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Eastern Conference Stays Quiet On Deadline Day, Making The Eric Staal Deal Look A Lot Better

StaalWith Deadline Day done, the Rangers acquisition is looking a lot better now. Outside of the Panthers adding some quality depth pieces in Hudler, Purcell & Kindl no one else in the East improved as much as the Blueshirts have**. I’ve gone up & down on the Eric Staal deal since my initial gut reaction yesterday but the fact that pretty much everyone else in the conference stood pat is another “plus” in the Staal column.
I’m still a little skeptical though. A lot of people praise Staal’s possession stats which are unquestionably among the best in the league. He’ll help the Rangers there. Still, NY are the top even-strength goal differential team in the league (along with the Caps) – 16 goals ahead of the next-best team. What’s the tangible benefit of adding a possession guy to a team that’s already dominating at even-strength, especially if that possession doesn’t translate to production? Despite only two forwards having more even-strength ice time than him, he ranks somewhere around 130th in ES points. Two Corsi comparables doing a better job offensively are Mike Ribeiro & Mathieu Perrault. If the only praise for Staal right now are his fancy stats then you can’t tell me he’s that much of a better player than either of those names. Would you trade 2 seconds & a prospect for them?
Another pro-Staal argument is that his offensive numbers have declined due to a lack of talent in Carolina. Then why were four “bums” ahead of him in scoring there? Is it because he was tasked with playing against the best opposing teams have to offer? OK cool – so Staal can’t produce against great players. That’ll work for the post-season. Playing in NY should provide more opportunities though, right? Wrong. Staal’s been on the ice for the 4th-most high-danger scoring chances for (thank you War On Ice). The Rangers as a team have generated a total that ranks in the bottom 10. They’re a squad that does more with less, so Staal’s offensive opportunities will go down as will his minutes. As far as talent is concerned, he skated between Hayes & Lindberg at today’s practice. If that’s where he sticks, he’ll see better matchups but Hayes/Lindberg aren’t exactly night & day talent upgrades over Versteeg/Lindholm.
All that said, I don’t hate the deal. Staal won’t hurt – just don’t expect a resurrection. He’s a responsible, versatile player who allows AV to put together a rock-solid 4-line squad similar to the team that surprised all the way to the Cup Final against LA. With the addition of Staal & the eventual return of Rick Nash, the Rangers’ bottom six will most likely include Staal, Hayes, Lindberg, Moore, Stalberg & Fast. No more Glass (please), no more AHLers. Shifting Hayes to a wing I think is a huge deal. He’s a talent, but doesn’t have the ability to handle all the responsibilities that a two-way center has. With Staal shouldering that load (both Staal & AV said they prefer him at C so I assume this sticks & I think it should) Hayes can focus on continuing his recent offensive resurgence. Fast & Moore will be reunited on the 4th line along with either Stalberg or Lindberg to form a much more reliable checking line that should chip in a bit more offensively too.
The Rangers are a better team now & you can’t argue that. Could they have filled similar needs for a lot less? Maybe. Staal’s ex-linemate Kris Versteeg is a younger, right-handed possession stud with a pair of Cups since Staal last skated in a playoff game. He could play either wing on the second or third line, packs as much offensive punch this season and would’ve at least saved NY a prospect & pick. Gorton went after Staal instead & got his man, hoping that a Cup run will rejuvenate the former superstar. Maybe it will – but shouldn’t the point of an “all-in” deadline deal be to acquire a player that will spark the run instead of hoping the run sparks the player?

**UPDATE** – Boston snuck in at the last minute & made some quality pick-ups in Stempniak & John-Michael Liles after I finished this. If Rask finds his form, they have as good a shot as anyone to disrupt the East. With the core they’ve got & the rest of the East sitting on their hands, why not go for it?