When the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Jordan Staal on draft day they essentially equated him in value to Jeff Carter. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a look at the parallels between Pittsburgh’s trading of Staal and Philadelphia’s moving of Carter.
Last year, at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft the Philadelphia Flyers traded Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, Columbus’ first round selection in 2011 (eighth overall) and Columbus’ third round selection in 2011 (68th overall). The first similarity is obvious; both Carter and Staal were acquired on Draft Day. The second similarity is almost as obvious; one of the main trade chips in acquiring both Carter and Staal was the eighth overall pick in that year’s draft.
It gets less obvious after that but the further parallels are all the more eerie – if you are into that sort of thing:
- Both Voracek and Sutter were lottery picks in the 2007 Draft going seventh and 13th overall respectively.
- At the time he was dealt, Carter had 11 years and $58 million remaining on his deal. With his new contract extension, Staal now has 11 years and $64 million remaining on his deal.
- Brian Dumoulin was a second round pick for the Hurricanes in 2009. This is where the comparison starts to fall apart since the Blue Jackets gave up a third round pick, however Dumoulin wasn’t a first rounder and isn’t a blue-chip prospect so I am sticking with this very loose connection.
That was, of course, entirely academic. Carter was later dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Jack Johnson and a first round pick, proving that his value had significantly declined. Still it is a fun comparison to make since it sets up this week’s Cage Match, Jeff Carter vs. Jordan Staal.
Jeff Carter and Jordan Staal may or may not really be equivalent in real hockey value but for our purposes it is almost entirely irrelevant. What we want to know is whether or not Carter and Staal are equivalent in fantasy hockey value. The simple answer is to say they are not. Carter’s previous performances blow Staal completely out of the water so if you subscribe to the theory of proven over potential then Carter would have to be your man. Carter is also arguably the more talented offensive player given his elite level shot. The problem with that assessment is that Carter has really only posted the one elite season despite being handed elite level minutes.
Last season, in 55 games between Columbus and Los Angeles, Carter skated 19:11 minutes per game with 3:06 coming on the power play. The year before that, in Philadelphia, Carter skated 18:14 minuters per game with 2:56 coming on the power play and the year previous he skated 19:18 minutes per game with 3:05 coming on the power play. He has also seen his penalty kill responsibilities decrease over the years from over three minutes per game in 2008-09 to just 0:44 per game last season. In other words, Carter was consistently receiving top level minutes. This is not the whole story, however.
Carter is a pretty good defensive player spending many of his shifts in something of a checking role. Using the tools over at Behindthenet.ca we can see that in the past two seasons Carter has faced some of the toughest competition of any forward on his team and received some of the fewest offensive zone starts.
How do we explain the contrast between Carter’s decreasing penalty kill minutes and increasing defensive minutes at even strength? My personal opinion is that it is simply the result of Carter settling into the middle. He is at his core a second line player.
Carter has top line skills. He could easily dominate given his size, skating and wicked shot. The problem is Carter does not have the compete level to match those skills. He simply does not want – or perhaps know how – to use his size to its full effectiveness. He does not impose his will, choosing instead to linger on the periphery and take easy shots. As such, he is merely a second liner. He is valuable enough offensively that you do not want to wear him out with too many minutes on the penalty kill but he also does not skate on the top line so it is not a priority to get him the best matchups or the most offensive zone starts possible. Those go to the Kopitar-line instead. So while Carter will continue to receive big minutes and most importantly top line power play minutes, Carter will also not be given the absolute top minutes for the Kings and that limits his potential.
We should also be concerned about the fact that Darryl Sutter is one of the more defensive-minded coaches in the NHL. Only once in his coaching career has Sutter coached a team that finished in the top half in the league in goal scoring. Despite winning the Stanley Cup, last season the Kings finished 29th in the league in goal scoring with a mediocre power play. Odds are the Kings will continue to play defense-first hockey, which will reduce Carter’s production.
Finally, there must also be concerns about Carter’s health. Carter never really was right all of last season. He has been struggling with foot and ankle injuries for over two years now. Last season Carter skated in only 55 games producing just 21 goals and 34 points. This was, however, the first time since 2006-07 that Carter missed real significant time with injury. Otherwise Carter has been rather durable. The fact that Carter’s injury has been recurring is disconcerting but that he has (for the most part) been able to play through it is a testament to his resilience. I don’t think we can classify Carter a Band-Aid Boy just yet but I don’t think he will ever really be 100%. That foot/ankle problem has gone on too long. I imagine he will have more 80+ game seasons in his future but that foot/ankle could be something that limits his play even if it doesn’t keep him out of the lineup.
Carter, is not the only one with injury problems, however. Staal too has his own injury history having missed 20 games last season and 40 the year before. Of course, Staal’s injuries have been unrelated and it could be argued that the lacerated tendon that caused him to miss 40 games in the 2010-11 season was one of those freak skate cut accidents. There is no telling for certain whether or not Staal’s back-to-back seasons with injuries are the developing of a trend, however given Staal’s previous ironman-like run to begin his career I am inclined to believe this is just an aberration. I also point to Jordan’s brother and teammate Eric’s notorious ability to avoid missing time. I think the Staal’s are simply gamers who are very difficult to keep out of the lineup. Consider Staal a lesser threat to be injured than Carter.
