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Rutherford: Staal Acquisition a 'Game-Changer'

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Ask President and General Manager Jim Rutherford, and he’ll tell you: trading for Jordan Staal has changed the perception of the Carolina Hurricanes, both in the media and with teams and players around the National Hockey League.

Michael Smith
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To ensure that perception sticks and to protect the investment, the Canes agreed to a 10-year, $60 million extension with Staal on Sunday. It is the longest contract Rutherford said he has ever agreed to with a player in his time with the Hurricanes.

“Once we walked through everything, his commitment to here and the fact that he is such a young free agent, getting that commitment … was important,” Rutherford said. “This is really a game-changer for us with the fact that you get a young, elite player that can do so many different things in the game. We’re just excited and very fortunate to have him.”

The contract is also the exact same both in years and dollar amount that Staal turned down from the Pittsburgh Penguins, a decision he said was tough to make.

“When I heard about it, I wasn’t really comfortable with it. I just kind of wanted to wait it out, play next year and see how things went,” he said in a conference call on June 23. “In the back of my mind, knowing that if I did sign that deal, there was a good chance that I would never ever play beside Eric.”

At that time, it wasn’t certain whether the 23-year-old would sign an extension with the Hurricanes, though the prevailing thought was that it would get done sooner rather than later.

As it turned out, it didn’t take long at all.

“Knowing what Eric has told me of how great Carolina is – living there, the organization, the fans and everything – I definitely have thought about maybe extending with Carolina and maybe calling it home,” Staal said in the conference call.

Though he won’t get hands-on with them until training camp, head coach Kirk Muller was already chomping at the bit to work with the Staal brothers when he spoke last week at conditioning camp.

“We know it’s not easy to get players like Jordan,” he said. “It makes our team better. He’s a big body, which we were hoping to get in our lineup up front.”

Staal, who notched a career-high 50 points (25g, 25a) in just 62 games last season, left Pittsburgh in search of a more offensive-minded role. He’ll find it with the Canes, where he’ll likely play in all situations.

“I know there’s an opportunity to see what I can do offensively,” he said in the conference call, noting that chance didn’t exist in Pittsburgh behind Hart Trophy winners Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

As for the question everyone wants answered – will Eric and Jordan play on the same line? – Muller said training camp lends and the team’s eight exhibition games lend themselves to experimentation.

“We definitely want to give them an opportunity for them to play together in those games to see if there’s chemistry,” he said. “I think it makes sense right now to start off with them and see how they work together.”

It would, of course, mark the first time the brothers don the same sweater in the NHL, but the two have already shared the same side of the ice in international play. Eric and Jordan suited up for Team Canada at the 2007 World Championship in Russia, playing on the same line in a game and capturing the gold medal.

“He was pretty much a wily veteran by then,” Jordan said of his brother. “It was a very memorable moment for myself and Eric.”

Even if the brothers Staal don’t end up skating together, the Canes can roll two very dangerous scoring lines.

“We’d also be a strong team if we had those two Staals back-to-back,” Rutherford said.

Jordan’s new contract, which begins in the 2013-14 campaign, runs through the 2022-23 season. Eric’s contract will expire after the 2015-16 season. Don’t be surprised to see the elder brother re-sign without much trouble.

And don’t be surprised to see the Canes land another big-name forward at some point in the future, whether it’s this offseason or another. As Rutherford said, the trade-and-sign with Staal has changed things.

“Based on my conversations this morning with the free agents that we’re dealing with,” Rutherford explained on Sunday, “the perception about the Hurricanes bringing Jordan Staal in has made a difference in free agents picking the Hurricanes to come to.”

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