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Hurricanes captain Staal understands predicament

by Dan Rosen

WASHINGTON -- As Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal prepares to start his 12th NHL season, all in Raleigh, he is at least comforted by the fact he knows he's not alone in the department of high-profile players who have only played for one team and still don't have a contract for next season.

"There are a few other guys in the League in the same boat," Staal said after a recent preseason game against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. "I'm definitely not alone."

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar know what Staal is feeling and thinking. They're hopeful of getting new contracts done with their current teams, but questions remain because nothing is done yet.

Staal though is in a different predicament than Stamkos and Kopitar.

Staal is on a team that hasn't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2009 and is by all accounts a longshot this season despite significant upgrades to the roster this offseason by general manager Ron Francis, who in trades acquired goalie Eddie Lack, defenseman James Wisniewski, and forwards Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom.

The Lightning and Kings expect to be competing for the Stanley Cup.

Staal is reluctant to talk about his future with the Hurricanes beyond preparing for the start of the season, but he knows the longer he remains unsigned for next season the greater the chance is of him getting traded before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, which is on Feb. 29.

Francis has explored trades involving Staal since he took over as GM from Jim Rutherford on April 28, 2014. He is expected to continue to explore those trades while having contract negotiations with Staal.

Staal insists the outside speculation will not affect him or his ability to play for the Hurricanes this season. Stamkos and Kopitar have made similar statements.

"I've treated every year the same," Staal said. "I'm going to try to be the best I can be to try to help this team win. Where they put me, I'll be doing everything I can. That kind of stuff as far as contract and everything will take care of itself. I'm excited to start with this team this year and prove some people wrong as far as what kind of group we have."

He did say start with this team, which if you really want to read deep into his words shows that he knows what is going on. And he does.

Staal is no dummy. He gets that there is a business side to playing in the NHL. He knows the Hurricanes have been trying to build a young core through the draft, bringing in players such as forwards Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask, and defensemen Noah Hanifin, Haydn Fleury and Ryan Murphy.

They all should have roles on the team this season.

"They're bringing in guys and drafting players and finding players that are going to fall in line with what they want and how they want to do things," Staal said. "For me, I'm glad I'm a part of that right now and hopefully we can continue to build in the right direction."

Right now. More word play.

What about for a long time to come?

"Well, we'll see how that plays out," Staal said.

It's going to play out soon.

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