The Carolina Hurricanes dropped a 4-1 decision to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, and looked ugly doing it. (In all honesty, so did the Canucks much of the night). The 'Canes - the NHL's only winless team -are now 0-6-2, off to the worst start in franchise history. The only good news for Carolina fans is the super-draft next summer, headlined by Connor McDavid.
The Hurricanes are a weak team to begin with, but it certainly has not helped that they have been decimated by injuries. And that most notably includes injuries to the faces of the franchise - the brothers Staal. Jordan is out for months with a broken leg suffered in the pre-season. Eric, the long time team captain, returned from an upper body injury for just his third game of the year.
There has been a lot of chatter about Eric Staal's future in Carolina in particular. Jordan has a hefty 8 year contract that would not be easy to move. Eric still has another year left after this year, but with the franchise clearly rebuilding the question has been raised - would the Hurricanes be better off moving their long time face of the franchise and his heavy $8.25 million salary cap hit in exchange for prospects? Or should the weak team in a weak market keep their franchise player during the rebuild?
The man who ultimately has to answer these questions is Carolina general manager Ron Francis. And, interestingly, he knows the situation all too well. He once was the same franchise's star, and he was traded away with tremendous ramifications including, ultimately, the collapse and relocation of the franchise.
During the 1980s Ron Francis - like Staal in recent years in Carolina - was the only star player with the Hartford Whalers. He was well respected by fans on and off the ice. Yet on March 4th, 1991 the Whalers moved their captain Francis and defensemen Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings to Pittsburgh in exchange John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker.
The Penguins - with key help from Francis - went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, cementing Francis' eventual Hall of Fame status. But the Whalers quickly went into a tailspin and six years later relocated to Carolina.
There were a number of factors at play in the franchise's collapse in Hartford, but everyone agrees the trading of their beloved franchise player was very much a key nail in their coffin.
Now Francis finds himself as the general manager of the franchise at an eerily similar junction. Carolina - like Hartford - have some great fans but attendance will be an issue with the team that is likely to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. The team is reportedly for sale as well, further increasing speculation about the franchise's future. Can the franchise withstand the uncertainty, the ineptitude and the loss of the fan favorite?
Francis has time to think about it. With Eric Staal's heavy $8.25 million salary cap hit it is premature to think he will be traded any time soon. Most contending teams can only afford to add that load late in the season, such as the trading deadline, or in the off season when they can play with the balance sheets.
It should also be noted that Staal has a no-trade clause and has always said publicly that he wants to stay in Carolina.
Yet the rumors persist. And Francis' unique vantage point to make this decision make for a fascinating story to watch unfold. He knows all to well that history says he should not do it.