RALEIGH, N.C. - Eric Staal had the "A" sewn permanently on all of his jerseys earlier this week after a teammate was traded.
Now, Carolina's newest alternate captain must take even more of a leadership role because centre Rod Brind'Amour - one of the Hurricanes' leading scorers and the face of the franchise - most likely will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The Hurricanes are realizing that they have no choice but to refocus their push for a return to the playoffs without the captain who two years ago carried them to their first Stanley Cup.
"Obviously, when you lose a centreman like Rod, other guys need to step up, and I'm one of them," Staal said Friday. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It doesn't just take me. It takes everybody."
Brind'Amour was having reconstructive surgery Friday at a Raleigh hospital to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He's expected to miss at least four months, which means the best-case scenario for the Hurricanes involves him healing by June and the remaining players making an exceptionally deep run through the post-season.
For a team that has been motivated by its absence from last year's playoffs, Brind'Amour's injury gives Carolina - which earlier in the week dealt away two key components of its 2006 Cup run and is missing nine other key players with concussions, illnesses and other ailments - another obstacle to overcome.
"There's no question (that) in the locker room and on the ice, he's going to be missed," coach Peter Laviolette said. "From leadership, to the example in the weight room, on the ice, as a person, as a player, he'll be missed."
The injury to the two-time defending Selke Trophy winner and notorious workout warrior - he's perhaps best known for his lengthy post-game sessions with the weights - creates a hole in the middle of the Hurricanes' most productive line of late.
Brind'Amour, who has 51 points while contributing on both the power play and penalty kill, anchored a line that included Sergei Samsonov and Andrew Ladd. That trio generated at least one goal in three of the five games that preceded his injury.
He was hurt in the opening 90 seconds of Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh when, skating in his first shift of the game, he was involved in a knee-to-knee collision with the Penguins' Nathan Smith moments before Smith and Georges Laraque sandwiched him near the boards at the centre line. Perhaps fuelled by that injury, Carolina rallied to beat the Penguins 4-2.
"At the end of the day, there's a will to win, and (Thursday) night, that will to win was evident for me," Laviolette said. "Roddy went out in the first minute, and the remaining 59 minutes we played short-handed. ... Our expectation, it can't be other than winning every game we play from here on out."
They'll have to do it with a lineup that features several new faces. Carolina on Monday traded defenceman Mike Commodore and forward Cory Stillman to Ottawa for defenceman Joe Corvo and forward Patrick Eaves, and a shoulder and neck injury has prevented Eaves from making his Hurricanes debut. The departure of Stillman, an alternate captain, led the team to award Staal the "A" on a full-time basis.
"Obviously, you'll be looked to a little bit more offensively, and chipping in because of a guy like Roddy that went down, but I don't think I change the way I play or the way I speak in the locker room," Staal said.
Rookie defenceman Tim Conboy quickly answered any questions about a lack of toughness without Commodore. Not long after Brind'Amour was hurt, he traded punches with Smith.
"Any time a player of that calibre and your captain goes down, it's a big loss," said Conboy, who last month wound up fighting Colorado enforcer Scott Parker during his first career NHL shift. "So you've just got to do what you can. The other guys have got to step up and fill in as best as possible."