On Saturday night, Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal notched his 400th career goal, placing him among an elite group of NHL scorers that includes less than a hundred names. At his current pace, he will also hit 1,000 career points either late this season or early next, joining an even more exclusive group. Staal has quietly become one of the more prolific scorers in NHL history. Has he also sold his case for the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Staal, 34, is one of the league’s more under-the-radar superstars. Sure, he is well-known for being the oldest of four brothers with NHL experience and for putting the Carolina Hurricanes on the map by winning the 2006 Stanley Cup championship in just his second pro season. Yet, all those years as the centerpiece in Carolina also limited his exposure and many years capped his production as well. Few would name Staal as one of the best players in the league since the turn of the century, but the statistics show otherwise. The question is whether his success will last the test of time.
Now in his 15th NHL season, Staal spent twelve years with the Hurricanes and seven as their captain. Just as it started looking like he was slowing down, Staal signed with the Wild three years ago and re-booted his career with back-to-back 65+ point efforts. He has nine such seasons to his credit, including an elusive 100-point season as well. His 933 career points are sixth-best among all active players, while his 400 goals rank fifth. Staal has finished a season in the top ten is goals three times and points twice, despite playing the bulk of his career with the franchise that holds the NHL’s longest playoff drought and had few other players of Staal’s caliber during his tenure.
Pure numbers aside, Staal has silently accumulated quite the resume. The second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Staal entered the league with high expectations. It is safe to say that the five-time All-Star has exceeded them. Staal has received votes for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s MVP, four times (including just last season), and the Selke Trophy, recognizing the league’s top defensive forward, seven different times. He is also a member of the super-elite “Triple Gold” club, a 26-man group of players to have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, and World Championship Gold.
How does he compare to current Hall of Fame members and those who missed out on being enshrined? Reaching 1,000 points does not automatically qualify a player for selection. Sixteen former greats, not including those recently retired, cracked the benchmark but did not earn a spot in the Hall. This includes Staal’s former teammates Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney – for now. The 400-goal mark is even less predictive, as close to 30 long-retired players in that group have not been selected. So while Staal is at or closing in on two benchmarks that put him in a group of less than 100 all-time greats, that’s not to say that all of the other names are tried and true Hall of Famers. As his statistics stand currently, Staal compares favorably to stars of yesteryear like Ted Lindsay, Dave Keon, and Henri Richard, all of whom are in the Hall. If he plays long enough, Staal to date is also likely to surpass the production of a player like Dave Andreychuk. Yet, there are plenty more who have not been named to the Hall who had more impressive numbers than Staal: Bernie Nicholls, Pierre Turgeon, Theoren Fleury, Keith Tkachuk, and many more. That is not to say that one or more of those players won’t eventually get in, but they currently act as a major hurdle to Staal’s case.
Staal’s two most comparable players? Martin St. Louis and Jeremy Roenick. St. Louis was also a Stanley Cup winner and five-time All-Star who dedicated his life to one team, but performed exceedingly well when he did finally move on. St. Louis was a more decorated player than Staal, but never reached 400 goals and his 1,033 career points is very attainable for Staal, albeit in more games. Staal also has the chance to add another Cup to his resume, whether it be in Minnesota or elsewhere, to supplement his Hall application. Roenick, on the other hand, never lifted the Stanley Cup. However, he was a nine-time All-Star who scored more than 500 goals. On a per-game basis, he is similar to Staal, but was an explosive scorer year in and year out. St. Louis is in the Hall of Fame; Roenick is not. Whose company Staal joins remains a mystery, still to be sorted out over a few more years of hockey.
What do you think? Is Eric Staal a Hall of Famer? Is it still too early to tell?