Rumblings: Eric Staal's situation differs from that of Kopitar, Stamkos

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While Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar remain the more high-profile stars still unsigned as they enter the final year of their respective deals, don't forget about Eric Staal.

The Carolina Hurricanes captain is in the exact same position: He'll become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. An extension doesn't sound imminent at this point, so the veteran center likely will enter the season with his future in limbo. The communication has been clear and cordial between his veteran agent, Rick Curran, and GM Ron Francis.

"We never really put a time frame on it," Curran told ESPN.com on Monday. "We've had a great, honest dialogue. We were open all along to letting the season get underway and see where it goes from there. There's no problem from either side, there's a clear understanding. The focus now is on the team getting off to a good start."

Francis, reached by ESPN.com Monday, echoed that comment: "Rick and I have had a good, open dialogue. I've had the same conversations with Eric himself. We're all comfortable with where we are at. We’ll get into the season, see how things go, and we’ll go from there. But everything’s fine."

I think where the Staal situation differs greatly from that of Stamkos and Kopitar is where each of those NHL teams will be standings-wise come the March trade deadline. Let’s say Stamkos and Kopitar remain unsigned then, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings playoff-bound. I mean, I don’t think those clubs can entertain a trade anyway, right?

Whereas the expectations for the rebuilding Hurricanes are obviously lower. If the Hurricanes are out of it come the deadline, don't they have to think about a Staal trade if he remains unsigned? Of course, Staal controls his fate with a no-move clause.

I think Staal wants to stay, wants to re-sign, but will it happen?

Of these three players, my money is on Kopitar signing first.