Deadline Decisions: Will Eric Staal waive his no-trade?

Jordan Staal and Eric Staal scored for the Carolina Hurricanes as they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers.

Between now and Feb. 29, sportsnet.ca will be taking an in-depth look at teams and the decisions facing them leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline. Today: Carolina Hurricanes

GENERAL MANAGER: Ron Francis

PENDING UFAs: Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Kris Versteeg, John-Michael Liles, Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Brad Malone.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: 1st (CAR), 1st (L.A.), 2nd (CAR), 3rd (CAR), 3rd (WIN) 4th (CAR), 5th (CAR), 6th (CAR), 7th (none)

NO-MOVE CLAUSES: Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, John-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey, Cam Ward.

CAP SPACE ON DEADLINE DAY: $38,108,094

TEAM MODE: Still in the fight.

All data courtesy generalfanager

Being a surprise has its downside.

The Carolina Hurricanes, for example, might have more straightforward decisions to make if they’d been as bad as many people expected them to be. Instead, the Canes under head coach Bill Peters have become a much better possession team and have used that to be one of the NHL’s bigger surprises this season, which means GM Ron Francis is stuck between taking a shot at making the playoffs and continuing his rebuild plan.

At the centre of that conundrum would be captain Eric Staal, set to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

From a hockey point of view, even though Staal isn’t enjoying a strong offensive season, he’s the leader of that team. If the Canes still didn’t have a shot at the post-season, it would be an obvious decision to send him packing as a rental player, assuming he would waive his no-trade clause.

But the Canes are still in it, and moving Staal out for picks or prospects might send a disconcerting message to the Raleigh hockey faithful, tricky given that the Canes are already drawing less than 12,000 per game and are last in NHL attendance. Making the playoffs, and creating some legitimate interest, would be better for business.

The team is also for sale, with owner Peter Karmanos hoping to sell off a majority interest but still maintain control. He’s yet to find an interested party.

Carolina has seven other UFAs, and right now only have about $30.4 million in salary commitments for next season among 12 players. The cap floor for next season will be around the same $52.4 million it is now, and Carolina might need a bit of help to get there.

Finally, another stumbling block for Francis is that the Hurricanes have already retained salary on two previous deals, leaving them with only one more opening to do so at the deadline.

So, when it comes to this year’s trade deadline, it’s complicated for Francis and the Canes.

The Canes are a growing team with the likes of Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Victor Rask and Justin Faulk, plus young veterans like Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Goalie Eddie Lack is only 28.

But they’re stuck between the needs of today and those of tomorrow, with an uncertain ownership situation to factor in. Beyond that, Francis only has some control over the situation involving Eric Staal, as Staal has a full no-movement clause which could block any attempt to trade him somewhere he doesn’t want to go.

Staal has insisted he wants to stay and hasn’t been asked to waive his no-trade, but there also haven’t been any negotiations on a new deal. Staal, 31, scored only his 10th goal of the season Tuesday against Philadelphia to go with 22 assists, and there’s some question whether he can still produce enough to justify his $8.25 million cap hit.

Still, he has a solid resume, and could clearly help any number of playoff-bound teams looking for size at centre, particularly if they already have a No. 1 centre and Staal could occupy the No. 2 slot.

He could likely command a first round pick plus other assets. The Canes already own the first round pick of the Los Angeles Kings from the Andrej Sekera trade to go with their own, and a Staal deal could set them up to make a major step forward in their rebuilding program.

The Canes really aren’t ready to win yet even if they do squeak into the post-season, so in theory the likes of Staal, John-Michael Liles, goalie Cam Ward and winger Kris Versteeg should all be parcelled off as rentals.

That should be what Francis does. But in a disaffected market with uncertain ownership, turning his back on the playoffs at the deadline won’t be an easy thing to do.