Your first kiss. Your wedding day. The birth of your child. For many, these are the happiest moments in life.
For Eric Staal, Friday, March 26, 2021, has to be up there. That’s the day he learned he escaped the prison of what is known as the Buffalo Sabres. Like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, Staal crawled… er, rather skated to freedom after his 32-game stint with the Blue and Gold. He’s been exiled from the tire fire of a mess in Sabreland. He’s been freed of the stank that stinks of a 16-game losing streak. And he’s been separated from a franchise sinking deeper and deeper into the league’s abyss with every passing day.
Staal Headed to Montreal
Staal was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for third and fifth-round selections in the 2021 Draft. The Sabres agreed to retain $1.625 million of his salary – half of the final year of his contract. It’s likely Staal would’ve forfeited the coin outright, just to bounce from the land of blue cheese and chicken wings.
The Sabres are racking up losses by the handful. Thursday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins blanked them 4-0, handing them their franchise-worst winless skid. The loss gives them a 0-14-2 record over the last 16 games, marking the NHL’s longest losing streak since the 2003-04 season when the Penguins went 0-17-1.
Staaling Out in Buffalo
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams sent forward Marcus Johansson to Minnesota in exchange for the six-time All-Star. Staal was supposed to center the team’s second line, while adding experience and leadership. He was supposed to take pressure off of captain Jack Eichel and provide rookie Dylan Cozens a chance to acclimate to the NHL.
However, like many before him, Staal was quickly Sabre-ized and forgot his winning ways. He chipped in a mere three goals in 32 games, with a plus-minus rating of minus-20 for the team with a league-low six wins and seven shutout losses.
But for Staal, none of that matters now. It’s a distant memory for the 36-year-old who was seen doing cartwheels down Chippewa Street after getting wind of the trade.
Staal had to formally agree to the deal with the Habs since Montreal was among the 10 teams on his original no-trade list. While there are no witnesses, it’s assumed he ripped that list to shreds and then laughed at Adams before agreeing to the deal and leaving his GM’s office leaving only a vapor trail. The 17-year-NHL veteran is a new man, out on early parole.
Staal Must Quarantine
Under Canadian health regulations for those traveling from outside the country, Staal will have to go into a minimum seven-day self-quarantine before joining the team. It will take at least that long to wash off the misery and scent of smoldering ashes burning from KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo.
Given the new alignment of teams and an all-Canadian division, Staal will not have to face his former team the rest of the season. The nightmare-like 32-game stint in Western New York for No. 12 will likely forever haunt him. He’s just happy to have jumped the fence.
“I haven’t been good enough,” said Staal said March 18. “Clearly, in my mind, I had envisioned things differently coming here and it just hasn’t come to fruition and it hasn’t lived up to those thoughts.” That may be the understatement of the century.
“We just got off the ice to go wish him well. He’s a character guy,” said Kyle Okposo, while secretly hoping he could get sent to any of the other 30 teams in the NHL. “It’s pretty obvious. I mean, nobody’s naive here. Everybody knows what’s going on with the situation that we’re in.”
Taylor Hall Packing His Bags
The sell-off in Buffalo will likely continue right through the trade deadline. Adams will be getting whatever he can from teams as he continues a decade-long rebuild that started with the infamous “tank” season in 2014-15.
Like a game of duck-duck-goose, former NHL MVP Taylor Hall is anxiously hoping to get called on next by Adams. The free-agent prize from the offseason has struggled to find his game, with only two goals to show for himself. With an $8 million contract, it doesn’t take a math genius to realize those are expensive goals, each costing several million dollars.
Hall will likely jump at the chance to bolt from what’s become the laughingstock of the league.
As the pandemic drags on, the league has announced that the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will be delayed one month. Now, set for July 23-24, 2021, it’ll prove to be extra tricky since most scouts can’t physically attend games to evaluate players. On top of that, the OHL has yet to start playing and the WHL just began their season. That aside, one thing is certain: with two more picks in the upcoming draft, many players will be fearing a phone call from area code 716.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”