Eric Staal brings much-needed experience to the Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have been living a nightmare the past nine seasons, but trading for Eric Staal is a breath of fresh air for a team in dire need of it.

Buffalo Sabres’ fans weren’t expecting it and neither was Eric Staal, but the team made an extremely exciting move on Wednesday (Sept. 16) to acquire the 35-year old center from the Minnesota Wild.

“Hopefully I can be impactful,” said Eric Staal. “For me, I think I’m just going to try to be myself coming in and then hopefully, as a group, we can develop that team atmosphere, that desire to win and compete every night.”

In exchange for the 16-year veteran, the Sabres parted ways with Marcus Johansson. Fortunately, that’s the only player Buffalo fans had to say goodbye to. It was a one-for-one trade and one that both teams are set to benefit from.

Johansson spent just one season with the Buffalo Sabres. He appeared in 60 games, finishing the season with just 9 goals and 21 assists. He’ll now start his 11th season in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild — his fourth team in the past two years.

Why did the Buffalo Sabres trade for Eric Staal?

I know what many of you fans are thinking. You’re saying, “Why do the Sabres need a center entering their 17th season in the NHL?” It’s one thing to trade for a 16-year veteran, but it’s a completely different story when you’re trading for Eric Staal.

Not only has Staal enjoyed an illustrious career thus far, but he’s 100% ready to continue that success. His body feels good, his mind feels good, and he still gets just as excited stepping out on the ice as he did 16 years ago.

Anyone who has followed the Buffalo Sabres the past decade understands the amount of angst inside the locker room. They haven’t been to the playoffs in nine seasons and eight of those seasons ended with a losing record. For a city like Buffalo, the fans deserve better.

I don’t think anyone is doubting the amount of talent on this roster. It’s filled with young players ready to break out, young players that already have, and some veterans in crucial roles. Still, this team struggles with consistency, doesn’t have a clear veteran voice, and lacks experience.

Eric Staal solves all of those issues.

He spent his first 11.5 years in the league with the Caroline Hurricanes, where he recorded 9 20+ goal seasons — five of which were 30+ and two of which were 40+. He hasn’t slowed down since then, either.

After a brief half-year stint with the Rangers, he spent the past four years with the Wild. He recorded 28 goals in his first year, 42 in his second, 22 in his third, and 19 this season. He still has a lot of life left in the NHL and has also added 28+ assists in each of the past four years.

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To compare, Marcus Johansson only recorded two 20+ goal seasons in his 10-year career.

The trade also makes sense from Kevyn Adams’ standpoint. He was a teammate of Eric Staal’s in Caroline back in 2006. In fact, Sabres’ fans likely remember these two because they were a part of the team that beat Buffalo in the Eastern Conference Finals that year. The series ended in a Game 7 thriller.

Staal explained:

I’ve gotten to know Kevyn very well over a number of years. He was very good to me as a young player in Carolina. I was at his house numerous times as a young guy. We got along very well … I haven’t talked to him a lot. It’s been pretty whirlwind the past two days. But definitely being able to play for him and the type of person he is and the character he has is important to me.

It shows why Adams pulled the trigger on the trade, but also shows how long Eric Staal has been in this league.

He’s been a No. 2 overall pick, he’s been the face of a franchise, he’s spent time with a loyal fanbase as a loyal player, he’s a Stanley Cup winner, and former Gold Medal recipient at the IIHF World Championships.

Now, he’s a Buffalo Sabre.

Does Eric Staal have a future in Buffalo?

We know what he has done on the ice, but we don’t necessarily know if he can do it for the Buffalo Sabres in 2021. He says he’s ready for the change, but we’ve heard that a lot from incoming players.

I think the best thing Sabres’ fans can do right now is keep an open mind. There’s one thing we do know and it’s what he’s going to bring to the locker room. For the Sabres, that’s much-needed and something players like Jack Eichel will appreciate — and take advantage of.

In my opinion, Eric Staal would look best on the Buffalo Sabres’ second line with Jeff Skinner. The two have a history together from their time in Carolina, which spanned from 2010-2016. Not only would it help Staal assimilate into the Sabres’ style of play, but it’ll ignite a fire in Skinner — one he needs after a disappointing season following a large contract.

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Skinner told the Sabres’ website:

Just sort of watching [Eric] compete is probably the biggest thing. He was the captain and sort of the face of the franchise, and we were sort of always on the bubble and didn’t quite have the success we would like as a team, but he was always a driving force and always competing every night.

Staal can also find time on the second power play unit and provide much-needed experience for a unit that ranked 20th in power play percentage (18.9%).

With one year left on his contract, it’s really a no-brainer for the Buffalo Sabres — who didn’t have to give up much for him. If things don’t work out on the ice, they’ll at least get a good teammate for a year that helps develop some of the younger guys.

With his history, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more than we bargained for out of Eric Staal. This was a major first trade for Kevyn Adams and should excite Sabres’ fans to see what else he can do as General Manager.

Only time will tell!

Next: Top 5 trade acquisitions in Sabres' franchise history

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