Latest on Eric Staal’s contract status with the Carolina Hurricanes, plus a look at the L.A. Kings depth at center. 

Eric Staal’s future in Carolina still to be resolved.

Eric Staal faces an uncertain future with the Caroline Hurricanes.

Eric Staal faces an uncertain future with the Carolina Hurricanes.

ESPN.COM: Scott Burnside considers center Eric Staal the Carolina Hurricanes’ most important playing for the coming season, but he wonders about the 30-year-old’s long-term future with a rebuilding team that isn’t very good and likely won’t be for some time. He is eligible next summer for unrestricted free agency, and will earn $9.5 million in actual salary this season ($8.25 million cap hit).

Staal and GM Ron Francis will either have to work out a more affordable deal for the next three or four seasons, or find a team that will give Staal a shot at winning another Stanley Cup title while fetching the best return for the Hurricanes.

Francis also has to do the same with long-time Hurricanes starting goalie Cam Ward, though his value as a trade asset isn’t as good as Staal’s.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Back in the spring, I assumed Francis might move Staal in late-June or early-July if they didn’t have a workable deal in place by then. Evidently, Francis is willing to see how things unfold during the final season of his captain’s contract.

If the Hurricanes fail to show significant improvement this season and if the two sides are no closer to a new contract as the trade deadline approaches (likely to be sometime during the week of Feb. 28 to March 5), Francis could attempt to move Staal. Until then, it appears Staal will start the upcoming season with the Hurricanes. 

Kings face questions at center.

NHL.COM: Curtis Zupke believes the Los Angeles Kings didn’t do enough to address their depth at center after opting not to re-sign Jarret Stoll and terminating the contract of Mike Richards. Nick Shore and Andy Andreoff have 52 combined NHL games under their belts. Zupke anticipates the Kings will evaluate some of their prospects, or they could acquire a center.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Cap space will be an issue. The Kings currently have over $6.3 million available. That could shrink considerably depending upon Slava Voynov’s status once he completes his 90-day jail sentence on a domestic violence charge, and if an arbitrator rules against the Kings in the NHLPA’s grievance case over the termination of Richards’ contract.

If Voynov returns, his $4.166 million cap hit will eat up a big chunk of that cap space. It remains to be seen if the league will allow the Kings to buy out the remainder of Richards’ contract if they lose the termination case.

Assuming they still have sufficient cap room, Stephen Weiss, Derek Roy, Mike Santorelli, Maxim Lapierre and Marcel Goc are available via free agency if they chose to go that route.