Among the names potentially on the trade market this spring, few will be more appealing to teams gearing up for a playoff run than Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes.
If the ‘Canes decide to shop the pending unrestricted free agent, he checks off a lot of boxes for teams.
Firstly, he’s a centre. Along with defencemen, that is generally the toughest position at which to add a real difference-maker at the deadline. He brings size, which is always at a premium in the postseason. At 6’4” and 205 pounds, he’s the kind of skater who should reassure coaches worried about their teams being ground down over a grueling playoff run.
He’s also experienced. In 2006, Staal was arguably Carolina’s most important player—goaltender Cam Ward got the Conn Smythe Trophy—as he put up 28 points in 25 games.
In addition to that Stanley Cup win, Staal also won gold with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics, recording six points in the seven-game tournament.
There are a lot of positives there. If he becomes available via trade, there aren’t many teams that will be disinterested in a big, offensively capable centre with a history of producing when it is hardest to produce.
There are some wrinkles, too.
The first is his contract. As Chip Alexander of the News & Observer reported, Staal has both a $9.5 million salary and no-trade clause.
Much of the money will have been paid off by the trade deadline, but that’s still a factor. Of course, Staal’s ability to veto any trade is going to work against any efforts Carolina might hypothetically make to start a bidding war for his services.
The other problem is his current performance. In 2013, Staal topped the point-per-game mark, but he hasn’t been in that vicinity lately. He fell to just 61 points in 2013-14 and 54 points last year. This season, he has just 13 points in 22 games.
He’s still playing strong two-way hockey, but his offensive touch hasn’t been as evident in the last few years as it was in the recent past.
To get a feel for how much value that kind of player has, it makes sense to look back at some recent deadline deals that involved marquee talent on expiring deals:
- 2015: Antoine Vermette was acquired by the Blackhawks from the Coyotes in exchange for Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 first-round pick.
- 2015: Andrej Sekera was acquired by the Kings from the Hurricanes in exchange for Roland McKeown and a conditional 2015 first-round pick.
- 2014: Marian Gaborik was acquired by the Kings from the Blue Jackets in exchange for Matt Frattin and conditional 2014 second- and third-round picks.
- 2014: Martin St. Louis was acquired by the Rangers from the Lightning in exchange for Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional 2014 second-round pick.
- 2013: Jarome Iginla was acquired by the Penguins from the Flames in exchange for Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick.
All trade information is from the NHL’s official trade trackers for 2013, 2013-14 and 2014-15. A couple of trades (Keith Yandle, Jay Bouwmeester) were ignored because, in each case, the player had another year on his contract.
For the most part, the price for high-end trade-deadline rentals almost always starts with a first-round pick—generally a selection in the No. 20-30 range from a real contender.
Where it goes from there depends on the caliber of the player.
Staal is obviously worth a lot more than Vermette—the only centre on this list—who commanded a middling but NHL-ready prospect in addition to his first-round pick.
Iginla would be a better point of comparison, but he plays the wing instead of down the middle, and that hurt his value.
The St. Louis trade is a tough one to compare because not a lot of teams are going to be shopping the equivalent of Callahan in exchange.
A reasonable return for Staal is probably structured along the lines of the Iginla deal, but with a little more value. Iginla brought back the obligatory first-round pick—something Staal would surely command—and two mediocre prospects. My guess is that Carolina could also get at least one quality prospect back along with the first-round pick as well as a lesser sweetener along the lines of a Hanowski or Agostino.
If that assessment is accurate, it’s both a lot to give up for a contending team and a pretty poor return on a player who has been a franchise cornerstone for the Hurricanes over the last decade.
That’s the nature of rental deals, though. The player always costs a lot but almost never as much as he’d be worth signed to a deal with term.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.