For most high profile free agents, July 1 is the day they cash in. For
Eric Staal, it was a day to take an enormous haircut. It wasn’t long ago that people were talking about Staal as one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. But when the dust settled, he took a 58 percent cut in his average yearly salary on a three-year deal. A three-year deal. If you’re looking for the newly signed free agent who has the most to prove and should be most highly motivated in 2016-17,
Alexander Radulov is probably the first who comes to mind. But not far behind will be Staal, who will be on a quest to prove he’s still an elite center in the NHL. He certainly hasn’t looked like that since the lockout shortened season in 2012-13 and is coming off the most miserable season of his career.
Exactly how much of an opportunity Staal gets in Minnesota will be interesting to watch. It appears the Wild have set on keeping
Mikael Granlund as a winger, so that does open up a spot at center behind
Mikko Koivu and the emerging
Charlie Coyle. Who would have ever thought that acquiring Eric Staal would be a depth move? But that’s pretty much what this was. No doubt the opportunity to get a player of Staal’s pedigree for so little money and such favorable term attracted the Wild to him. Staal is from Thunder Bay, which is still a hike from St. Paul, but the Wild are the closest NHL team to his hometown, just edging out the Winnipeg Jets by a few miles. That will give his family and friends more of an opportunity to see him live. In terms of analytics, Staal has been screaming player in decline for the past couple of years now and that was no more evident than last season when he scored just 10 goals in 63 games with the Carolina Hurricanes before scoring three in 20 with the New York Rangers. He was largely invisible as the Rangers meekly bowed out in five games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. When Staal is on his game, he has the hands and vision to be a premier playmaker and scorer. He has good size, but the speed that was a hallmark of his game when he was a star in the league has tailed off. He has become a streaky point producer and his defensive game has suffered. But this deal was just too cheap for the Wild to pass up. And it might turn out to not be a terribly risky one for them with expansion on the horizon. If Staal’s decline continues and it’s clear this is a permanent state of affairs, the team can expose him for the expansion draft next summer. That’s because Staal only has a modified no-trade clause in his deal and not a no-movement clause. That would give the Las Vegas team the chance to pick up a reliable veteran player for the first two years at a pretty reasonable price. He would certainly be captain material if that were to happen.
WHAT ADVANCED STATS SAY: Other than Brian Campbell’s sweetheart deal with Chicago, this has potential to be one of the best deals of the day. Staal has fallen out of favour with a lot of hockey people as his point totals keep dropping, but he can still very much play. He can log big minutes and gets a lot of pucks at net (although most of them don’t go in) and is a big boost towards a team’s shot and goals rates. The point totals aren’t there anymore, but with Staal on the ice, his teams have performed better as a whole. That $3.5 million is going to be a bargain for the Wild.
By Dominik Luszczyszyn