Jordan Staal

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Jordan Staal named captain of Hurricanes

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With veteran forward Justin Williams taking a break from the NHL at the start of the 2019-20 season the Carolina Hurricanes had an opening to fill with their team captain role.

On Sunday, they announced that Jordan Staal will be taking over those responsibilities.

Jaccob Slavin and Jordan Martinook will serve as the team’s alternate captains.

Staal is the longest-tenured member of the Hurricanes roster having been with the team since the start of the 2012-13 season when he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has consistently been one of the better defensive forwards in the league and is usually good for close to 20 goals and 45 points offensively. Put all of that together and you’ve got a pretty valuable player that is going to make any team he plays on better.

He was limited to just 50 regular season games during the 2018-19 season, scoring 11 goals.

Even with Williams not returning for the start of the season the Hurricanes are well positioned to be a contender in the Eastern Conference with an outstanding defense and underrated group of forwards.

Related: Justin Williams taking break from hockey

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Why Hurricanes have embraced ‘bunch of jerks’ moniker

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“Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning. You don’t do this thing in professional hockey. What are these guys? Jerks or something?”

“I know what I’m talking about. You never do anything like that. They’re still not drawing. They’re a bunch of jerks as far as I’m concerned. Imagine Justin Williams doing stuff like that.”

Don Cherry is known for his colorful suits that he wears every Saturday during Hockey Night in Canada’s “Coach’s Corner” segment. Who knew he’d be the inspiration for one of the best-selling fashion designs in the state of North Carolina?

Taking to his pulpit on February 16, Cherry railed against the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-win celebrations, also known as the “Storm Surge.” The brainchild of team captain Justin Williams, they were quickly embraced by Hurricanes fans and around the hockey world. 

“Listen, things are changing,” Williams told NBC last week. “This isn’t a historic hockey market, it’s relatively fresh. We obviously won a Stanley Cup here, but it’s relatively fresh. This team got here in 1997. It’s not like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadians or the Boston Bruins, an ‘Original Six’ who had decades and decades of hockey history.”

Following Cherry’s yelling at clouds, the Hurricanes acted fast and teamed up with BreakingT to create the “Bunch of Jerks” t-shirts, which sold well and sold out fast. The team store inside PNC Arena is constantly running out of inventory. (An update to the shirts was made after Cherry doubled-down on his criticism by labeling the fan base as “front running.”)

They weren’t popular just with fans, though.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Curtis McElhinney’s dad ordered a handful and shipped some to his son. Warren Foegele’s friends back home in Markham, Ontario hit him up asking if he could get them a few.

The Hurricanes embracing the “jerks” really blew up the entire “controversy” and emboldened the team and fan base even further.

“I think what I love about it is it could have went a different way when you get criticized for what you’re doing,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour. “But the guys, they didn’t. They took it and they ran with it in a positive light and the fans took it and ran with it in a positive light.  

“It’s not about everyone else, it’s about our team, it’s about our community, it’s about our fans and we’ve enjoyed this year. That ‘little bunch of jerks,’ whatever you want to call it, has kind of brought us together in a way that’s unified the fans and the players even that much more, which was already a pretty strong bond.”

As the Hurricanes pursued their first playoff berth since 2009, the extracurricular activity excited a fan base that had been patiently waiting for turnaround and helped create a new legion of supporters in the process.

“You know, I think we’ve been kind of irrelevant for a while here in Carolina and that was kind of one way to maybe boost some people in the stands, and obviously get people to think of us of a team that was playing really good hockey throughout the season,” said forward Jordan Staal.

The excitement isn’t contained to solely inside PNC Arena. Dougie Hamilton has noticed he’s been recognized more at dinner or out on the street this season. There’s been a buzz around Raleigh this season as the Hurricanes made their march to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then knocked out the defending champion Washington Capitals in seven games in Round 1.

From the night Cherry entered “bunch of jerks” into the lexicon to the end of the regular season, the Hurricanes were tied for the third-most points (33) in the NHL with a 16-7-1 record. They could have hit back at the longtime commentator, but instead, as they’ve done all season long, they leaned into the negativity and embraced it.

“I don’t want an apology,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in February via the News and Observer. “He can say what he wants to say. I should thank him. It was good for us.”

Game 3 of Hurricanes-Bruins is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Watch the live stream here).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lack of mega-money players an anomaly this postseason

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Every postseason a new storyline emerges as to how NHL teams should construct their rosters, and it usually revolves around the teams playing the deepest in the playoffs and how they managed to get there.

