Rangers seize opportunity, acquire Eric Staal from Hurricanes
Rangers get: C Eric Staal
Hurricanes get: C Aleksi Saarela, 2016 second-round pick, 2017 second-round pick
Carolina retains 50% of Staal's remaining salary
Here's the difference between current Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and his predecessor, Glen Sather: One understands how to take advantage of leverage.
Two years ago, Sather was presented with the opportunity to acquire Martin St. Louis from the Lightning. The veteran winger wanted out of Tampa, but was only willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Rangers.
It should have been an easy win for Sather, a chance to pick up a Hall of Fame-caliber player in exchange for a couple of spare parts. Instead, he was cajoled into giving up Ryan Callahan and two first-round picks by his counterpart, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.
The deal helped the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final, but also carved away a massive chunk of the team's future. The Rangers will continue to pay the price for that trade for the next decade.
Given a chance to acquire Staal under a virtually identical set of circumstances, Gorton wisely refused to bid against himself. He knew he had to offer assets of real value in order to get it done, but he didn't have to give the 'Canes everything they wanted.
In the end, Gorton paid a decent price, but he protected his first-rounders along with the organization's top prospects. That's a solid bit of work.
And Staal should prove to be a significant addition. Not enough to put a scare into the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals, but he certainly makes New York's top nine a deeper and more talented group. He'll be an asset on a 22nd ranked power play that needed some kind of boost, and a big body down low who can wear down an opponent's defense over a long series.
It's hard to say where he exactly fits in the Rangers’ lineup at five-on-five, but it's a good bet he'll skate on the wing, allowing Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard to hold on to the top two center spots. A Staal-Stepan-Rick Nash line would be a handful come playoff time, and would allow Alain Vigneault to drop Chris Kreider into a second-line role where he'd be more likely to succeed.
Though the 31-year-old is in the midst of his worst season (10-23-33) since 2003-04, Gorton said he believes Staal will be "re-energized" by coming to New York. That's probably a safe bet. After a decade of frustration in Raleigh, the chance to play some meaningful hockey again might be exactly what he needs.
Full marks to Carolina GM Ron Francis as well. He was in a tough spot here and still managed to extract three solid assets. While the rebuilding club will treasure the picks, the key for their side is Saarela, a left-shooting center who was selected 89th overall by the Rangers in 2015. The 19-year-old is enjoying a breakthrough season with Assat Pori of the Finnish league, scoring 18 goals and 31 points in 46 games after potting just six goals and 12 points as a rookie. He made a big impression with Finland at the 2016 World Juniors as well, tallying four goals and seven points including an assist on Kasperi Kapanen's golden goal in OT against Russia. He lacks ideal size (5'11'', 200 pounds) and there's work to be done on his skating and defensive play, but someone with his finishing skills has a chance to become a very valuable player. In two or three years he'll be a very nice add for the 'Canes.