Maple Leafs Could Benefit From Acquiring Sabres’ Staal

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been rumoured to be in the market for a top-six forward for quite some time. While there has been speculation on names such as Mikael Granlund, there appears to a new name on the Maple Leafs trade list.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said that the Maple Leafs could be in on Buffalo Sabres centre Eric Staal as a potential option to be part of the team’s top-six forward unit. General manager Kyle Dubas has another option to think about as he tries to make his team better.

As the Maple Leafs look to make a move to try and be all-in for a deep playoff run, Staal could be another strong veteran presence that could benefit a team that’s looking to make a push for the Stanley Cup.

Maple Leafs Add Another Strong Veteran Presence

When Staal was traded to the Sabres from the Minnesota Wild, they thought that he could provide a strong veteran presence for the team. However, things didn’t go according to plan. From bad contracts to stars underperforming, nothing is going right. As he’s an unrestricted free agent when the season ends, moving him to try and gain some assets would be beneficial as he’s open to a trade.

The 36-year-old ranks sixth in Sabres scoring with 10 points in 25 games, providing some consistency in a top-six role. A veteran of 17 seasons, Staal has 1,031 points in 1,265 games played in the NHL. In his second season, he won the Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes where he finished seventh in scoring with 100 points.

Eric Staal Buffalo Sabres
Eric Staal, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite his age, if used effectively, he can be a reliable 40-50 point player (in a regular 82 game season). While he had a 65 and 76-point campaign in 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively, there shouldn’t be that kind of expectation in terms of offensive production.

While the Maple Leafs already have great veteran presence with Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds up front making that aspect a priority. Adding Staal will only benefit the team even more. His mindset and ability to constantly battle will make their top-six more competitive and tougher to contain if they really want to make a deep run for the Cup. He thrived in that situation before and he can be the voice to help motivate the team.

If you’re in the position like the Maple Leafs, you can never have enough veterans, especially ones that have found success like Staal. Going to a contender could fuel that fire to try and add another Cup to his resume.

Staal Could Replace Kerfoot

Staal comes in at a reasonable cap-hit as he initially signed a two-year deal with the Wild worth $3.25 million per season. As the Maple Leafs are close to cap and need to manage their situation closely, this would be a great add. If a deal were to be made, salary could be retained to lower his cap or it could be a situation where it’s a contract coming in and a contract going the other way.

The only contract on the team that is on par to Staal’s is Alexander Kerfoot as he’s making $3.5 million. While Kerfoot his having a good season, he is always thinking pass first and turns a great scoring chance into a wasted opportunity. Kerfoot (13 points in 28 games) has three points more than Staal. Here is a comparison of both players’ underlying numbers at five-on-five.

StatisticEric StaalAlexander Kerfoot
Corsi For %50.2548.85
Scoring Chances For %49.1347.74
Goals For %29.1768.42
Expected Goals For %47.4347.09

The underlying numbers for both players aren’t great. For Kerfoot, his numbers aren’t strong even as he’s playing alongside two high-end players in John Tavares and William Nylander. In Staal’s case, he’s on a team that has struggled to produce offense from their best players as the Sabres only have six wins all season. Clearly something is wrong as this chart shows his stats with the Minnesota Wild and a major drop with the Sabres.

Over his career, Staal is a good possession player as he has a career 52.4 CF%. Despite being on a poor Sabres team, Staal still has a good scoring chances for and expected goals for percentage. With a minimum of 100 minutes played, he ranks 10th in xGF% and seventh in SCF%.

If the Maple Leafs do acquire him, he could very well provide more offensive production on the second line over Kerfoot. He could provide great depth and versatility as he can play both centre and the wing position. With his big body, speed and aggressive ability to get in on the fore-check, Staal brings a net front presence aspect which will continue to help their dangerous power play. He’s just the kind of player the Maple Leafs need if they’re looking to add another strong veteran to the team.

What is the Price?

There really hasn’t been much in terms of the asking price for Staal. The only thing that seems possible is moving Kerfoot’s contract out while also adding in a second-round pick.

Alexander Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Could Eric Staal be a better replacement over Alex Kerfoot for the Toronto Maple Leafs? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Maple Leafs don’t give up any draft picks in the process, they could always add in a second tier prospect in package for him. They have the pieces and assets at their disposal to make a trade. Dubas has made moves in the past to acquire help while not making an overpayment and keeping their top prospects in the organization. There’s no doubt he’s going to be doing the same this time around as he wants his team to be a threat in the future as well. 

If the price is right to acquire the services of Staal, then there shouldn’t be any second-guessing. But is this a point where maybe they make a slight over payment? If they’re really serious about this season, it’s possible.

Although he’s had a bad season with the Sabres, Staal is still a reliable point producer on a contending team. With the skill and offense that the Maple Leafs have, Staal will no doubt be a welcomed addition to the team. He brings the kind of energy any team looks for when making a deep run. Whether a deal happens or not, he’s definitely a player that could benefit the team going forward.

Statistics from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.

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