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Why the Panthers are the best trade fit for Eric Staal

Pending free agent Eric Staal can provide a possession and scoring boost to teams making a playoff push. Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

Despite the tight race in the Metropolitan Division, nobody will be surprised if Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is moved before the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline. If so, the Florida Panthers would be the right destination.

The Hurricanes need to make some changes. After signing Staal to a huge seven-year, $57.75 million contract on Sept. 11, 2008, the team enjoyed an immediate trip to the 2008-09 Eastern Conference finals, followed by six consecutive absences from the playoffs.

Given that the 31-year-old pending free agent could ask for a new deal of upwards of $9 million per season, it makes sense for general manager Ron Francis to shop him around regardless of whether the team remains in the playoff race.