Friends, let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time, we drafted a man. He was blond, he was handsome, he was athletic, and he was very good at hockey. That man helped us win a Stanley Cup, and then he helped us get to the Eastern Conference Finals three years later. Soon after, we made that man captain, and the following year we drafted him a Calder-winning rookie named Jeff Skinner to mentor.

But not all was well in this seemingly storybook relationship. That talented team he played with slowly fell apart. To make him happy, we moved heaven and earth to bring in his brother from the land of penguins. We gave him the salary of a superstar and skated him with guys like Chad LaRose, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty. Hardship struck him (in the knee) in the form of Alex Edler.

Consequently his performance suffered. Soon the rumors spread that he was lazy, whiny, and overpaid. In his final, $9.5M contract year, he had the lowest scoring numbers since his rookie season.

And so the breakup began. After twelve years, we traded that handsome blond captain and let him walk into the arms of another team in free agency.

And then he went on to score 23 goals and 53 points on a team that will contend for the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile we’re still chilling out in the same old basement.

It’ll be OK, garbage cat.

At least his team has the mumps?

Unsurprisingly it has become easy to adopt the persona of the jilted ex. We are to Eric Staal as Future is to Ciara. She may be your baby mama, but she just wants to move on and have a successful career and a new baby with a similarly successful husband (who quarterbacks for the Seattle Seahawks). Don’t blow up her Twitter account. Don’t send her tiny Falcons jerseys for the baby you have together. Just let her go and keep focusing on making you a better you.

Protip: if you tweet about how much you don’t care, you totally care.

(In case you were wondering, the babies in this analogy are Stanley Cups. Also I guess that makes the Minnesota Wild Russell Wilson. Sorry, I think this analogy got away from me.)

Regardless of whether you care about Eric Staal’s return, he matters to the Carolina Hurricanes. Recency bias makes it hard to look past his last few seasons here, when his productivity was not stellar (especially in comparison to his contract) and his relationship with the fanbase was poor. It’s understandable if you want to salt and burn your memories of his tenure. The way we parted with him may not have been ideal, but it needed to happen, both for the franchise and for Staal himself.

Without the weight of expectations and captaincy, Staal has been able to flourish as a point-producing center under Bruce Boudreau. And without the yoke of a first-line center captain with a superstar cap hit (who really needs to win now), the Hurricanes can continue developing their roster with an eye on future success. And let’s not forget the spoils of the trade with the Rangers: a promising prospect in Aleksi Saarela and two second round picks — in 2016 (which they used to free Teuvo from the evil) and in 2017. For the Hurricanes, that was a pretty damn good deal, especially considering how much success they’ve had in recent years with second rounders.

Would it have been nice to bring Staal back in free agency last offseason? Sure. But GM Ron Francis was correct when he said that bringing back your former captain and expecting him to take on a different role in the locker room is a tough proposition. Sometimes a mutual and amicable breakup is necessary.

Whatever the outcome of the Wild vs Canes matchup, let’s try to remember the good times, folks, because we’re never, ever, ever getting back together.

This T-Swift reference is for you, Jeffrey.

And don’t get drunk and make out with him, because his team has the mumps.

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