Staal signs seven-year extension with Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. -- As they try to return to the playoffs for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes have locked up one of their young stars for the long haul.

Center Eric Staal's new deal signed Thursday is worth $57.75 million, will pay him an average of $8.25 million starting in 2009-10 and will last through 2015-16.

The 23-year-old, two-time All-Star and MVP of last year's All-Star Game has been discussing the new deal with team officials all summer. General manager Jim Rutherford made a long-term deal one of his top priorities heading into training camp, which starts next week.

The Hurricanes' first-round draft pick in 2003 is entering the final year of the three-year deal he signed in 2006 and will make $5 million this season.

"They know I want to be here, they know that I really enjoy the area and love the organization," Staal said earlier this week.

Staal, who centers coach Peter Laviolette's No. 1 line, had 100 points three seasons ago in leading Carolina to its first Cup. He bounced back from a subpar 2006-07 season with 38 goals and 44 assists last season.

"He's one of the elite players in the game," Laviolette said earlier this week. "He's young, he's gifted. … I don't think anybody would be disappointed to see Eric Staal be here and play out his whole career here."

Staal also has exhibited remarkable durability. In his four NHL seasons, he has missed only one game and is one of only four primary centers to play in every NHL game since the start of the 2005-06 season. The others are Olli Jokinen, Andy McDonald and Henrik Sedin.

Since the 2005-06 season, among centers Staal ranks seventh in points (252), second in goals (113) and is tied for first in power-play goals (45).

Team captain Rod Brind'Amour said of Staal: "I don't see any reason he can't be talked about with the Sidney Crosbys and [Evgeni] Malkins when it's all said and done, because he is that good, I think."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN's research department was used in this report.