What We Learned: Deconstructing the inscrutable mystery that is Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. And, well, there's a ton of other crap for me to blather on about too. And yes, I'm totally ripping off just about every other blogger ever's weekly column, but that's something you'll have to deal with on your own time.

Fact: If I were a Hurricanes fan, I would hate Eric Staal(notes).

Not every night, of course. It's pretty hard to argue with two conventional hat tricks and a four-goal game this year and 18 of his 32 goals have come in seven multiple-goal games ... but every OTHER night? Nada.

So yeah, he has 32 goals this year. And that's great. But 10 of those have come in three games against three genuinely bad teams (four against Tampa, and three each against Phoenix and Atlanta).

But that's Staal for you: Game-changer against the bottom feeders (23-15-38 in 35 games against teams not currently in the playoffs) and simply mediocre or even sub-average against the good teams (9-11-20 in 32). Almost 66 percent of his scoring has come in 52 percent of his games.

He also benefits heavily, of course, from playing in the Southeast Division, where two of the worst three teams in the league play his Carolina Hurricanes six times a year each. Against the Bolts he's got an incredible 8-3-11 in six games, and against the Thrash he's 3-4-7 in six. So that's 11-7-18 in 12 games against the Nos. 28 and 29 teams in the league. Woo.

What about the other teams in the Southeast? Against Florida he's got two assists in five games and against Washington it's two goals in four. Mighty impressive.

Then, of course, there is his maddening inconsistency.

There was the streak of eight games in which he had one lousy point (an assist against -- surprise! -- Atlanta). He ended that with a hat trick against Phoenix. Literally the next game, he began a seven game goalless streak of seven games and had only two assists in that stretch. He broke out of that with five goals in his next four games.

And this isn't to say he doesn't do some things well. Only 19 of his points have come at home this year, for one, which means he's winning games for the Canes on the road.

There's a phrase that I've heard about Eric Staal and his quality of play when Erik Cole(notes) is his linemate: He needs Cole more than Cole needs him. Well since Staal has eight points in two games since Cole's return and they've only had six very brief shifts in which their time on ice didn't line up almost perfectly, that might very well be true.

Maybe now that Cole's back, Staal will start playing like the 2005-06 version that scored 45 goals and 55 assists. But is that worth ... my god, $8.25 million a year for the next seven starting next season?

No, no, no it isn't.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: After he blew by Mike Modano(notes) the other day for that highlight-reel goal, the push is on to get Bobby Ryan(notes) named to the U.S. Olympic team. Got me wondering: how many American right wings are better than Ryan right this second? Patrick Kane(notes)? For sure. Brian Gionta(notes)? Maybe. Jamie Langenbrunner(notes)? Probably not even if he has been awesome this season. I can't think of anyone else, so I've gotta imagine Bobby Ryan is a no-doubter to make the 2010 team.

Atlanta Thrashers: Real interesting recap of the Thrashers' town hall meeting for season ticket holders over at Birdwatchers Anonymous.

Someone followed up by asking why DW talked of "competing" but did not talk about "making the playoffs" or "winning the Cup" at the start of this season. The questioner asked "why should we the fans have hope, if this is not the goal?" DW responded by relating how all the players wrote out their team and individual goals at the start of they year and every player put "make playoffs and win Cup" as their team goal.

I just wrote down "get paid a million dollars by Yahoo! for doing this column" as my season goal. FINGERS CROSSED EVERYONE!

Boston Bruins: I've known the author of this story for many years now. And he's out of his damn mind if he thinks the Bruins didn't improve appreciably at the deadline. Not that they made the Pronger-sized splash that everyone talked about, but they're also the best team in the East, so what do you want from them?

Buffalo Sabres: After the Sabres played hideously poor hockey against the Senators on Saturday in a 6-3 loss that saw Buffalo allow three third-period goals and get outshot 14-8 in the final frame. The Sabres are now 1-3-1 against the Sens this year, accounting for 13.3 percent of their total for the ENTIRE SEASON in five games. The Sabres, meanwhile, are two points out of the playoffs and I'm thinking maybe they should stop giving away points to awful teams.

