Chuck Fletcher has opened free agency by addressing the teams biggest need, and added big-bodied center Eric Staal. The 6'4" former captain comes to Minnesota after spending his career with the Carolina organization which ended in a brief cup of coffee with the Rangers after the trade deadline last season. Perhaps the most surprising part of the deal is that Fletcher was able to negotiate what seems to be a fair deal, with Staal receiving appropriate term at 3 years and appropriate cost of $3.5M. This comes as somewhat of a shock as reports surfaced that Staal was seeking a deal in the neighborhood of $5M-$6M over 4 years, so it seems that the Wild did about as well as the could have on the deal.
There's a lot to like in this deal. Beyond the term and size of the deal, it sends the message that both parties are aware that Staal's best years are likely in the rear view. Staal's production has been declining over the past few seasons from what was once a storied career. However, his situation and surrounding cast have not matched the level of quality Staal will find in Minnesota, and he is definitely a motivated player coming into a much better situation. Many fans have pointed to his low output in New York, but he was used as a winger for the first time in his career, and not put in the best position to perform. In a Wild sweater, Staal will be surrounded by a couple of proven veteran scorers in Parise and Pominville with rising scoring potential in Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund, who can now comfortably know they will play the wing. And though Staal's production isn't what it once was, it is still respectable. Here's his HERO chart:
With Tyler Graovac having an inside track to make the team because he requires waivers to go to the AHL, Staal joins Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula to likely complete the Center depth chart for the big club. Having Coyle and Granlund who can slot in for a shift or cover for injury puts the team in much better shape for depth down the middle. One other thing often overlooked is that Staal has played in 77 or more games (besides the lockout season) in 10 out of 11 seasons, so he can be counted on to be in the lineup.
He scored 24 goals as recently as 2014-15 and 54 points that season. Though last season was very tough, a player coming to a new team with something to prove and having a better supporting cast should give us a thought of returning to the 50 point mark as a possibility. Staal figures to slot between the first and second line and will likely see time with each of the top-6 wingers through the year.
Overall, this looks to be a solid signing for Chuck Fletcher as it addresses a glaring need at a reasonable cost and gives the team some financial freedom to add another top-9 forward. The litmus test will of course come with regards to Staal's production and whether he can indeed reestablish himself as a quality center in the NHL.