The Buffalo Sabres made their first big move under rookie GM Kevyn Adams on Wednesday, filling the need for a second-line center by acquiring Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild for winger Marcus Johansson.
Staal, 35, a veteran of 16 NHL seasons with Carolina, New York, and Minnesota, scored 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 66 games for the Wild last season. Johansson played with Boston in the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 and signed a two-year, $9 million contract last summer with Buffalo. The 29-year-old had 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) in 60 games last season playing mostly on the wing after being tried up the middle.
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The Sabres GM has a long-standing relationship with Staal, as both were members of the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes and was the linemate of Sabres winger Jeff Skinner in Carolina for six seasons.
“Staal has had a world-class career, he’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s won an Olympic gold medal, he’s won the world championship gold medalist, he’s been an All-Star many times and he’s still a very productive player.” Adams said after the trade. “He’s a tremendous person, high character, tremendous leader, former captain. Because of my past experience of being a former teammate, I’ve seen that up close and personal. We added a phenomenal player and person today.”
In spite of the age difference of six years, the acquisition of Staal appears to be a good fit for Buffalo, who have been looking for a center to play behind team captain Jack Eichel since Ryan O’Reilly was traded to St. Louis in 2018.
“(In) really looking at our roster over the last couple of months and having kind of a short, medium and long term plan of what we need to do, obviously identifying the center ice position and trying to strengthen ourselves up the middle is important.” Adams said. “So for me, being able to look around the league, when we looked to target and identify a player like Eric was really important. It was definitely something we were working on doing.”
The deal saves Buffalo $1.25 million in salary, (Staal is in the final year of a two-year, $6.5 million contract), but also gives Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger experience up the middle instead of having to rely on third-year center Casey Mittelstadt or 2019 first-rounder Dylan Cozens to play in a top-six role.