It’s during times like these when you wouldn’t blame Eric Staal if he wanted out.
The captain’s Carolina Hurricanes have lost four games in a row and six of their last seven. Goals have been increasingly difficult to come by — the club averages just 1.94 per game, third worst in the NHL — and with just six total victories, Carolina is tied for the fewest wins in the league.
Barring a miraculous turnaround, the Hurricanes will almost certainly whiff on the post-season for a seventh consecutive season, extending the worst NHL playoff drought of any American franchise.
The big question: Will Staal be with Carolina past the Feb. 29 trade deadline, or is this the year he leaps?
“I would like to [re-sign]. I haven’t talked a lot about anything, to be honest," Staal told Hockey Central at Noon Thursday. "Obviously there’s decisions that need to be made moving forward.”
The 31-year-old centre would be an expensive rental ticket. Staal's $8.25 million salary cap hit would be cumbersome for most contenders, and his no-trade clause makes even the idea tricky, but if an interested club were to pursue him via trade, there's a great chance he could re-sign for a reduced rate.
Multiple reporters have suggested the New York Rangers as a potential fit down the stretch, as they are a cash-flush Cup contender who employ Staal's brother, Marc, on defence. But that's purely speculation at this point.
Eric Staal has nine 20-goal seasons but is a decade removed from his 100-point peak in 2005-06, when he won a Stanley Cup, and is trying to rebound from his worst statistical season as a pro. The six-foot-four Thunder Bay, Ont., native has four goals and eight assists through 18 games this season.
“It’s been challenging. I’m not going to lie. You play in the is game to be in the playoffs and try to win the Stanley Cup," Staal said, joking that his wife hears all his gripes. "I got to experience that early and haven't a lot since then. It's been extremely difficult."
The Hurricanes lifer was complimentary of general manager Ron Francis's approach and said he's fine with the fact that management has yet to approach him with a new contract or a trade request.
No hard deadlines have been set, and he hasn't be faced with any decisions to make about his future — yet. Both sides are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“It could be in the next month or two, I don't know," said Staal, one of five NHL captains on an expiring contract. "There’s other guys in the league in the same situation as me. It’ll work itself out, and whatever way it goes, we'll continue on.”