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Call to the Hall: Carolina Hurricanes

Welcome to LWOS Hockey’s summer series, Call to the Hall, where we take a look at the next great player from each NHL franchise to get called to the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are a few caveats, the player must be active, and must have played 300 games (or 150 for goaltenders) with the franchise.

Check out the previous Call to the Hall articles HERE

Call to the Hall: Carolina Hurricanes

In a short history (est. 1997 after moving from Hartford), the Carolina Hurricanes franchise has had its ups and downs including having some star players along the way. General Manager Ron Francis is a prime example as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer spending 16 years with the Hartford/Carolina franchise totaling 382 goals and 1,175 points, winning two Stanley Cups during his days with Pittsburgh. Rod Brind’amour spent ten years with the franchise, winning a Stanley Cup in 2006 and two Selke trophies. Goaltender Cam Ward started his career in that 2005-06 banner year and hasn’t looked back since, posting 246 wins and 22 shutouts, both best in the franchise’s history.

Out of everyone on the Carolina Hurricanes roster at the moment as the franchise powers through a rebuild, the debate for who should go to the Hockey Hall of Fame next is very thin. Prospects to possibly get there however, are starting to take shape, with center Elias Lindholm(17G-22A-39P) and defenseman Justin Faulk(15G-34A-49P) both having career years at ages 20 and 22 respectively. Another possible future candidate would be Jeff Skinner who has already put up two 30+ goal seasons before his 24th birthday, winning the Calder Trophy in 2011. One name stands out above all others however, as the most deserving player would have to be center and current captain Eric Staal.

Eric Staal

Drafted 2nd overall by the Hurricanes in a loaded 2003 draft class, then-18-year old Eric Staal had high expectations coming to a team that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs after advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002. Playing his junior hockey for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, Staal put up 81 goals and 209 points in 185 contests. As former captain Ron Francis was on the finishing chapter of his career, later moving to Toronto in a late-season trade, Staal was looked at as the franchise’s future leader down the middle.

Staal finished with a modest 2003-04 inaugural campaign, scoring 11 goals and 31 points in 81 games on a team where the highest scorer put up 45 points(Josef Vasicek) and no player scored more than 20 goals. The team missed the playoffs again, and head coach Paul Maurice was fired after an 8-12-8-2 start in favor of Peter Laviolette.

Due to the work stoppage that would come a season later, Staal spent a season tearing up the American League, scoring 26 goals and 77 points in 77 games for the Lowell Lock Monsters, an experience that would prove very valuable when the League resumed activities in time for the 2005-06 season. That year would prove very memorable for Staal and his franchise. Staal erupted for 45 goals and 100 points in 82 games(notice a theme here in durability) in a year where scoring itself boomed(seven, SEVEN 100 point scorers), leading the 52-22-8 Hurricanes in points finishing 24 tallies ahead of Justin Williams, the second best point-getter on the team. The 20-year old saved his best for last however, scoring a whopping nine goals and 28 points in 25 postseason games, leading the Hurricanes along with the Conn Smythe play of then-rookie Cam Ward to a seven-game series victory over the Edmonton Oilers in one of the more unexpected Stanley Cup Finals in history. Playing alongside stars Rod Brind’amour and Justin Williams, Staal showed his stuff on the big stage and cemented his future in Carolina.

The following season proved to be a major hangover, as the Hurricanes finished with 40 wins and missed the playoffs after hoisting Lord Stanley’s Mug just a summer ago. Staal finished with a 30-goal 70-point season, one of many victims of Carolina’s lackluster encore. The team would miss the playoffs again in 2007-08 with Staal reassuring some doubters potting 38 goals and 82 points. The playoffs would have to wait until the next season, where the now-23-year old put up his second 40-goal campaign. It was the fourth straight season in which Staal played all 82 regular season games. The first trip to the playoffs for Carolina since ’06 proved to be magical again, as they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals winning two memorable game sevens against New Jersey and Boston. The ride would come to a screeching halt however, as the team was swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. Staal in 18 postseason games scored ten goals and again led the team in scoring.

From 2009-15, the Hurricanes have not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the one constant up front through it all has been Eric Staal. In this stretch he has posted three 70+ point seasons and five 20+ goal seasons. In 2010, he followed in the footsteps of Francis and Brind’amour, becoming the 5th captain in franchise history.  In the 2013 lockout-shortened season, he posted 18 goals and 53 points in all 48 regular season games, well on pace for both 20+ goals and 70+ points.

Remember the theme of durability? Well, possibly the best attribute and most underrated attribute of Staal’s tenure in Carolina has to be just that. Here’s a list of how many games Staal has played each season beginning with his rookie campaign in 2003: 81, 82, 82, 82, 82, 70, 81, 82, 48, 79, 77. Having your best player in the lineup 97% of the time is a definite plus to go with his high-end skill.

Overall, Staal has amassed 312 goals and 742 points in 846 career games. This includes scoring 20+ goals in each of his 11 seasons in Carolina excluding his rookie year and the shortened season. From ’06-12, Staal scored 70+ points each campaign, and from ’13-15 has put up a respectable 62 goals and 168 points throughout a rebuild in 204 games. In the prime of his career, at age 30, Staal has much left in the tank and could eclipse 1,000 points in the coming years.

Whether he’ll be a hurricane then remains to be seen, but after all he has done for the franchise, it would be pretty hard to see the captain get moved before the team starts contending again. Staal already has a great playoff resume, but only two trips in 11 seasons is very unfortunate for a player of his caliber.

Time will tell on how Staal finishes his career, but as of now, he’s looking like a prime Hockey Hall of Fame candidate for his Hurricanes.

Stats courtesy of hockeydb and hockeyreference

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