Eric Staal is finally on the move.
After months of speculation, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis dealt Carolina’s longtime captain (and his former teammate) to the Rangers in exchange for prospect Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks.
On the surface, it may appear as if New York acquired a deteriorating forward who is a shell of his former self. In 63 games this year, Staal has tallied 10 goals and 23 assists, putting him on track for his lowest point per game total since 2003-04, his rookie season.
If we dig a little deeper, though, it becomes clear that Staal hasn’t fallen off as much as his box score may indicate.
The 31-year-old has done a solid job driving play in 2014-15, made evident by his 5.89 relative Corsi for percentage—tops on the Hurricanes when he departed. Carolina also earned the lion’s share of 5-on-5 scoring chances when he was on the ice (56.25%) and struggled in that regard when he was on the bench (49.18%).
Additionally, Staal has done a nice job creating quality opportunities in the opponent’s end of the rink: According to War on Ice, he has 77 individual high-danger scoring chances this season at even strength. No Ranger has amassed 49.
So why isn’t Staal producing at a better clip? Certainly age is a factor, but more importantly, the bounces haven’t been going his way.
Staal’s shooting percentage, 6.3, is currently the lowest of his NHL career; since Jan. 1, he’s lit the lamp on 2.9 percent of shots on net, resulting in two goals in his last 25 contests. His teammates haven’t enjoyed good fortune, either. Staal’s on-ice shooting percentage in all situations is a paltry 4.6 since New Year’s, and in that stretch, he’s tallied just seven assists.
Yet his scoring chance rate in 2016 is greater than it was from October through December, his shot on goal rate has only dipped slightly and his possession numbers have remained consistently impressive.
In other words, even though Staal is mired in an extended rough patch, he’s still been doing a lot of things right.
Could the 6'4", 205-pounder get more aggressive in the crease, be stronger on the puck and hustle more on defense? Of course. Some Canes fans have been extremely critical of Staal, and while their barbs may be unfairly malicious, their arguments are laced with some truth. It’s impossible to deny that he hasn’t lived up to his expensive contract or lofty expectations.
Nevertheless, based on his level of play in 2015-16, the former Stanley Cup champion and four-time All-Star can be a valuable contributor in New York if he meshes with the right linemates and sees his puck luck improve.
That has to be encouraging for the Rangers, whose focus is, without question, on short-term success.