The Florida Panthers went bargain shopping this past offseason with some of their free agents. This includes signing forwards such as Rudolfs Balcers and Nick Cousins to cheap, team-friendly deals. But one that stuck out was someone who was a key piece to the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2005-06 Stanley Cup championship. That piece is forward Eric Staal, who agreed to a professional tryout (PTO) this upcoming training camp this past July.
Staal’s Illustrious Journey in the NHL
Staal had hype behind him from the day he was drafted second overall by the Hurricanes back in 2003. In his first season, he had a decent year with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) through 81 games. However, the following season after the lockout in 2004, he had what still stands today as the best year of his career with 100 points (45 goals, 55 assists). That postseason, he helped the Canes to their one and only Stanley Cup after besting the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. In addition, he led the team in postseason points that year with 28 (nine goals, 19 assists). In January of 2010, he was named the fifth captain in Hurricanes history and would remain so until the final year of his contract in 2016.
That year, Staal was traded at the deadline to the New York Rangers in exchange for forward Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks in 2016 and 2017. He dressed in only 20 games for the Blueshirts, scoring three goals and assisting on three others. The following summer, he signed a contract with the Minnesota Wild for three seasons. He would not get anywhere close to the production he had in Carolina, but his talents were enough to keep the Wild into multiple postseason runs, as he piled up eight playoff points (two goals, six assists) through 14 playoff games. Through four years in Minnesota, he tallied 240 regular season points (111 goals, 129 assists) through 311 games dressed.
On September of 2020, Staal was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward Marcus Johansson. Through 32 games played, he only totaled 10 points (three goals, seven assists) before getting dealt to the Montreal Canadiens just before the trade deadline that season. In 21 regular season games with the Habs, he only scored two goals and assisted on another, but he got to join the team on a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Unfortunately, the team came up short and lost the Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games. Through 21 total playoff games with Montreal, he scored two more goals and grabbed six assists. As of now, that was his most recent NHL season. With the history he has, Florida bringing him onto a PTO will be a great move, regardless of how it turns out.
Staal’s Playoff Experience Brings Comfort to the Squad
Staal has a tremendous amount of playoff experience, with 12 total games of Stanley Cup Final play and over a regular season’s worth of postseason appearances with 83 games throughout his career. Assuming he cracks the roster, he immediately brings a sense of comfort and a series of lessons in the form of postseason experience.
This is huge considering the struggles of the team last postseason as the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them in the second round. The Cats could use some pointers when it comes to the playoffs.
Staal Could Be Reunited With His Brother in Marc
At the same time Eric agreed to a PTO, Florida also brought in his brother, former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Marc Staal, on a one-year deal worth $750,000. It can bring a sense of Eric coming home in a sense.
This is not the first time that Eric has played with one of his brothers, as he played with Jordan Staal during his later years with the Hurricanes. But assuming he passes his tryout, it will be the first time he’s played with Marc.
Staal’s Veteran Leadership Could Guide the Youth and Prospects on the Roster
Even during his tryout period, Staal has tons of lessons and stories he can pass down to the current roster or some prospects at the upcoming training camp. This includes players such as Grigori Denisenko, Justin Sourdif and Serron Noel. It would not be surprising if one of them looked up to Staal as a potential inspiration or even used him in a video game one time.
Is Staal Making a Comeback?
Training camp is mere days away, and Staal’s comeback journey can begin after not playing a single NHL minute last season. However, even if he does not crack the roster, his appearance alone can be a big assistance for those on the active roster and future Panthers. In addition, head coach Paul Maurice should have a blast being able to scheme with another former Stanley Cup Champion potentially in the lineup. However, getting him a new deal might be a bit of trouble, considering the Panthers are currently over $3.3 million over the cap.
Overall, it is a good look for general manager Bill Zito as he’s been looking to improve the roster since day one of taking over Dale Talon as general manager. Despite all their offseason drama, the Panthers can still easily be a competitive franchise. The PTO signing of Staal proves that they both see something brewing up in Sunrise, Florida.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!