MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Eric Staal settled with a new team that satisfied his postseason aspirations. The Minnesota Wild found the top-six forward they were seeking.
Staal and the Wild agreed to terms Friday on a three-year, $10.5 million contract, soon after NHL free agency began. After totaling 13 goals between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers last season, the lowest total since he was a rookie, the 31-year-old center will take a prove-his-worth mentality into next season.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left,” Staal said.
The 45 goals and 55 assists that Stall tallied in 2005-06 while leading the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup championship are an improbability at this point, but playing on a line with Zach Parise and perhaps Charlie Coyle ought to at least put him in position to be a productive offensive player.
“I feel like our games can mesh well,” Staal said. “I feel like we’re both 200-foot players that can play both ends of the rink. I feel like I have that same work ethic and drive that he does.”
Staal spent 12 seasons with the Hurricanes, until he was traded to the New York Rangers the day before the deadline. The second overall pick in the 2003 draft has 325 goals and 456 assists in 929 career games. Since he entered the league, Jarome Iginla, Patrick Marleau and Daniel Sedin are the only others who’ve played in 900-plus games and totaled at least 300 goals and 400 assists.
As Staal did when Parise was on the market four years ago, ultimately picking Minnesota on a 13-year, $98 million contract, Parise reached out to Staal earlier this week with a pitch for the Wild.
“I’m super excited. They were a team that I kind of had on my radar for a little while now, and knowing I was going to be in this position, I was kind of scouring over team rosters and looking for spots where I could be put in position to play my best hockey,” Staal said. “Minnesota was right up there.”
The Wild have qualified for the playoffs four straight times, but they’ve won only two series. Still, that’s a lot more action than Carolina has seen. After leading the NHL playoffs with 28 points in 25 games for the 2006 champions, Staal and the Hurricanes tasted the postseason only once more, getting swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals. He also had a stint in the playoffs with the Rangers after the trade.
So as his seven-year, $55.75 million contract expired, Staal was eager to join a winner. He cited player cost-cutting around him in Carolina as a reason for his waning goals and assists totals.
“In the cap world and the way the game is now, you need more. You need extra help, and sometimes it felt like they weren’t able to do some of those things,” Staal said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. “It made it difficult. It started to wear.”
Staal has three younger brothers who have played in the NHL: Marc, Jordan and Jared. He’s had the chance to play with all of them, with the Hurricanes and then the Rangers. With 2,237 career regular-season games between the quartet, none of them have played for a Western Conference team until now.
Minnesota is the closest NHL market and major city to their hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, about a six-hour drive across the border.
“I’m sure I’m going to have a lot more weekend visitors than I had in the past,” Staal said.
The Wild also agreed to deals to bring back left wing Chris Stewart (two years, $2.3 million) and add goalie Alex Stalock, a Minnesota native, and forward Pat Cannone, an AHL veteran, for depth on two-way contracts.
Stewart had eight goals and 12 assists in 56 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season, missing 19 games because of a broken jaw. He was a March 2, 2015, trade-deadline acquisition by the Wild who played in 20 games plus eight contests in the playoffs.
Stalock went 24-19-7 with a 2.37 goals against average and a .911 save percentage over parts of five seasons with the San Jose Sharks. The 28-year-old product of South St. Paul High School and Minnesota Duluth will be behind Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper to start, but general manager Chuck Fletcher has acknowledged that Kuemper is under trade consideration.
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