On Wednesday, Sept. 16, in a desperate effort to end their nine-year playoff drought, the Buffalo Sabres acquired veteran center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Marcus Johansson. Staal is going to bring a veteran presence to a young lineup featuring stars such as Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, goalies Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton and Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in 2018. While Marcus Johansson leaves to provide some depth at center with his fourth team in the pros, Eric Staal will look to do more than be a veteran player.
Staal is a veteran in all aspects of the game. He is the oldest of four brothers and was drafted second overall in the 2003 entry level draft behind future Hall-of-Famer Marc-Andre Fleury. Less than three years into his playing career, Staal led the league in playoff points with 28 as his team won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2006. Once the Hurricanes’ head coach Rod Brind’Amour retired from playing hockey, Staal became the captain of the it and led them through a tough stretch in its playoff history.
In 2016, in the last year of his previous contract, Staal was traded to the New York Rangers to join his brother Marc. After a short stint in Manhattan, Staal entered free agency for the first time in his career only to sign a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Minnesota Wild. Three mediocre years and two playoff appearances later, Staal resigned with Minnesota on a two-year, $6.5 million deal that has him earning three million dollars this upcoming season. Following a year where he joined the 1000-point club with 47 points on 19 goals and 28 assists in the regular season, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Entering the 2020-21 season, Eric Staal has 1,021 points on 436 goals and 585 assists in 1,240 games. He ranks in the top ten in most active player categories from goals (5th) to games played (T-5th).
So why is Eric Staal a good fit for the Buffalo Sabres? For starters, the three-time 40-goal scorer has experience that will help develop Eichel’s leadership skills. Staal can also provide depth as a No. 2 or No. 3 center behind Eichel and first round picks Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens.
Staal, who centered Minnesota’s first line last season with Kevin Fiala and left wingers such as Zach Parise, also brings his playoff experience to the Sabres. In the timespan since the Sabres’ last playoff appearance in 2011, Eric Staal has been to the playoffs four times, but has yet to get past the first round in each of them. Still, the fact that he has been to the playoffs, in addition to his Cup win in 2006 and 51 career playoff points, gives the Sabres a playoff mentality they could build off of if and when they return to the hunt for Lord Stanley.
Finally, Staal would bring a little more firepower to the offense. His 2.0 points per hour on even strength last season would have led all Sabres had he played with them. Staal not only can produce from even strength, but he can also produce on the power play as well, as Staal generated 14 power-play points last year.
Staal might be in the twilight of his career at the age of 35, but if players in the league such as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Zdeno Chara remind us of anything, it is that Staal could be in this league for at least the next few years. Staal can still play a pivotal role like he did back in 2006 and can even help reignite Jeff Skinner’s scoring abilities, especially since he is signed for seven more years.
Kevyn Adams, a teammate of Staal during that cup run, has made his first big move as a general manager, but could be making more especially with free agency and the 8th overall pick in the draft. For Adams, he has a chance to net a star goalie in Braden Holtby or retain forwards such as Wayne Simmonds. But until then, the Eric Staal trade could be a move in the right direction, as bringing in a successful NHL player can help motivate a team that has not had much success in the last decade.