It’s February 28th, 2016. Eric Staal is traded from the Carolina Hurricanes to the New York Rangers after spending the first 12 years of his career in Raleigh. At the time, it appeared Staal’s career was on the down turn. After a 54-point campaign in 2014-15, Staal had just 10 goals through 63 games the next season, and was subsequently dealt to The Big Apple for a playoff push. In the final year of his contract, Staal scored just 3 goals in the last 20 games of the season, and the Rangers were booted in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It was obvious the Rangers wouldn’t re-sign Staal, definitely not close to his previous cap hit of $8.2 million. Staal tested free agency, and signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Wild with a cap hit of $3.5 million per season. It raised some eyebrows at the time, but now the Wild seem like geniuses.
In his first season with the Wild, Staal racked up 28 goals and 65 points in what was a rejuvenating year for the Thunder Bay product. The weird thing is that nobody outside of Minnesota really took notice. Jump to this season, and Staal continues to produce, as he has notched 33 goals and 64 points in 64 games this season, already matching his highest goal total since 2008-2009, nearly a decade ago. Once again, the hockey world has slept on the former Olympic gold medalist and Stanley Cup champion.
Other than playing the bulk of his career in a small market, there’s not much reason for the hockey world to sleep on Staal. He’s the 2nd overall pick of the most stacked NHL draft in league history back in 2003, he scored 28 points in the 2006 playoffs, leading the Hurricanes to their only Stanley Cup, he was a part of the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team that won gold in Vancouer, and was a star in the league from the mid 2000’s all the way up to his final years in Carolina. Part of one of the most successful bloodlines in hockey, Staal has won pretty much everything there is to win in hockey, so maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised when the Wild took a fairly expensive flyer on Staal back in the Summer of 2016.
The one thing Staal hasn’t done since coming to the Wild, is make noise in the post-season. He was held pointless in the first round series against the Penguins back in 2016, and recorded just one assist for the Wild in their first round playoff series against the St. Louis Blues, which they lost in five games. After the miraculous 2006 run with the Hurricanes, Staal has only seen playoff action three times, the last two being short appearances, with his only decent run besides the 2006 championship coming in 2009, when the Hurricanes lost in the conference finals to the Penguins. With the Wild currently hanging onto the final playoff spot in the Central Division, Minnesota is looking to rely on Staal’s veteran experience to get them into the playoffs, and help them take down the daunting Western Conference.
At 33 years old heading into free agency once again, it would be crazy for the Wild not to re-sign Staal for at least the next couple years, just to see if this crazy resurgence continues.