To say that Eric Staal‘s season was anything other than a great success would be a bit asinine. The 33 year-old center celebrated his 14th season with a return to his youth in his best statistical season since 2010-11. Becoming just the 2nd player in franchise history to top 40 goals, Staal tied a team record for goals in a season with 42. The co-holder of this record is of course former Wild winger Marian Gaborik who held the record since the 2007-08 season.
Staal not only rejuvenated his career, but he has cemented himself as ousted GM Chuck Fletcher’s savviest free agent signing in his time with the Wild. Move over Matt Cooke. There’s a new sheriff in town. So Staal performed amazingly well, and with a $3.5 million dollar cap hit the price tag is quite friendly too. So lets take a deeper look into how Staal helped the Wild land their 6th consecutive post-season appearance.
It’s not difficult to face facts. Staal is not the speediest cat on the ice. At 6’4” he moves more like a log rolling down a hill and less like a lightning bolt. It’s not to say Staal is a potted plant out there on the ice. The guy has a crazy nose for breaking out of the zone and corralling a stretch pass for a breakaway. It’s actually crazy how often the not-so-fleet-afoot Staal got behind the opposing defense and rip off a shot on goal. He's quick enough and sly enough to land a breakaway, but he's not going to win a lot of foot races either. Overall, I’d give Staal a C+ in this department.
Eric Staal is not an easy guy to check. His large frame lends well to keeping him upright on the ice. Even during the playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets Staal seemed to avoid getting #Prosserd too much. Nobody on the team made it out of that series clean though. On the season, Staal was not caught skating with his head down, and showed some excellent play along the walls. He shielded off defenders well and could be quite burdensome for the opposition when he was digging in on the forecheck.
Staal isn’t a guy to throw his weight around though. In his 82-game regular season, Staal matched his hits total to his goals total with 42. Combined with his underrated elusiveness Staal hasn’t missed a game in his 2 seasons with the Wild, including 10 playoff games for the Wild. A true iron man on the ice.(although he did leave game 5 early against the St. Louis in last seasons playoffs with a concussion) Given all that, it’s difficult to grade him out any lower than a B+ for the season.
Staal’s ability to find the open man this season was not his brightest attribute. His 34 assists was the 4th worst season total of his career. It is a little heavy-handed to come down on a guy who dropped 42 goals in the bucket this season. He is well off from his high-water mark of 55 assists in his ‘05-’06 100-point season.
While his assist numbers may be down, Staal shows excellent vision on the ice however in other areas. The man has a nose for open ice on the offensive side of the puck. Finding holes in the opposing defenses and fast-breaks through the neutral zone played a huge role in his offensive output. So, even with his assist numbers dwindling, he still pulls in a solid B effort in the vision department.
In the 2017-18 season, no Minnesota Wild forward was on the ice for more goals against than Eric Staal. Opposing teams scored 84 times against the Wild while Staal was on the ice last season. Across the NHL, that puts him 13th among forwards for on ice goals against. Not a list any player wants to be on. At the same time Staal finished the season with a GF% over 55%. Still, skating back to the bench deflated 84 times in a season is a definite pock-mark on his grade. D+ buddy, you need to stay after class and study.
Eric Staal captured lightning in a bottle this season. Have we mentioned he scored 42 goals yet? Staal also pocketed his 14th career hat trick this season and I was finally able to throw my hat-trick hat onto the ice at the X, so thank you for that good sir.
Unfortunately Staal seems to disappear in the post-season, much like the rest of the team. Staal scored just 1 goal and 2 assists in 5 games against the Jets . After scoring at a rate of a goal every other game during the regular season his post-season output was lacking. Even in the 2016-17 post-season Staal seemed to disappear when the Wild needed anyone to step up. If we were just speaking playoffs, Staal would probably flunk out. Fortunately, Staal did lead the team with 76 points this past season, salvaging his GPA and earning himself an A.
11 of Eric Staal’s goals this past season came on the power play. Yet another category he led the team in. Staal just had a nose for the net. Whether he was cleaning up rebounds or finding an open shooting lane, Staal carried the Wild with the extra attacker and was the only man to top 10 PP goals on the roster. While the team as a whole finished 18th in the NHL on the power play, Staal’s ability to find the twine helped to keep their numbers out of the cellar. A B for your effort there fella.
Eric Staal had himself a great season, no doubt about that. He seems to have found a fountain of youth here in Minnesota. With uncertainty surrounding the club this offseason in the search for a new GM, Staal may find himself on the trading block with a new GM coming to town. Michael Russo of The Athletic has opined as much, stating the new boss may come in here looking to sell high on a resurging career. At this point it is nothing more that speculative, but with limited options and limited resources anything is possible, including trading Staal.
Overall, I would grade out Staal with an A-. There are a lot of bright spots for the veteran center, but his disappearance in the playoffs held him back from a better grade. When the Wild take to the ice again this fall Staal will be entering his 15th NHL season, the final year of his 3 year contract with the Wild, and will look to continue his scoring ways and help the Wild right the ship.