If that’s all Eric Staal ends up being for the Montreal Canadiens, a third- and fifth-round pick was worth it – especially with the Buffalo Sabers keeping half his pro-rated 3.25 million salary. dollars in the deal and Canadians owning two. more picks in those two rounds in the 2021 draft. Because relying on 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 21-year-old Nick Suzuki and rookie Jake Evans in the middle ensured that if veteran center Phillip Danault fell down, the season would unfold with him, and there are way too many of them. invested in this season to take such a bet.
This one feels like jostling in a pile with a guaranteed return; a sure thing given the cost and relatively low expectations.
Staal doesn’t come here to be an embodiment of his old self, to jump into a frontline role and average almost 20 minutes per game. No, Staal is there to be a fourth-row cross who could potentially move up the lineup if injured or another cross has a tough night. At worst, it’s insurance. Most nights he’ll just be a better depth option than what the Canadiens already had.
And at its best?
“I think he’s a good guy both ways,” said an Eastern Division executive we contacted following Friday’s trade announcement. “He’s going to score you more goals with Montreal than he would with Buffalo, more than people expect, and he’s a big body that can win pucks. I mean, you can use this type of player on any line.
“I think he makes you heavier, without being the physical / murderous type.” But he’s a heavy guy who’s smart with his puck protection, and if you need him to get you goals, he will get you. If you need him to play a different role, he will too.
It was predicted that the former six-foot-four, 207-pound Stanley Cup winner likely wouldn’t provide any of this for a team north of the border, at least not two weeks ago, when Elliotte Friedman said that he probably would. remain in the United States if marketed.
But 36-year-old Staal gave up his list of 10 no-trade teams to agree to the deal with Montreal, and it is speculated that the Canadian government is relaxing its quarantine laws – although not formally at the time of doing so. is typed – helped him change. his mind.
Then again, perhaps with the way things went with the Sabers, losing 16 straight games, he would have taken a one-way ticket to literally anywhere else.
Still, Staal will carry the stench of a three-goal, 10-point, minus 20 outing in 32 games with Buffalo, at least until he cleans it up and shows something different in blue, white and red.
“I’m not even watching this,” said a longtime West Division scout. “Buffalo has been a total fire of tires, and I don’t think Staal has just lost him completely after his last three seasons with the Wild. I watched him a ton there and while he’s not quite the same player, he can’t have fallen as much as the numbers with the Sabers suggest.
Canadians will have to hope that this is true. Staal scored 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games for Minnesota last season, and that was after producing 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games in 2018-19 and 42 goals and 76 points in 82 games during the season. 2017-18. If he’s a fraction as good as that, even a bit as good as the guy who led the Carolina Hurricanes for years and was a dominant player as part of Canada’s Games gold medal team. Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it will be much better than it was in Buffalo.
And that’s all the Canadiens really need from Staal, as he crosses compatriot Corey Perry, a member of the Triple Gold Club and whoever remains on the results of Montreal. They don’t need more as he ends up for a power-play duty and a face-off victory here and there in the defensive zone.
Granted, Staal has only won 48% of their draws this season and is at 49.1% in his career of 1,272 games. But the Canadiens are 24th in the NHL in the category and they won’t do worse with him in the fold.
Now the question is: what did Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin cook?
We suspect it’s more than one thing. And yes, we know what he said on Thursday.
“We don’t have ceiling space, so it’s money in, money out,” Bergevin said, just 24 hours before he didn’t trade money on the books in the room. agreement to acquire Staal at half salary.
“It’s probably very unlikely to expect something to be done by the deadline,” he added, and there might be more truth to this than he intended.
Because Canadians could move again well before April 12. They currently have $ 486,095 of cap space, and that’s with Paul Byron and his $ 3.4 million cap hit on the taxi team as the team is inactive until Monday due to the league’s suspension from their activities after one of their players tested positive for the COVID-19 variant. That’s not even enough for Cole Caufield, the much-vaunted prospect whose season ended just minutes after the trade with Staal ended, to sign his entry-level deal.
The fact that Bergevin wasn’t ready to meet the media on Friday to discuss the Staal trade – or plans for Caufield, the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft who had 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games – only speculates that ‘it has more cooking to free up much needed space.
For what it’s worth, Caufield, Wisconsin coach former NHL player Tony Granato has said he believes Caufield is the author of one of the greatest seasons ever in the NCAA and that the sophomore should be a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award as top college hockey. player of the year.
Granato, who was shocked after his fourth-seeded Badgers were upset 6-3 by unranked Bemidji State on Friday, also didn’t really sell his belief that Caufield is already ready to be a player. impact in the best league in the world.
“He’s going to get a call I’m sure from his agent and from Montreal very soon,” said Granato. “The Canadiens watched him play this year, the scouts have all watched him play this year, so they have a plan. I don’t know this plan. I guess the plan is to try to get him up as fast as possible, so that he has to answer some calls very quickly.
In the event that the Canadiens can’t clear enough space to sign Caufield immediately – and they may have to wait a few days until he’s ready anyway, as he said after the devastating loss Friday, during which he scored two goals and an assist, that he could take a few – they could potentially bring the 21-year-old to Montreal in quarantine, then sign him anytime afterward. They will gain more space day by day in managing their roster and team of taxis and there is no time to have it put pen to paper as Caufield is on the reserve list of the team to allow him to sign and play with the Canadiens after the trade. deadline.
Whether he does or not, Staal’s move made Montreal a better team on Friday. At worst, it provided Canadians with a much-needed safety valve in the middle of their roster – and only for a pittance.