Marc Bergevin decided to strike early on the trade market with Friday’s acquisition of Eric Staal. Having had some time to ponder the move, our writers offer up their thoughts on the swap.
Terry Costaris: What’s there not to like in this trade? Montreal needed an upgrade on centre depth and they got it at a very reasonable price. It’s a low-risk, quality move that will likely make an already tough Canadiens team that much harder to play against. Having another NHL quality centre, who desperately needed a change of scenery, should benefit the Habs.
As a result of last week’s COVID-19 shutdown, Montreal will be in a dogfight to secure a playoff spot for the rest of the season. This team is going to experience both physical and mental fatigue as the compressed schedule starts to wind down. Staal’s presence adds some injury insurance in this regard.
You can never have enough centre depth and this move should take some pressure off of youngsters Jake Evans, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
At 6’4” and weighing in at 205 lbs, Staal adds some beefy fourth line stability. His assignments in Montreal should be easier than what he encountered in Buffalo.
I love the heart and soul Evans whom Staal replaces but he is about a year and a half away from truly owning the fourth line. Staal, then, is like a scaffolder of sorts for the developing Evans.
Then there are the intangibles of this trade. Staal may also be a valuable teacher for both Kotkaniemi and Suzuki when it comes to faceoffs. I know that his numbers are not that much better than either of these two very young centres but he can’t hurt their progress in this area. In practices, both he and Philip Danault can spend some time just instructing this essential skill to Suzuki and Kotkaniemi. The team now has two teachers on hand rather than just one. What used to take perhaps half an hour of Danault’s time is now reduced by 50%.
The cost to acquire Staal’s services was minimal. The cap hit is workable and the loss of draft picks are negligible.
As far as I’m concerned, this year’s draft is a total crapshoot. There is a good chance that many of 2021’s selections will not pan out due to their reduced playing time. The odds of Buffalo landing an NHLer either in the third or fifth round is highly unlikely. If the Sabres hit pay dirt, it’ll be due to pure luck.
So, the Canadiens obtained a very good fourth line centre with size, who come playoff time, has the potential to make Montreal even harder to play against.
I like this trade and I give it two thumbs up.
Allan Katz: Eric Staal! – How is it possible to write anything original on this acquisition? Stanley Cup winner, been through it all veteran, brings experience into the centre situation, last full season had 19 goals, more points than any Hab not named Tatar, fair price, paid for cap relief with a fifth-rounder. What’s not to like? I’d like the guy who called Tatar, TATAAAR, to give us a STAAAAL on Staal. Bet no one else brought that up!
This acquisition is like a sequel to the Corey Perry deal. Bergevin is going for it. If you hate the GM I’m sure you can figure out a way to not like this deal, but this is a solid shot taken by a GM who knows what he’s doing. Will it succeed? Depends on how you measure all the elements. Staal does make the club a tad better by being a nice upgrade on Evans.
The questions this deal generates are; is there another deal coming down the chute? (Yes) Will Bergevin use more draft picks to get his final piece of the puzzle in a defenceman? (Yes) Will it be a rental and how much will it cost? (Rental, 2nd rounder, and a warm body) IS KID COLE COMING TO TOWN? (Yes) And finally – So given the Habs make the playoffs, how far can they go? How far do they have to go to please the fan base? Given they make the playoffs the first round will see them play the Jets, Leafs or Oilers. The second round also will be one of these three. As a fan, I need a first-round upset and a second-round sixth or seventh game. Can they make the final four? (Maybe) Can they win the cup? (Don’t bet too much money on that.) Will Eric Staal be the reason they succeed? Outright, he will win one game in the playoffs.
Brian La Rose: I’m not surprised that Bergevin targeted a centre but I am surprised that Staal was the target. Typically, a centre for the fourth line is supposed to win faceoffs at an above-average clip and do a good job killing penalties. Staal checks neither of those boxes.
On the other hand, despite his significant struggles in Buffalo this season, he also brings more offensive upside to the fourth line than the defensive and faceoff specialists that typically fill that role. With Cole Caufield signing as well, is this the making of a more offensive-oriented fourth line for the stretch run? The Habs clearly don’t have the top-end talent to play against some of the others this division features so trying to out-depth opponents is how they’re going to need to try to win. It’s the approach Claude Julien took earlier this season, one that Dominique Ducharme has since gone away from.
From the cost standpoint, the Habs get to hold onto their top few picks and got the Sabres to eat half of the cap hit. It’s hard to be too upset about that, especially with Montreal still holding a dozen picks in this draft and we all know they won’t actually pick that many players. Rather than trade down a year, they use some for help now.
It certainly feels like another move needs to happen though. There’s a way they can navigate around the cap without trading anyone but it keeps Paul Byron and Caufield on the taxi squad for the majority of the rest of the season plus puts them in bonus overage territory. If this winds up being all they do in terms of deadline dealings resulting in this move cutting into their cap space for next year due to a bonus overage, I won’t be as happy with the deal as I am now. There is some tinkering that still has to happen and Bergevin has less than three weeks to do it.
Norm Szcyrek: I like this trade for several reasons. The cost to acquire Staal was relatively low with two mid-round selections, and the Habs have a surplus of draft picks in this year’s draft. Adding depth at this time of the season, especially at centre, is a solid move to bolster the team in case of an injury or another COVID-19 positive test. When it comes to Staal, it’s true that his offensive numbers took a dive this season. However, the Sabres are a tire fire this year and it must have been a huge ask for Eric to lift his game when the overall team was so dismal. His numbers the last two seasons in Minnesota were decent so I think the Canadiens brain trust believe Staal still has something more to give. In Montreal, he’ll likely end up as a bottom-six forward and has good skills to add to the power play, which although it has been much improved since the coaching changes can still be better.
Naqeeb Shaikh: I think it’s a proactive move and shows that the team’s centre depth needed to be improved, especially on the fourth line. Their centre depth looks thin when both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi aren’t chipping in or only one of them is. Danault has been producing lately, but they can’t expect much from him offensively. Although Staal is 36, I think his hockey sense and IQ is akin to Corey Perry’s where he can still contribute. I would have preferred only one draft pick going to Buffalo, but I like the fact that half of the salary is being retained. I’m certainly interested in seeing how the tight cap situation will now be handled.
Dave Woodward: Most in-season deals during Bergevin’s tenure have been low risk, low reward moves, often acquiring a fading or flawed player from the bargain bin at a low price. With all the picks the Canadiens have in this upcoming draft (a draft that is projected to be weak and – with the pandemic shutting down of many of the junior leagues – difficult to navigate), the price for Staal was not high. And I am not convinced that the acquisition of Staal will have low rewards.
The Canadiens sorely need veteran depth at centre. Kotkaniemi and Suzuki will eventually be ready to be the number one and two centres on the Canadiens but are not there yet. Danault’s struggles have made matters worse. The offensive production from their centres is woeful. In order to make the playoffs and have any success when they get there, the Habs had to get stronger down the middle.
At thirty-six, Eric Staal is not a long-term solution. But the Canadiens only require short term help. Staal is solid defensively and, at a minimum, can slot into the fourth line centre role. He is also only a few seasons removed from some very productive years in Minnesota. Although Staal’s point production fell off a cliff on a historically bad Buffalo team, it is conceivable that Staal could contribute materially offensively if given the opportunity.
Given that Staal’s contract expires this season and the Sabres took back some salary, the cap implications are manageable this season and will not create any problems this offseason.
It’s hard not to like this deal.