Eric Staal (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
The captain is a perfect emblem for the gumworks that is the trade market right now. Not only could the Canes be re-thinking the whole scenario, but finding a simpatico partner has been impossible under current conditions.
Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal has made quite the career for himself in Raleigh, winning the team's first and only Stanley Cup and being the franchise face for a decade. All that could be coming to an end with the big center up for free agency in the summer, but the Canes haven't had any luck shopping Staal just yet. Oh, they've been trying – but the situation is sticky.
According to my sources, Carolina has been actively shopping Staal for awhile now, but can't find a suitor due to his $8.25 million cap hit. Simply put, most contenders either don't have the need for the veteran, or don't have the cap space yet to get under the ceiling. So if Staal is moved, it's likely going to be right on deadline day, where his salary impact would be minimized.
But things get even trickier once you wade into the muck of reality: which teams have both the cap space and the need for Staal? The New Jersey Devils would be an option, being a squad that isn't super-strong down the middle but in possession of a goalie in Cory Schneider who can potentially steal games in the playoffs. The fly in the ointment here is that the Devils have a thin prospect cupboard and need their draft picks right now, so what is the return?
Another interesting scenario would be Colorado, only because the Avs have the cap space and would have a pretty scary combo down the middle with Nathan MacKinnon, Carl Soderberg and Staal. The Avs are gripping a wild card spot right now and while defense would be a bigger need in my estimation, Staal has been Carolina's best possession player and Colorado could certainly use someone in that category.
Here's perhaps the most interesting scenario, suggested by my office mate Brian Costello: Chicago. The Blackhawks are in the midst of Dynasty Mode and GM Stan Bowman has never been afraid to go for it – just look at the Antoine Vermette deal last season. Can you imagine staring down a Hawks team that goes Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov and Staal down the middle? That's terrifying, considering the chemistry Anisimov has with wingers Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.
If the Hawks wait until the last minute and send some salary back (no, not Bryan Bickell – think about it from Carolina's end) rather than just futures, it could work.
Not that Carolina is super-stoked about the situation, I'm sure. After all, the Canes are hot right now and though I can't imagine them making noise if they made the playoffs, it would be a great reward for the young squad if they managed to qualify. At this point, do you simply hang on to Staal and gamble that he can help get you into the post-season one last time before free agency calls? (I am, of course, going off the assumption that a long-term deal with the franchise doesn't make sense for either party, given Staal's age)
So yeah, the whole scenario is convoluted and confusing. A metaphor writ large for the entire NHL landscape right now? You betcha. Parity and the salary cap are playing havoc with trade winds and odds are we won't know how everything shakes out until the very last second.