reilly’s camp told the Avs he wanted $64 million over eight years, equaling an $8 million cap hit. O’Reilly is 24, and apparently not thrilled with his $6.2 million salary in 2015-16.

He wants to become the only $8 million man under 25; [Steve] Stamkos, 25, is at $5.5M salary, $7.5M cap hit.

Again, some saw the big ask as a way of getting out, which O’Reilly did. Not long after landing in Buffalo, he “settled” for a seven-year, $52.5 million deal that pays $7.5 million annually.

Which brings us back to Staal.

He turns 31 in a month, and is in the last of a monster seven-year, $57.75 million deal with a $8.25M cap hit. Given his age, declining production and the fact Carolina’s in the midst of a rebuild, it’s entirely possible this ask puts him out of the ‘Canes financial reach.

Which could be part of the plan.

Yes, Staal likes playing with his brother and has deep ties to Carolina, given he’s spent his entire 11-year career there. But this summer could be Staal’s last chance at a significant payday; assuming Steve Stamkos and Anze Kopitar get locked in, Staal would likely be the prized UFA center up for grabs.

If this is how things play out, it would also clarify the situation for the ‘Canes. Once it’s confirmed Staal isn’t coming back — assuming he isn’t coming back, of course — GM Ron Francis can start to look towards the trade deadline, and focus on recouping assets for his captain.