Calgary Flames: Michael Russo believes that Mike Keenan will turn Olli Jokinen into an elite player again, and that will turn the Flames into a Western power.

"I was a borderline player," Jokinen admitted. "I became a lot better hockey player under him. He's the reason for my [successful] career. The player that I am, I have to give him all the credit."

That's why Calgary's acquisition for Jokinen last week was so brilliant, why it could pay huge dividends and elevate the Flames into the ilk of San Jose and Detroit heading into the playoffs

Well I will say this as a Flames fan: it damn well better. This has been an embarrassingly ugly weekend for Calgary.

Carolina Hurricanes: I'm not sure what's going on down in Carolina. They've scored 20 goals in their last three games. No coincidence that Staal also has five goals and four assists in those games, either. Apparently they're also saying it has a lot to do with Erik Cole. I buy that.

Chicago Blackhawks: Bob Verdi says, "Suddenly, Chicago Blackhawks could be talk of the town." Suddenly? What was last year? What was the first five and a half months of the season? I understand these things are written with the best of intentions and not necessarily for hockey fans, but how many times have fans in Chicago and Boston seen this same story over and over again? Yes, they're good. It's not a news story any more. And that game today ain't gonna move any tickets.

Colorado Avalanche: Interesting question: If you had season tickets to the Avs, would you renew them? The best response, and probably the correct one, was first.

This has nothing to do with the economy and if it has or has not affected us at home. This has solely to do with the fact that the ticket prices are still sky high and upper management has shown little or no interest in putting a team on the ice that is willing to compete.

Yeah, that's about right, isn't it?

Columbus Blue Jackets: From Puckrakers and without comment:

Last night, Blue Jackets' captain Rick Nash(notes) became the first NHL player to record an unassisted hat trick since Maurice "Rocket" Richard did it for the Montreal Canadiens on March 14, 1948, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Well that's impressive then.

Dallas Stars: Last weekend the Stars were looking down the barrel of a three-games-in-four-days road trip at San Jose, at Los Angeles and at Anaheim. They scored 11 goals in those games and took five of six points from their opponents. I've got Dallas down as a serious spoiler for at least their first-round opponent. (Y'know, unless Marty Turco(notes) turns into Playoff Marty Turco.)

Detroit Red Wings: Last week I caught what I felt was an undue amount of crap for my (apparently ludicrous) opinion that Detroit's goaltending situation was too volatile and frankly not-good for the Red Wings to make a real penetrating run at a Stanley Cup repeat. I had justification. They had, after all, just given up eight goals to the Predators.

"Pish posh," they all said. "Just you wait. Chris Osgood(notes) carried them to the final last year!" Then Osgood shut out the Blues in his next game so I started thinking maybe I was wrong.

Then Osgood gave up a seven-spot to Columbus in 43:25 on 23 shots. Say it's not his fault all you want, but that team .895 save percentage isn't going to win a thing. If you can't outgun teams in regular season games (the Wings outshot Columbus 46-28), you sure can't do it in the postseason.

(By the by, a friend of mine that's a Red Wings fan signed off on these comments, so your beef is with him.)

Edmonton Oilers: Okay, okay, granted it's only Larry Brooks saying this, but Edmonton almost signed Jaromir Jagr(notes) at the deadline? Hmm, that sounds a little odd to me and...

The contract with the Oilers, we're told, would have included a "poison pill" obligation of upward of $7 million for next year in order to discourage the competition -- specifically, Pittsburgh -- from claiming Jagr on waivers upon his return to the NHL.

Oh, no, that sounds exactly like the Oil then.

Florida Panthers: Quickly now, name the Panthers' leading scorer. J-Bo? Nope. Booth? Nope. How 'bout Stephen Weiss(notes), who has 48 points? Not sure how comfortable I'd be with that as my team best, and neither is Pete DeBoer.

