Already looking at an uphill climb to end a five-year playoff drought, the Carolina Hurricanes' job got even tougher with the news that Jordan Staal will have surgery on his broken right leg and miss three to four months.
Staal will have surgery Friday in Raleigh, N.C., according to general manager Ron Francis, to repair a fractured fibula. The 26-year-old from Thunder Bay, Ont., was injured when he got tangled up with Buffalo Sabres defenceman Josh Gorges on Tuesday night.
"That's tough," Gorges said Wednesday when told of Staal's injury but before anyone knew how long he'd be out. "He's a good player for that team. You don't want to see a guy go down like that the first game of the pre-season."
This is the latest in a series of freak injuries for the Staal brothers in Carolina. Eric took a hit from Alex Edler at the 2013 world hockey championship that led to a strained ligament in his right knee and had surgery to repair a "core muscle" injury this past summer.
Jordan Staal had been an iron man since the Hurricanes acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2012 draft, playing in all 130 games since the trade. He began a US$60-million, 10-year contract last season.
Staal's injury puts a dent in the Hurricanes' plans to start the season under new coach Bill Peters.
"He's a big piece of what we're going to do moving forward," Peters told reporters in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
Not having Staal for the first half of the season means the Hurricanes will have to lean more heavily on Elias Lindholm and Riley Nash. And the onus is always on Eric, the captain.
This NHL pre-season has included a handful of high-profile injuries, including Pavel Datsyuk's shoulder and Claude Giroux's groin. But much like the New York Rangers' Derek Stepan missing the first four to six weeks with a fractured fibula, Jordan Staal's break was a case of bad luck and timing.
"The puck got moved up to him, I stepped in front of him to try to separate him from the play," Gorges recalled. "We got kind of tangled up. He tried to grab around me to switch positions and the next thing I know he fell, must've got tangled up and I went right over top of him.
"It was one of those plays that as soon as I landed on him, I heard him scream. I knew right away something must've been hurt."
A referee came over to tell Gorges that Staal's injury looked pretty ugly. The long-term prognosis didn't turn out to be any better.
"You don't like to see that, and I hope he has a quick recovery," Gorges said. "That's a tough break, I feel for him."