Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner and Eric Who?

Riley Kufta@@RileyKuftaContributor IIINovember 3, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 29:  Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes in action against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 29, 2011 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Hurricanes 5-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Since the NHL lockout in '04-'05, Eric Staal has led the Hurricanes in points four out of six seasons, conceding the lead to veteran Ray Whitney on two separate occasions.  The '05-'06 season was undoubtedly the highlight of his young career: a season that saw him post 100 points to finish seventh in the NHL point-scoring race, as well as leading his team to become Stanley Cup champions.  

Since that unforgettable season, Staal, unlike the team he played for, has displayed incredible consistency.  

When Ray Whitney departed at the end of the '09-'10 season, Eric Staal took over the reigns as the team's veteran forward.  In his first year in this role, Staal mentored young rookie, Jeff Skinner, and assisted him in winning the Calder Trophy after posting a league-leading 63 points among rookies.  It appeared as if the Canes fans were finally in for some consistent success with the new-found chemistry between Staal and Skinner (provided Skinner doesn't find himself in a sophomore slump).  

So far this season, however, it's been quite the opposite.  Jeff Skinner has fled out of the gates with six goals and six assists in 12 games, leaving Staal in the dust.  While it's still early in the season and the change in Staal's play could be attributed to a random slump, his numbers suggest something a little more serious.  

Staal has just three goals and two assists in 12 games played this season.  As if the slow offensive start isn't bad enough, his defense is even worse.  Staal is dead last in the NHL with a minus-12 plus/minus rating in 12 games: a stat that's difficult to obtain when you're playing for a team with a winning record.  

While we're only a month into the season and a lot can change before April, it's enough to have fans asking questions.  Is this a temporary setback for the Canes captain?  Or has Jeff Skinner really taken over as the team's offensive leader?