Sabres Adding Staal is Step in Right Direction

Buffalo Sabres rookie general manager Kevyn Adams’ trade for Eric Staal is low risk, high reward. It’s also a no brainer.

Staal, a consummate pro, fills an immediate need without a long-term commitment. He adds a sorely-needed, bonafide second-line center to fill in behind captain Jack Eichel.

Eric Staal #12 Minnesota Wild
Eric Staal played on the Carolina Hurrances 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“To me, looking around the league and to be able to target and identify a player was really important,” said Adams during a conference call Wednesday night. “It was definitely something we were working on doing.”

Sabres Second Line Center

With Staal joining the Sabres, players like Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens have time to develop without being forced into a role they’re not ready for. The move also sheds a little over a million dollars in salary–nearly the amount of former GM Jason Botterill’s overage.

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“I think we would all say we’re extremely excited about Dylan, but I probably mentioned this a few months ago: every player’s maturation process is different,” said Adams. “Dylan is someone that we look forward to coming in and challenging for a roster spot. But at the same point, we do not want to put Dylan Cozens in a position that he’s not ready for. The underrated part of an Eric Staal in your dressing room, and if Dylan Cozens is on our roster, is the ability to be with him every day and learn from him, not just on the ice but off the ice as well.”

It’s exactly the type of move Jason Botterill failed to pull off last year.

Staal for Johansson, Straight Up

The trade is a simple one-for-one swap. Staal, a fan favorite in Minnesota, returns to the state of New York while Johansson bounces to his fourth team in four seasons, after playing seven seasons for the Washington Capitals. MarJo played quick stints for the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Sabres.

No salary was retained by either team. Johansson carries $1.25 million more of a cap hit than Staal and has one more year left on his deal that carries an annual average cap hit of $4.5 million a year.

It’s likely Staal could be paired up with former teammate Jeff Skinner, who had a less-than-stellar, career-low 14 goals last season. Coincidentally, Skinner spent most of season playing with Johansson.

Eichel’s Request

Landing a respected veteran player like Stahl is a direct response to what Eichel practically begged for at the end of last season–an experienced player with a resume full of winning and character.

During his end of season video conference, Eichel said he’s “fed up” with losing after five “tough” years in the NHL. He was quick to say that he wanted the team to add veterans to the roster this offseason.

Staal is someone the entire team can learn from, from prospects like Dylan Cozens, youngsters like Rasmus Dahlin and even veteran players like Kyle Okposo.

By the Numbers

Staal, 35, is both productive and full of character and leadership qualities. He’s played 1,240 NHL games, piling up 436 goals and 585 assists. Last season he had 47 points in 66 games. That total would have placed him third, behind only Eichel and Sam Reinhart, on the Sabres stat sheet.

After 12 seasons in Carolina, Staal played four seasons for the Wild, scoring 111 goals and 129 assists for 240 points in 311 games, including an impressive 42-goal season in 2017-18. He has the fifth-most goals for active players in the NHL.

Marcus Johansson Buffalo Sabres
Marcus Johansson hasn’t topped 30 points since the 2016-17 season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Johansson, 29, had 9 goals and 21 assists in 30 games last season for the Sabres. He spent only one season in Buffalo, mostly playing center, a position in which he had not played a full season prior to the 2019-20 season. He can play up and down the lineup from but is best suited as a left winger. His career totals include 129 goals and 235 assists for 364 points and a career point average of 0.56 points per game.

Related: Sabres Trade Johansson for Staal

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players with modified no-trade lists had until Tuesday of this week to revamp their lists. According to a Minnesota Wild reporter, Staal turned in a new one that did not have the Sabres on it.

With the expansion draft on the horizon and Staal likely hanging up his skates soon, he’s one less player the Sabres will need to protect next year.

Net Positive

It’s been nearly a decade since the Buffalo Sabres made the playoffs. While teams like the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have been perennial contenders, the Sabres have routinely found themselves in the league’s basement. Despite constant turnover on the ice and behind the bench, the franchise has floundered. Poor drafting, lousy trades, albatross contracts continue to haunt them.

(Photo: Andy Martin Jr)
Kevyn Adams played alongside Staal for the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo: Andy Martin Jr)

It’s going to take several moves to turn the Sabres around. But every player and every trade adds up to make a difference. Bringing in a player like Staal is a small but smart move. On paper, it’s adding production while filling a need and subtracting salary.

“We added a phenomenal player and person. I’m very excited about it,” said Adams.

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