Stephen, for me, hasn't put up the points so far that he's capable of putting up. I don't think it's any different. My expectations for where Stephen Weiss should be are where he's at now and even more. I don't know that he's doing anything exceptional other than he's starting to do what he's capable of doing and what he's expecting to do.

Los Angeles Kings: In two weeks, Teddy Purcell(notes) went from playing in the AHL to playing on the Kings' top line. Terry Murray spent some time on Friday fawning all over him, but I've got to wonder how much of that is spin control from the fallout of the Patrick O'Sullivan(notes) trade.

Minnesota Wild: Très intéressant tête-à-tête between Craig Leipold and a former Wild season ticket holder regarding the Wild's utter lack of moves at the deadline when they are (theoretically) still in the hunt for a playoff spot. I'm glad Leipold took the time to tell this guy to take a walk, because the only trade the Wild should've made was to trade Marian Gaborik(notes) for anything to which a trade partner could lay hands. I see why they didn't, though. Maybe I'll e-mail Leipold to congratulate him.

Montreal Canadiens: Some guy with the CBC is reporting (en français) that the Habs have already signed free agent to be Saku Koivu(notes) to a contract extension.

Une source m'affirme que le contrat de Saku Koivu est déjà dans le tiroir, signé, mais qu'on attend l'été pour ne pas faire de vague.

That translates to:

A source assured me that Saku Koivu's next contract is already in a drawer, signed, but that they're waiting until summer to announce it so as to not make waves.

So there's that.

Nashville Predators: Finally the big playoff push can begin: Scott Nichol's back! Wooooo!

New Jersey Devils: One of those weird things: The Devs are now 0-fer in their last two games against the Islanders, and have been outscored 11-3 in those games. That definitely earns you a day off.

New York Islanders: Where'd this Bergenheim kid come from anyway? He's got five goals in his last four games, six in his last five and seven in his last seven. His point total for the year before that stretch: 7-7-14. That's a kid playing for more ice time in a lost season. And lookit that, someone called it.

New York Rangers: For some reason, the Wall Street Journal opted to live blog yesterday's Rangers/Bruins afternoon game. That would be pretty cool if the WSJ hadn't sent someone who clearly doesn't know anything about hockey to the game. To wit, here are blogger Reed Albergotti's thoughts on the second intermission:

1:14-Since there's no half-time, I'll call this "third time."

Oh ho, the witticisms never stop down there. Let's hope they don't send Albergotti back to a Ranger game for a "second time."

And by the way, I was just saying that the Rangers need to be on national television more when I saw that they were the NBC Game of the Week next week as well. Awesome! They're so much fun to watch!

Ottawa Senators: Here's one way to improve the experience of watching a Senators game: Silver Seven's "Sens Drinking Game."

Uh oh:


The commentator criticizes Jason Spezza(notes).

*collapses five minutes in*

Philadelphia Flyers: Poor Scottie Upshall(notes). You'd think he was being shipped off to Siberia instead of beautiful Phoenix, Arizona.

That's one tough interview.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Phoenix Coyotes are a brilliant organization. Not only were they the clear winner at the deadline, but they also offloaded Danny Carcillo, who immediately ingratiated himself to his Flyers teammates by getting suspended for five games.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguin Poop, perhaps the best-named sports blog on the planet, postulates that with Jaromir Jagr being "free as a bird" to sign where he pleases, it would be awful nice if he signed with Pittsburgh. BUT WHERE DO THE EDMONTON OILERS FIGURE INTO THIS, HMM?

San Jose Sharks: Kyle McLaren(notes) has the worst luck in the world. First he gets sent down to Worcester by the Sharks to start the season (and if you know anything about Worcester, Mass., it's that the only thing worse than living there is playing hockey in its rink), then he injures his hand on Dec. 10. But then he gets traded to the Flyers, who need help on defense. Then he gets told his hand is too beat-up, fails his physical, and has to go back to Worcester. A fate worse than death.

