Sunday, 28 March 2021

Escaping Buffalo

While there were no official trade demands made, it was pretty apparent that Eric Staal wasn't going to be in Buffalo for the rest of his career following a dismal start to his season that mirrored that of the team. Three goals and ten points in 32 contests was not what the Sabres had imagined for the big centerman when they sent Marcus Johansson to Minnesota for Staal. The slate is wiped clean today, though, as Staal is now a Montreal Canadiens centerman for the rest of the season where GM Marc Bergevin is hoping to see more of the 20-goal Staal than the 20-point Staal as the Habs look for some face-off help while getting a solid veteran player who can play on both sides of the puck for a postseason run.

On Friday, the Canadiens sent 2021 third- and fifth-round draft picks to Buffalo for Staal in what seems more like a steal given the potential damage Staal could do if he finds some magic once again. In order to make this trade work with Montreal's cap situation, Buffalo retained 50% of Staal's $3.25 million cap hit.

Staal will be relied upon to win key face-offs, most likely in the defensive zone with games on the line. His career face-off percentage is 49.1%, but he was up to 53.2% with Buffalo this season. That puts him ahead of Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin, and Jesper Kotkaniemi this season, and only slightly back of Phillip Danault. Marc Bergevin identified a weakness, and he resolved it for a pittance when one considers what else Staal brings.

What makes this trade interesting for me is that Staal has the ability to be a good net-front presence on the power-play or can be used on the half-wall where his passing abilities are still above-average. If you're thinking backdoor one-timers to Josh Anderson, we might be on the same wavelength because I could see Staal taking that position and running with it. He battles well along the boards and uses his size to protect pucks. While he'll likely start on the third- or fourth-line for Montreal as he eases into Dominique Ducharme's system, don't be surprised if his ice-time increases as the post-season nears.

Staal isn't being brought in to be the Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal where he was relied upon for scoring. Instead, he'll be expected to check well, win face-offs, possibly add a new dimension to a power-play, and bringing the know-how when it comes to teaching the youthful Canadiens what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. He won't be glamourous or flashy, but Eric Staal gives Montreal exactly what they need to be better.

For Staal, he had the Canadiens on his no-trade team list, but he waived that option as Buffalo continues to flounder. After losing their 16th-straight game on Thursday, Staal got the heck outta Dodge when the opportunity presented itself as he'll go from the outhouse to a possible playoff berth if the Canadiens can hold off the teams behind them in the North Division. Given the options he had in Buffalo for the playoffs, waiving the "don't trade me to Montreal" clause in his contract seems wise for a guy who still has a lot of hockey to give.

As we know, though, nothing is ever guaranteed in the NHL as Eric Staal sits in quarantine before joining his new squad and the Canadiens prepare for multiple games per week until the end of the season thanks to the COVID postponements they were forced to take. While the trade makes sense on paper, chemistry is one of those things that is hard to predict and it will remain to be seen where Staal fits into Ducharme's lineup and how quickly things align for Staal in La Belle Province.

Give Marc Bergevin credit, though, as he made his team better once again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: