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Free Agency Preview: Eric Staal

The Basic Info

There was a time when Eric Staal was an amazing hockey player. He brought a cup to Carolina, and scored a bunch of goals in the process. He then went on to keep up a steady career in the NHL, posting 70 point seasons up until the last lockout, when he finished with 53 points in 48 games in that shortened season.

But the last two years have stained his value. In a summer where names like Stamkos, Ladd, Eriksson, and Backes will be in demand… this former playoff hero and captain will be looking for a new place to practice his craft and might attract fewer suitors.

Recent Stats

Here’s where the elder Staal brother lands on the “Hero Chart”, which compares his numbers over the last three years compared against the rest of the league:

Staal’s numbers, as you can imagine… were not great last year in Carolina or in New York. Carolina is in the midst of a massive, deep-seeding rebuild. Staal played over 1200 minutes at 5v5 last year, and as the chart shows… he’s still a positive possession player. Who did he play beside? Kris Versteeg and Elias Lindholm shared the ice with Staal for nearly 600 of those minutes. Staal played more on the wing as the year went on.

There’s not much to dissect with his time in NYC… he wasn’t good and was scratched at times. It was a terrible fit, and a desperate move for a franchise firing one of its last bullets.

His final tally:

Season Games Played Goals Assists Points
w/ Hurricanes 63 10 23 33
w/ Rangers 20 3 3 6
Regular Season 83 13 26 39
Playoffs 5 0 0 0

Where Would He Fit?

A lot hinges on what the Preds plan on handling Mike Ribeiro. David Poile stated that “he better have the summer of his life”, and cited Ribeiro’s speed. Mike Ribeiro isn’t fast, and will never be fast again, assuming he was fast once. Is Eric Staal fast? Not really, but he’s faster than Ribeiro AND he plays in front of the net. If he can play in front of the net, that’s what this team is missing in the worst way.

Here’s a shot location chart for Staal:

For the sake of comparison, here’s that same chart for Mike Ribeiro:

On the chart to the left, red is good. Red means more shots, blue means less. On the right chart, blue is good. And Staal did this playing most of his year beside a pair of kids. Ribeiro did this beside Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Craig Smith.

However, there’s a huge variable here: what does Staal have left in the tank? Plenty of teams are going to line up to pay David Backes a truck fulla money and treat him like he’s a more rugged Ryan Kesler. Eric Staal is a good possession forward who can play C or Left Wing, and has had success with Peter Laviolette before. The only question is production, and if you’re going to pay the guy… you’ll need to see some production.

Does It Make Sense?

The Preds can buy out Eric Nystrom, and try to trade Mike Ribeiro. That would create $5.5 million in cap room. No on in their right mind would pay Eric Staal more than $5 million after the last two years he’s had, but teams and GMs can indeed be short-sided and dumb. If the Preds can convince him to take second line money and not “former Conn Smythe candidate” money on a short-term deal… I’d be on board.

Here’s a sneaky part about Staal’s stats: he was great on the power play when the Canes had a more talented roster. From 2007 until the start of last year, 30% of Staal’s goals and points came from the power play (And that’s not including 2005-2006 when he had 40 power play points). Last year? He had 1 power play goal. One. The Hurricanes had 40 total power play goals for the year, and had among the fewest opportunities with the man advantage.

Eric Staal is 31 years old. He’s had a rough two years, which should curb his demand. We do know that Nashville tried to acquire him a few years ago at the draft, so making a play for him wouldn’t be a total shock. There are a lot of questions about Staal, and those questions will keep his contract cheap for most GMs. Is Nashville the destination for a player like Staal? If the price is right, sure. He’s not a player worth overpaying and nor is he worth a contract that lasts into the 2020’s. But if Staal is willing to take a “prove it” deal on a contender and if Nashville is looking for a #2 center, this might work.

But don’t hold your breath.