Fan expectations always vary from player to player in a given year and this season, I think Carolina fans had higher hopes for Jordan Staal than anyone else on the roster. It made sense to expect a lot from him, too. He has always been one of the best two-way centers in the NHL and has shown the ability to be even more than that during his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins when given the opportunity. The Hurricanes also gave up a fan-favorite player (Brandon Sutter), a promising defensive prospect (Brian Dumoulin) and a high-first round pick to acquire him, so Staal was going to need to do a lot to prove himself with the fans and win them over. In addition to that, Staal signed a long-term deal with the Hurricanes shortly after they traded for him and is going to be an integral part of this team going forward.
While Jordan did not have a bad season, he seemed to be a disappointment in the eyes of a lot of fans based on results alone. During his Pittsburgh days, the common belief with him was always that he had the ability to be a top-six center on a lot of clubs and was never given the linemates, ice-time or power play time to perform at that level because of the Penguins center depth. I've always thought that these claims were overblown because injuries to Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin have given Jordan the opportunity to step into a bigger role, but it still isn't far-fetched to say that he hasn't reached his peak offensively. After all, he was coming off a year where his even strength point production was at a first-line level and it was not the first time in his career that he put up these kind of numbers. Staal has also done an amazing job of dominating puck-possession while playing tough minutes throughout his entire career, so there was a lot of evidence to believe that Jordan Staal could take that next step and be a top-tier player.
Unfortunately, the Hurricanes didn't get those results this year. Staal had his lowest even strength scoring rate since 2007-08, had the second worst plus/minus rating on the team and his point-per-game rate was the lowest it had been in three years. Staal still had a good season, but since he was playing in a bigger role than he was in Pittsburgh, a lot of people were expecting more so he had a disappointing season in a lot of people's eyes.
If you judge a player only on boxcar stats then yes, Jordan had a disappointing season, but there is more to the game than just that and Jordan actually excelled in a lot of areas this year, many of which don't show up on the scoresheet.
|J. Staal||Forward Rank|
Aside from Staal getting more even strength ice time, his usage wasn't terribly different from what it was in Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes still used him in a shutdown role by regularly sending him out against other team's top lines and having him take the majority of his even strength faceoffs in the defensive zone. He essentially took over the role Brandon Sutter has occupied for the last few years while playing a lot more minutes.
Jordan usually wasn't the team's leader in ice time but he did see his minutes go up in quite a few games, most of them coming when the Hurricanes had a lead and were playing a more conservative style. That being said, Jordan's ice time was pretty consistent for most of the year, save for a few games toward the end of the season.
|J. Staal||Forward Rank|
|5v5 Fenwick Dif/20||1.792||2nd|
|5v5 Chance Diff/20||0.86||2nd|
There are a lot of different ways you can look at Jordan Staal's season. Some might be impressed with how well he was able to control both puck-possession and scoring chances at even strength, the latter category being something the entire team struggled with. Staal was actually one of the players on the team at creating offense, as his shot and scoring chance rates ranked second among regular forwards.
This didn't always result in goals, unfortunately and his offensive numbers ended up being a lot more under whelming than what they could have been. He still scored at a top-six rate at even strength, but his numbers declined a bit from what they were the year before and I'm not sure how much of it was his fault. Jordan was doing a fantastic job of creating chances, but his shooting percentage was about 4% less than his career average and the Canes only scored on 7.9% of the 5v5 shots they took when he was on the ice. He doesn't have much control over those since shooting percentage tends to fluctuate randomly so the most Canes fans can hope for is for Staal to keep playing well and hope that his numbers improve next year.
Staal's defensive performance, however, is a little concerning. He wasn't nearly as bad as his -18 plus/minus suggests (that is mostly due to him having one of the lowest on-ice save percentages in the NHL), but preventing chances wasn't exactly Jordan's specialty this year. Staal is normally one of the better defensive forwards in the NHL but his ability to control puck-possession this year was mostly due to his high offensive output rather than his defensive play. This isn't a bad thing because it means the puck is in the opponent's zone whenever he is on the ice, but perhaps his high goal against total stems from his defensive issues and the fact that he is spends a lot of his time against opposing team's top lines? I don't think it is the only issue since Staal has strong defensive instincts and he produces more than he gives up, but it is some food for thought.
Either way, there's a lot of evidence here to suggest that Staal will have better numbers next season. His scoring numbers weren't he best, but he did a lot of good things while playing one of the toughest roles on the team and that should lead to better results next year.
5v5 Zone Entries
|J. Staal||Forward Rank|
Jordan produced a lot of offense and was one of the best possession drivers on the Hurricanes, so it's not a surprise that he carried the puck in on the majority of his entries. He didn't lead a lot of rushes into the zone, probably because he spent the majority of the year with Jeff Skinner, but he was more likely to carry the puck over the blue-line than almost anybody else on the team and as a result, the Canes created more offense off his zone entries. This should give fans some confidence about Staal going forward since it should lead to him creating more chances and the goals will come eventually.
Season Grade: B-
With the exception of putting up more points, Jordan Staal did just about everything I hoped he would this year. His ability to drive play against other team's top lines added another dimension to this team and allowed Eric Staal's line to play in more favorable situations, which allowed them to have an amazing season. Some have criticized Jordan for "not giving the Hurricanes the one-two punch down the middle they hoped for," but he really has in a way because it has been a long time since the Hurricanes had a center who could perform this well territorially against tough minutes. Brandon Sutter was not as good offensively as Jordan and despite Eric Staal's high offensive production, he has struggled to control puck-possession when playing in a power-vs-power role in the past. The only thing that made this year a "disappointment" for Jordan was that he did not have as many points as people hoped for. Other than that, he was as good as advertised in my opinion.
The Final Word
There is going to be a lot expected out of Staal next season with his new contract kicking in and I think he will post better numbers if his territorial play stays consistent. I think some people's expectations from him are a bit out of line because he probably won't be the 75-80 point player that a lot are hoping he will turn into, but there is a strong chance of him improving offensively in future seasons. Even this year, he was "good" offensively from a shot & scoring production standpoint and the only issue was him and his linemates not finding the back of the net. This will hopefully change next year and Staal will see his strong play show up on the scoresheet more often.