After all, everyone wants to copy off the teams that win and not the teams sitting at home.

The new trend could be anything, really. Sometimes it revolves around defensive structure, or size and grit. Sometimes it is about speed and skill. We are always looking for the next “thing” that is going to take over the NHL. To be fair, there can be some merit to these storylines and trends.

The one thing that stands out about the four teams playing in the Conference Finals this season is that none of them have a really huge salary on their roster. This is a fact that was pointed out in an article by the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun on Monday when talking about the upcoming crop of restricted free agents and how teams might try to approach them given the salary structures of the remaining playoff teams.

There is not a single player in the top-20 of NHL salary cap hits still playing in the playoffs, while San Jose’s Brent Burns ($8 million) is the only one in the top-25.

St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O'Reilly ($7.5 million each) and Boston’s David Krejci ($7.25 million) are the only other ones in the top-40.

Carolina’s highest paid player is Jordan Staal who counts $6 million against the cap, the 89th largest salary cap hit in the league. The Hurricanes also have one of the lowest total payrolls.

In the article LeBrun quotes an unnamed NHL executive who points out of the favorite talking points of executives in the salary cap era: “You need depth to win and can’t allocate too much cap space to any individual players.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The first part is 100 percent true, because you do need depth to win.

The second point is just … wrong. That is not a personal opinion, and it is not something that is going to change just because of one mostly unpredictable postseason. It is a fact. That is what makes it so maddening every single time it gets mentioned. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ core can’t be discussed without fear over their future salary cap situation and how they are going to build a contending team around so many big-money players. There is always trade speculation mentioned around teams that “need” to shed salary because they have too much money going to too few players.

I hate this mindset, mostly because there is zero factual evidence to back it up.

While it is true that the four Conference Finalists this season have made it this far without a mega-money player on their roster, it is also true that this development is an anomaly in recent postseason history.

Burns is currently the only player in the Conference Finals that accounts for more than 10 percent of the league salary cap this season.

The Blues and Bruins both have players in the 9 percent range, while the Hurricanes don’t have anyone that takes up more than 7.5 percent.

Let’s just take a quick look at how that compares to the past five years of Conference Finalists. The table below looks at the highest cap percentage on each team that played in the Conference Finals that season.

Of the 20 teams over the previous five years, 16 of them had at least one player accounting for more than 10 percent of their allotted salary cap space that season; 13 of them had one taking up more than 10.5 percent; nine had more than 11 percent; seven had a player taking up at least 12 percent.

That includes multiple Stanley Cup winners in Pittsburgh and Washington over the previous three seasons.

Many of these teams also had multiple players taken up between 10 to 12 percent of the salary cap on their own.

In any contract negotiation there are always going to be two sides with very different goals. The player is usually going to try and get as much money as they possibly can for their production. They have short careers and an even shorter window to get a significant contract, so they are going to try and cash in when they can. The team is going to try and get the player for the best bang for their buck, not only because of the salary cap, but because that is just how sports teams work. It is obviously beneficial for a team to get a superstar at a below market contract (think Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado) in a capped league but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you have to pay your best player top dollar. It is always worth it.

If there is a team in the NHL this offseason looking at the roster construction of these four teams and thinks it is going to be beneficial to trade a big money, star player for multiple, cheaper assets or play hardball with an RFA over an extra two or three million it is probably going to end very, very badly for them. Because they are either going to make a bad trade for the wrong reasons (quality for quantity) or risk damaging a relationship (or maybe even losing) a core player.

Just because this particular postseason will not have a mega-money player in the Stanley Cup Final does not mean that is always the best way to go about building your team.

Star players still matter a lot, and star players still cost a lot money.

One postseason will not change that.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites through Round 2

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With the Conference Finals underway it is time to take another look at the Conn Smythe race for the MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The San Jose Sharks have probably been the team still standing that has had the most dominant individual performances, but the front-runner after the first two rounds just might be one of the NHL’s most hated players … unless he happens to play for your team.

Let’s take a look at the rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. This postseason has given us the complete Brad Marchand experience. We have had the troll and pest antics (stepping on a stick blade and trying to break it; the interviews after Game 6 against Columbus) and the occasional dirty play (punching Scott Harrington in the back of the head then not regretting it). We have also had him show he is one of the best players in the NHL as demonstrated by the fact he enters the weekend leading the postseason in scoring 15 points in 14 games. His nine primary assists (all situations) are the most in the NHL, he has a game-winning goal, and is playing 20 minutes per night as a forward and one of Boston’s go-to players in every situation. You may not like the way he plays, but you can’t deny the fact he is one of best in the league and right now is very much in the running for the Conn Smythe.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. A breakout regular season followed by what has been, to this point, a dominant postseason. Hertl enters the Western Conference Final tied for the league lead with nine goals this postseason, including four on the power play, two game-winners, and a shorthanded goal (which was also a game-winner to keep their season alive in Round 1).

