Rumblings: Eric Staal says he's still got what it takes

Eric Staal says he's up for the challenge. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If this were two years ago, after Eric Staal was coming off another season leading the Carolina Hurricanes in scoring, there would be big buzz about the center heading to unrestricted free agency.

As it stands, he's not listed an anyone's top-10 UFA rankings, not even top 15 on most lists, his stock plummeting the last two years as his offensive production has regressed.

A little harsh, no?

"I think so, but that's me believing in myself, I guess," Staal said over the phone Tuesday afternoon, his pride clearly a little dinged. "It's been challenging the last two years, for different reasons. But nonetheless, I'm here now. It's an opportunity. It's something that I'm excited about. It's been interesting so far and I'm sure it's going to get more interesting as the week goes on and we get to Friday."

Sure, he's 31, and more than ever the NHL is a young man's game, but I think the idea that he's done as a good player is a little extreme. Two years ago he led the Hurricanes in scoring with 61 points (21-40) in 79 games; the season before that he had 53 points (18-35) in 48 games in the lockout year.

Nobody is sugarcoating the last two years, from 54 points in 2014-15 to just 39 points this past season with the Hurricanes and the New York Rangers. His short stint with the Rangers has been a struggle to be sure.

"I think, from what I witnessed as a teammate, and I watched as an outsider now the last few years, whatever team gets Eric Staal will get a motivated, focused, character-laden leader," former teammate Aaron Ward said Wednesday. "It's no secret when you go from the lows of your career, on a team that was struggling, he's going to go to a team now that is going to get skill and leadership. The guy still has it in him. When the chips are on the table, he's a guy that shows up and doesn't back down.

"I honestly think he was a victim of circumstance."

One Eastern Conference GM, who requested anonymity, says Staal is a good buy-low candidate.

"It'll be a worthwhile investment," said the GM. "Great team guy. He knows the game. He's got to go to a team where he goes to the right spot. He doesn't have to be the top guy, but still one of the guys that's a difference maker. He's not going to put up 100 points anymore but I still think he can help a team. ...

"I think with the right team, and a lot of that emotion from Carolina has been washed away after the trade to New York last year, he's probably in a good mental place, I think he can do well with the right fit."

So somewhere in between the player of 2-3 years ago and what we saw this year is surely a player that can still have an impact, no?

"I mean, I feel that way, I feel like I've got a lot of good years left in me, I know I do," Staal said with emphasis. "I need to obviously perform. But I'm hoping to be picking a spot and a team where I can be put in a position to be at my best. I think there are some spots out there where I can fit well and perform well with good teams. That's what I'm looking at, at this point in my career, it's more about the fit and winning.

"I feel like I've got a lot of miles left yet. And just looking for that right fit and opportunity and go from there."

The trade from Carolina to New York already prepared him for life in a new town. He loved his time in Raleigh, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2006 and where he started his family. But that era is over.

His house in Raleigh is up for sale.

"It's on the market right now, if you know any buyers let me know," he said, chuckling. "I've been in Carolina a long time, it's home, my three kids were born there. It's going to be different for them, new school for my oldest and all that kind of stuff. But after going through the trade to New York and doing that whole thing, I think it'll be fine. We’re all excited for a new opportunity.

"For me personally, it's getting that vibe and juices back and excitement about going to the rink, those are things I really look forward to."

He sounds as motivated as he has in a long time. Will it translate into some bounce-back years or not?

"I really do feel I can be an effective player for a number of years yet," he said.

He will have to take a backseat probably to the first wave of high-priced UFAs before he settles into an opportunity. But as of Wednesday morning, a source said he had received a half-dozen serious inquiries from teams.

"I'm open-minded, I've already had a few really good conversations [with teams] the last couple of days with different people," he said. "I'm going to see how everything shakes out Friday. Obviously there are other guys that are out there, too. But we'll take our time and hopefully make the decision that's best for us as a family and me personally for hockey.