So how about Staal’s skills? We know he is a talent but we cannot be certain quite how good he is given that he has been hidden behind Crosby and Malkin for the past six years. One thing that is important to note is that even with Crosby and Malkin missing significant time over the past three seasons Staal was still used predominantly in a shutdown role. Behindthenet.ca shows us that over the past three seasons Staal has consistently faced the toughest competition while receiving the fewest offensive zone starts for the Penguins.
Staal has received decent minutes skating 20:03 per game last season with 1:59 coming on the power play but ultimately his role has still been predominantly defensive. Consider that Staal also skated 2:38 on the penalty kill last season and that his power play time was mostly with the second unit. As Frozenpool will show us, Staal’s linemates last season were far from ideal:
So Staal has not historically been given the lengthy end of the stick. With news coming that the Hurricanes intend on skating the Staal brother’s alongside each other it would seem that Jordan is finally getting a break. But what will that mean for his production?
First consider what Staal has done over the past two seasons. Staal scored 36 goals and 80 points in 104 games over the past two seasons. That is good for a 28-goal/63-point pace over 82 games and that is even considering his tough minutes and poor linemates. You must absolutely factor in that Staal shot 16.8% last season, which is well above his 13.1% career line but it isn’t so out of line that it cannot be replicated. With improved linemates and offensive opportunities Staal should be good for at least that sort of pace next season.
Carter’s totals from the past two seasons were 57 goals and 100 points in 135 games. That’s a pace of 35 goals and 61 points for 82 games. So a 28-goal/63-point season would put Staal directly in line with Carter with potential for more.
That potential for more is what is going to have most poolies jumping to grab Staal but try to resist the urge to break the bank for Staal. First, realize that the Staal brothers may not actually click together on a line. Second, realize that the Hurricanes are nowhere near the offensive juggernaut that the Penguins were. Even playing in a third line checking role Staal was able to benefit from all the offense that the Penguins were creating. Staal will certainly help to improve the Hurricanes’ scoring but overall the effect of more offensive ice time and improved linemates may even out with the loss in overall team scoring depending on exactly how much offensive ice time he receives.
Consider the Hurricanes power play last season. Aside from the fact that it was fairly miserable, look at the fact that the top unit consisted of Jussi Jokinen, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Those three players are all returning for the Hurricanes. The assumption is that Jordan Staal will replace Jokinen on the top unit with Jokinen sliding down to play center on the second unit but Jokinen is one of the more dynamic offensive players on the Hurricanes and it isn’t so easy to write him off the top power play unit.
One thing the Hurricanes will hopefully realize is that the majority of the league’s top power plays are run with a forward playing PP-QB from the half-wall. This PP-QB spot often features a small skilled forward. The Hurricanes currently have two in Jokinen and Skinner so their smartest move would be to split them up to have two effective power play units. Ideally, the Hurricanes would employ a three-forward power play that many teams now run to great success featuring both McBain and Faulk as the defensemen manning because as the only two skill players with right-handed shots they will be useful for one-timers. Skinner would operate as PP-QB on the right half-wall with Eric Staal on the right side goalline and Jordan Staal in front of the net. This alignment would put Jordan Staal in great position to score a lot of easy goals. Whether or not this is what the Hurricanes do, however, will remain a mystery to us all.
We cannot count on Staal to be a top line forward skating beside his brother. Nor can we count on him to receive top unit power play time. He could just as easily wind up the Hurricanes’ second line center and leader of their second power play unit. Only time will tell. Worst case scenario puts Staal on a similar trajectory as his past few years, which is pretty good but won’t lead to the huge breakout we all want. More importantly it hardly makes him any better than Carter.
Carter is a second liner with first line skills but mediocre drive. We know exactly what we are getting from Carter and that is pretty darn good. I don’t see him ever really getting back to the 80+ he scored a few years back but we know Carter is going to receive good offensive minutes and top power play time.
The safe bet is to go with Carter – when healthy he is a lock for 30+ goals and around 60 points. He is also shells goalies to the tune of over 300+ SOG if you happen to play in a multi-category league and should out-score Staal for PPP. The remainder of the main categories (PIM and Plus/Minus) should be relatively even.
Of course, if you want to gamble Staal has a lot of upside, is three years younger and is probably more reliable in terms of health. Furthermore, Staal just competes a lot harder and that is something you should want to bet on. In multi-cat leagues, Carter is still your guy. The SOG he produces are just too significant to overlook. In points only, however, I am apt to favour Staal. I really believe that even the worst lineup situation in Carolina will result with him matching Carter’s pace but without having to wonder if he is competing hard or if his foot is falling apart.