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks. It is a neck-and-neck race for the Sharks with Hertl and Couture carrying the load offensively. Couture has been as consistent a playoff performer as there is in the league over the past four years and has had a couple of massive games for the Sharks this postseason, including his Game 3 hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin is getting dangerously close to being that player that gets called underrated so many times that he can no longer be considered underrated. So let’s just stop calling him that and start calling him what he is: A legit top-pairing defender and a Conn Smythe candidate for the Hurricanes. He may not score a ton of goals, but the way he controls the game and shuts opposing forwards down puts him on a top level among the league’s defenders. He has always done that, and these playoffs are finally giving him a spotlight to shine in.

5. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks. A finalist for the Norris Trophy and a contender for the Conn Smythe all in the same season. The only thing that might hurt his chances is that he has the two forwards listed ahead of him here on his team.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After scoring just 11 goals during the regular season Schwartz has gone on a tear in the playoffs with eight goals in the Blues’ first 13 games. Nobody else on the team has more than five. Even more impressive is that seven of his goals have come at even-strength (most in the playoffs) and he also has two-game winners.

7. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes. I think if you asked for a Conn Smythe forward from the Hurricanes the first instinct from most people would be to say Sebastian Aho, and he has certainly been outstanding. But Jordan Staal deserves some recognition for the job he has done this postseason not only scoring some absolutely massive goals for the Hurricanes, but also for his defensive play and ability to help them dominate the possession game. His contract and lack of gaudy offensive numbers for a No. 2 overall pick probably knocks him down a few pegs in the eyes of fans, but he is one heck of a two-way player.

8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. The wild thing about the Blues is they are an outstanding team. They have been playing like a Stanley Cup team for months now and have more than earned their spot in the Western Conference Final. But there isn’t really a truly dominant individual performance on this team right now. It’s just a solid, top-to-bottom team that is getting contributions from everyone. One performance that has stood out has been Pietrangelo’s on the blue line. He is providing offense, playing big minutes, and leading what has been a great defensive team all season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penalties crush Hurricanes as Bruins storm back in Game 1

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The Carolina Hurricanes had their moments in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but penalties ended up being their Achilles’ heel in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins got on the board quickly thanks to Steven Kampfer, who was only in the game in the first place because Charlie McAvoy was serving a suspension. That lead was erased quickly though when Andrei Svechnikov‘s shot was deflected by Sebastian Aho just three seconds into a Hurricanes power play. Just like that, the score was 1-1 a mere 3:42 minutes into the contest.

Things calmed down after that until Greg McKegg charged hard into the net midway through the second period. Replays showed that he scored before colliding with Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Bruins ultimately didn’t challenge the call, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

Carolina’s edge wouldn’t hold though and it was largely due to a lack of discipline. Micheal Ferland was charged with interface late in the third and while the Hurricanes killed off that penalty, they weren’t so fortunate in the third. First Jordan Staal boarded Chris Wagner just 49 seconds into the frame. There might have been coincidental minors there as rookie defenseman Connor Clifton took exception to what Staal did, but Brad Marchand pulled Clifton back before the situation escalated.

That certainly isn’t a role Marchand is known for, but that wasn’t his only contribution in the period. He helped set up Marcus Johansson‘s game-tying goal on the ensuing power-play. When Dougie Hamilton took a roughing penalty at 2:41 of the third to put the Hurricanes in the box yet again, Marchand got another power-play assist, this time feeding the puck to Patrice Bergeron.

That said, the player who deserves the most credit on the Bergeron goal is arguably Jake DeBrusk, who collected the puck on his knees and got up while making the pass to Marchand to get that sequence going.

Hamilton took yet another penalty at 5:29 of the third, just to make life a little harder for the Hurricanes, but at least Carolina killed off that one. From there, the Hurricanes could not battle back. Brandon Carlo got an empty netter at 17:47 and Chris Wagner got one by Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek at 17:58.

Carolina can look back at this game as a missed opportunity to take one early in Boston. The silver lining for the Hurricanes is that this series has only begun.

Hurricanes-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.