"It's something that's interesting, I've never been through this process before. It's kind of exciting at the same time."

Staal knows he's headed somewhere on a bargain price compared to the money he's used to making. That's OK. This is about proving himself all over again and he sounds up to it.


  • Top-four Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler ended up turning off his social media after a while, as there were just so many reports and rumors about a trade last week.

    "It's been an interesting week or so, that's for sure," Fowler said over the phone from Hawaii, where he's on vacation with his girlfriend and family. "You hear your name tossed out there. I’ve heard that before even at recent trade deadlines, but this time with the position the Ducks are in and some of the salaries, it just seemed like it was pretty real. I was 100 percent prepared for something to happen and was honestly pretty surprised when it didn’t. It’s one of those things where I want to be prepared for it to happen, obviously I love playing in Anaheim and being a Duck, I feel like I have a great relationship with [GM] Bob [Murray]. I just know that his hands are tied a little bit with what he needs to do. I just have to sit and be patient and see what happens."

    Trade talk involving Fowler seems to have died down after the draft. I think it's because had he been moved, it would have involved Anaheim getting a top-10 pick back as part of the package, whether that was No. 8 from the Buffalo Sabres or No. 9 from the Montreal Canadiens, perhaps.

    Either way, there's no telling for sure whether Fowler will be moved this summer but I think the Ducks -- loaded with talent on the back end -- are ready to start the season with him in their lineup unless somebody really steps up and makes a quality offer. They're not giving this guy away.

  • In a thin UFA defensemen market, it's worth remembering that Dan Hamhuis is indeed available as Friday approaches.

    Maybe it's because some people never thought he'd leave the Vancouver Canucks but for whatever reason you don't hear his name bandied about as much.

    "All indications are pointing to us going to free agency," Hamhuis said over the phone Wednesday.

    No question Hamhuis and his wife and three young kids would love to stay in Vancouver, and the door on the Canucks is not shut either, but the native of Smithers, British Columbia, is also in a frame of mind where he's ready to see what's out there given that the Canucks haven’t offered an extension.

    The experience at the trade deadline, where he was asked to waive his no-movement clause in a potential deal -- which never materialized -- served as an important process nonetheless.

    "I think for me, going through the trade deadline this year was difficult for sure," said Hamhuis. "I don't think it's any secret that B.C. is home for me. We've absolutely loved our six years here that I've played. The trade deadline certainly shook us up a little bit, dealing with the possibility of change. Actually, we were surprised that we ended up staying in Vancouver through the trade deadline. But what it did was probably open our minds a bit to change and being more receptive to change if and when it needs to happen.

    "That seems to be the case now," added Hamhuis. "We're strongly preparing for free agency and starting to look at where there may be good fits outside of Vancouver."

    And what does he consider a good fit?

    "Role is going to be a big thing for me; finding a team that values what I bring to the game," said Hamhuis. "I strongly believe that I'm a top-four defenseman and if not, more. My goal starting working out this summer is to be the best defenseman on whatever team I’m going to be on next year. I strongly believe I can do that."

    After all, it was just two years ago that Hamhuis played for Canada in the Olympics. Injuries have derailed a bit since then. But he believes he can still be that top-four guy.

    "I've had a couple of seasons where I've had two unfortunate injuries where I haven't put the numbers that I can. But I'm 100 percent healthy," he said. "The way I finished last year was some of the best hockey I've played in a long time. It’s an indication that I’ve got lots of good hockey left in me."

  • Defenseman Tyson Barrie remains an unsigned RFA as Friday approaches. The Colorado Avalanche made his camp a new contract offer at the draft in Buffalo last week. Nobody is saying either way but I don’t get the sense it was seen as good enough. He’s eligible for arbitration. The Avs would rather not trade him, GM Joe Sakic has said. It's going to be interesting to see where this heads. Still lots of time to work out a new contract, though.