St. Louis Blues: So the St. Louis Blues jersey auction is going well. Couple guys at $260. A few more between $300 and 400. And TJ Oshie's jersey is going for a mere $2,070. Apparently this guy is more than a little beloved out in the Gateway to the West. Good thing the Blues didn't listen to those "Is Oshie available?" calls on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Though it hasn't happened yet, Rick Tocchet's going to catch an extension in Tampa, since the team is 16-25-9 with him behind the bench (a winning percentage of .410!). Compare that with Barry Melrose's 5-7-4 record and you actually have a 2.8 percent drop in win percentage. I agree that Melrose wasn't going to be a good coach, but I doubt Tocchet is either.

Toronto Maple Leafs: So I'm looking at the NHL's stat page yesterday and I attempt to sort by country (Luca Sbisa(notes) is Italy's leading scorer this year!). I noticed something weird. "Bahamas." What? Who the hell is from the Bahamas? Turns out it's the Leafs' Andre Deveaux(notes). He is the first player in league history to have been born in the Bahamas. I tried to get a hold of Chemmy from Pension Plan Puppets for further info, but he is a jerk and not available when I need him to be.

Googling told me, though, the Deveaux moved to Canada when he was three. By himself! As an adorable Depression-era ragamuffin/orphan. A rich bald man later took him in. And they sang a lot.

Interestingly, there's also a slot for a player born in Tanzania but no stats for anyone. A prize to the first person who can tell me why this option exists.*

*no prize will be awarded

Vancouver Canucks: I think the Canucks are going soft on us. First there was that strange picture of a shirtless Darcy Hordichuk(notes) holding his infant son, and now they're organizing a hockey trip for their moms?

The Vancouver Canucks -- who had a dads' trip last season -- are celebrating that with their moms' road trip to Southern California, which begins on Monday in Los Angeles and concludes Wednesday in Anaheim.

The thirteen moms who will be going will essentially shadow their sons, taking pre-game meals, staying at the same hotel and riding on the airline charters.

A famous man once said, "A boy's best friend is his mother," before murdering a very nice girl in the shower while dressed as an old woman. There's a lesson to be learned there, I think.

Washington Capitals: I found this Sunday afternoon while watching the Pens/Caps game. It's Alexander Ovechkin(notes) silently playing Wii Boxing against a little girl (whom I believe to be Sidney Crosby(notes)). No truth to the rumor that when he beat her, he jumped into a nearby window in celebration, by the way.

Gold Star Award

Even despite his subpar season, Staalsy had eight points in two games this weekend. Two assists Friday, Texas hat trick and two assists on Saturday. Yeah, that's pretty much a solid weekend right there.

Next week's game I'm totally going to watch on Center Ice if I'm home

Calgary at Detroit on Thursday at 7 p.m. Two of the top three teams in the West going head-to-head is always a good one.

Event that should replace the shootout and would be just as relevant to hockey skill

Trying to get away with plagiarizing major novels.

Movie of the Week

Martin Scorsese's seminal, and some would argue untoppable, 1977 concert film "The Last Waltz," is an experience. I've probably listened to the four-hour uncut concert album 50 times, but the film really shows just how much of a grind the road is. You just have to see The Band, with all their friends, play nothing but amazing songs for two and a half hours (though if you value your patience you will skip Joni Mitchell's three-song contribution near the middle). Consummate musicianship, consummate filmmaking.

Perfect HF Boards trade proposal of the week

Sadly now that the trade deadline has come and gone, things have quieted down considerably over at HFBoards' trade proposal forum. But that doesn't stop everyone from posting their silly ideas.

TearsOFaClown thinks this one would fly:

Both are top 3 picks and have lots of upside. Kings are stacked at D and Johnson may be spare parts with the emergence of Doughty as the clear #1 Defenseman. Kings also have Voynov and Hickey who are most likely ready for the NHL next season. The Pens have Crosby and Malkin but are lacking some more grit and skill on defense (atleast that's my observation). The cherry on top is that Crosby and Johnson are good friends and have played together since their Shattuck days.

What say you?

I say you're dumb.



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