The New York Rangers acquired Carolina Hurricanes captain and No. 1 center Eric Staal on Sunday for a package including 2016 and 2017 second-round picks and prospect Aleksi Saarela.
The trade is a win for both teams.
For the Hurricanes, this surely was a difficult decision despite the impressive return. Staal is one of the best players in team history and played a pivotal role in its lone Stanley Cup title in 2006. Carolina has exceeded expectations this season and sits four points out of a playoff spot. Most experts predicted a last-place finish.
Even though the playoffs are within reach, ‘Canes general manager Ron Francis made the right decision to acquire some assets and not risk Staal leaving for nothing July 1 as an unrestricted free agent.
Two second-round picks are often better than one first-round pick, especially with New York’s 2016 first rounder likely to be in the mid-to-late 20s, and Saarela has played well this season with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 46 games in Finland’s SM-liiga.
Carolina has an impressive stockpile of draft picks, too, including two selections in each of the first three rounds in June.
The Hurricanes could always re-sign Staal in the summer if his long-term plan is to remain in Carolina and play with his brother Jordan, a top-six forward signed long-term in Raleigh.
The Rangers don’t have a first-round pick this season or next season (one must be dealt to the Arizona Coyotes as part of last season’s Keith Yandle trade), in additional to no second rounders in 2016 or 2017. That’s not a great situation, but the Rangers have a decent chance of winning the Eastern Conference again.
The only major obstacle is the Washington Capitals, who are running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. The Rangers have played pretty well against the Capitals in the postseason, though, including three series wins from 2012 through 2015. Henrik Lundqvist is still an elite goaltender, and the offense scores the sixth-most goals per game.
Staal provides the Blueshirts with needed center depth, the ability to play the wing, a replacement for Rick Nash if his injury doesn’t improve, lots of playoff experience and good size. Going to a playoff race should rejuvenate him as well — he hasn’t tasted postseason action since 2008-09.
The Rangers are in win-now mode, particularly when a goalie of Lundqvist’s caliber is your backbone. Staal’s addition gives them a pretty good chance of reaching the conference finals for a third straight season.
Thumbnail photo via James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports Images
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