Eric Staal is building a retirement home in Minnesota. It’s the city where he expected to finish out his NHL career and live with his family when his playing days were done. So, when his phone blew up and he received a number of texts telling him he’d been traded to the Buffalo Sabres, he was shocked.
Considering he had spoken with former Wild general manager Paul Fenton about not being interested in at least five other trade offers — all from contending teams — it must have felt like a given that he wasn’t likely going to be asked to waive his no trade clause or go anywhere unless a Cup challenging team wanted to work him into their plans.
Furthermore, when he updated his no-trade list to give to new GM Bill Guerin, it never occurred to him that a non-contending team would show interest. After all, none had before.
When the Buffalo Sabres acquired the center on Wednesday, 1240 game NHL veteran admits to being surprised. The Thunder Bay native was not aware of any interest from that organization.
Buffalo should feel lucky to have landed Staal. Not only could he have chosen to simply retire instead of report to Buffalo, but the Sabres could have been getting a very bitter player. During his 31 thoughts feature, Elliotte Friedman noted that one of the teams Staal declined was the Boston Bruins. Buffalo and Boston aren’t exactly on the same level when it comes to the ability to compete.
Fortunately, neither of those two things will happen. Staal will join his new team and as a professional, do the best he can to help turn that club into a playoff team.
Layers to Sabre Deal
The Staal-to-Buffalo deal has several layers that could make it a great fit. Amazingly, Staal is entering his 18th NHL season and will immediately bring valuable experience at the center position. The former 2nd overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003, should also add some stable offensive production to a Sabres team in need of scoring depth. Based on Staal’s last four seasons, he might still project as a 50-point producer.
A 1-for-1 deal with Minnesota effectively meant the Sabres moved out a more expensive contract (Marcus Johansson) and brought in a less expensive, but more productive player in Staal. As the cheaper option, Staals’ leadership and experience could help guide the Sabres back into playoff contention. The two-sided sword for Buffalo is that Staal could also be a better deadline asset if the Sabres season goes sideways.
Hurricane Reunion in Buffalo
Another added bonus for Staal is his prior history with two members of the Sabres organization. Sabres GM, Kevyn Adams was a veteran player on the Carolina Hurricanes when Staal made his leap into the NHL in 2003. Three years later, Adams and Staal would hoist the Cup together as members of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Hurricane team.
The two have remained good friends since. Staal highlighted the importance of that history saying, “Being able to play for [Adams] and know the type of character and person he is is important to me”.
Another dynamic to the trade, is Staal’s former teammate and current Sabres winger, Jeff Skinner. Skinner, the 7th overall pick in 2010, would crack the Hurricane line-up that same year. The captain of the Hurricanes at that time, was of course none other than Staal. I am not sure whose decision it might have been, but the 18-year-old rookie was assigned the stall next to captain Staal. The impression Staal made on Skinner at that time should carry over and benefit a young Sabres team moving forward.
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