The Wild need Eric Staal to be ‘the Eric Staal that he was in the past’

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On a day when hundreds of millions of dollars were committed to unrestricted free agents, the Eric Staal signing barely made a ripple in NHL waters.

The Minnesota Wild committed just $10.5 million over three years to Staal — an entirely reasonable sum considering it was July 1, a day when reason often goes flying out the window.

Just don’t take that to mean the Staal signing isn’t an important one for the Wild. Because, in fact, it’s a vitally important signing. The 31-year-old’s contract may not reflect it, but he was brought on to play a top-six role next season, possibly one that will see him centering Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle.

“He wanted the opportunity to be the Eric Staal that he was in the past,” head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. “And I told him he would definitely get that chance here.”

And he’ll get that chance because the Wild are thin at the center position. (Remember what Thomas Vanek said last year? “We don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”)

Signing Staal was a calculated risk by GM Chuck Fletcher. He could’ve gone harder after free agents Frans Nielsen or David Backes, but that would’ve been considerably more expensive, and those two are even older than Staal.

Another option would’ve been to trade for a center — perhaps somebody like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — but that would’ve cost the Wild a good, young defenseman like Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba.

And so he rolled the dice on Staal, hoping that the once-elite center can be elite, or at least in that neighborhood, again.

Certainly, Staal has to be better than he was for the Rangers, after New York got him at the trade deadline. He had just six points in 20 games, then no points in five playoff games.

“I still feel I can be a contributor in a very good team’s top six,” said Staal. “I’m going to get an opportunity on a team that’s hungry to win and hungry to be a top team. I’ve got to prove it.”

Related: With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet