Eric Staals return shows impact his tenure, departure had on Hurricanes

Carolina tops former captain in his second time back at PNC Arena

James Guillory—USA TODAY Sports
Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack goes down to stop the puck whiledefensemen Brett Pesce battles with Wild centerEric Staal during Carolina's 3-1 winThursday at PNC Arena.

RALEIGH — Eric Staal may be long gone, but he still casts a shadow on the Carolina Hurricanes franchise. Just over a year after he was traded to the New York Rangers at the 2016 NHL trade deadline, Staal essentially still hasn’t been replaced.Carolina’s captaincy? There hasn’t been one since Staal left, with Hurricanes coach Bill Peters opting instead for four alternates and bristling at mention of not having once since No. 12 departed.Staal’s production in the lineup — or at least his production from half a decade ago — also hasn’t been replicated, and the 32-year-old center has relocated his game with 53 points in his first 69 games with the Wild, who he signed with this offseason. That’s a 63-point pace that would be his best since he had 70 points in 2011-12. He is also on track for 27 goals, which would be the most since he scored 33 in 2010-11.And while it hasn’t impacted his personal performance on the ice, brother Jordan Staal clearly misses having his oldest brother around.”It’s still unfortunate the way it ended up,” Jordan said prior to the game. “But obviously I’d still like to be playing with him if we had some better seasons and what not. It’s part of it.”So when the elder Staal returned to Raleigh Thursday night for the first time with Minnesota, there was still the cloud of his 13 years with the Hurricanes hovering over the game.What emerged from that cloud was a 3-1 Carolina win, the Hurricanes’ fifth-straight game with a point (3-0-2) as they attempt to keep their razor-thin playoff hopes afloat.Furthermore, the three players that scored for the Hurricanes all have varying ties to Staal’s departure.Derek Ryan, who opened the scoring with a power play goal, received his first NHL recall on Feb. 29, 2016 — a day after Staal was traded to the Rangers, thus opening up a roster spot.Victor Rask got the game-winning goal with 3:24 left, his 16th goal of the year, and has slid into the No. 1 scoring center role vacated by Staal. Part of the money that came off the books when Staal’s contract — which averaged $8.25 million from 2009 until last season — expired went to Rask when he received a four-year, $16 million contract last summer.Teuvo Teravainen sealed the game with an empty-net goal, and he too is with the Hurricanes in part due to Staal.The 22-year-old forward was traded from Chicago, along with Bryan Bickell, to Carolina in exchange for a 2016 second-round pick and 2017 third-round pick. The 2016 pick was one of two draft picks — along with prospect Aleksi Saarela — the Hurricanes received from the Rangers in exchange for Staal.The roots from the Eric Staal era — Jordan’s decision to force a trade to Carolina; Cam Ward being the one player who won a Stanley Cup with him in 2006; several players winding up with the Hurricanes after his departure — run deep, though the franchise is looking to move past it and return the playoffs in the near future.Despite the positives from Thursday night for the Hurricanes, the reality is the Wild are headed to the postseason and, barring a miracle run in the season’s final 14 games, Carolina is not.”We haven’t talked about that too much. I don’t think — that’s a not a very fun conversation to have with 15 games left for where they’re at and where we’re at,” Eric said when asked if he and Jordan had talked about the team’s two different situations. “But he knows, he’s just competing day by day as hard as he can ’cause that’s all you can do. And that’s what I tried to do when I was here as well. It’s just a different dynamic and situation.”