Larry Brooks of the New York Post has recently reported that there are no talks between the Rangers and defenseman Marc Staal on a contract extension. The 27 year-old Staal’s play has been widely criticized by fans recently, and some are wondering if his injuries are getting to him. In early 2011, Marc was hit by older brother and Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal hard, and since it was believed to just be a knee injury that Marc suffered, he would go on to finish the season. It was not until training camp later that year that it became apparent that Staal had suffered a concussion, which would require months of missed NHL action including a month-long shutdown to help him recover.
Staal would not play an NHL game in the 2011-2012 season until the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, but by then the Rangers were 23-9-4. Though they would have loved to have him during that time, the Rangers obviously did not really need Staal during that successful first half of the season, and when he returned, he only scored 5 points in 46 games and was a minus-7 – a significant step down from his 29 points and plus-8 the previous season. In the 2013 season, Staal would suffer a horrendous eye injury that would force him to miss even more time, followed by a “neck injury” in the 2013-2014 season which first appeared to be another head injury.
With a history as injury-marred as Staal’s, fans are left wondering if one more incident could effectively end his career, similar to what the hockey world experienced with Sidney Crosby during his streak of concussions following the 2011 Winter Classic incident. So why should the Rangers lock up Staal long-term if he may not be able to play out his contract and be effective?
There’s been no discussion at all, but I did get a call from Jeff [Gorton] early in the offseason telling me that they were working on their arbitration cases, so not to interpret it as a sign of disrespect toward Marc. I expect that we will be talking at some point before training camp. Marc’s objective is to sign a long-term deal with the Rangers, and he would like to get it done before the season starts. That hasn’t changed. But we’ll see. – Marc’s agent Paul Krepelka
It seems as though the Rangers are going down the same path they did with the Lundqvist, Callahan, and Girardi contracts last offseason. With the cap so tight and having so many free agents to worry about, it made sense that Sather waited so long into the 2013-2014 season to make his decision on both Callahan and Girardi, ultimately trading the former and retaining the latter. The fact that they have not had many talks with Staal may be a similar situation, as Sather may be reluctant to hand a long-term contract to a guy who is not only a high-risk player in terms of injuries, but at 27 he already seems too slow for coach Alain Vigneault’s fast-tempo system.
With many left-handed defenseman in the system, Staal seems to be more and more replaceable with each season. NCAA standout and Rangers top defensive prospect Brady Skjei, drafted 28th overall by the Rangers in 2012, models his game after Ryan McDonagh and seems poised to become a top-4 defenseman for the club very soon. He is returning to Minnesota for his junior season but the Rangers seem high on him and think he is close to being ready to turn pro, and it is likely that he will forego his senior year and make the jump. Not to mention that John Moore could possibly replace him in the interim, as could prospect Conor Allen.
The advantage the Rangers have with using Staal as trade bait is his size. Teams would love to add a top-4 defenseman at 6’4″ and 207 lbs. with leadership abilities (Staal has been alternate captain of the Rangers the past three seasons). Plus he’s still relatively young and in his prime at just 27. The Rangers have a glaring need at center. Derek Stepan still hasn’t proven himself as an elite center and Derrick Brassard will get his first look at a top 6 role this season after centering a very effective third line last season that at times looked like the team’s first line. But the Rangers are in win-now mode in what will likely be Marty St. Louis’ final season in the NHL – plus Henrik Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger, and Dan Boyle may only have one more good season in him.
So if Sather does trade Staal, why not get an elite center in return? Maybe package Derrick Brassard and Marc Staal together and send them to San Jose for Joe Thornton, who just last season was in the top five overall in assists. The “rebuilding” San Jose Sharks could use another young center in Brassard and this trade would allow them to move Joe Pavelski to the wing permanently. It also puts an end to the Thornton drama and gives them a sturdy, reliable defensive defenseman who can provide veteran experience and leadership to the blue line and the team as a whole. Adding Thornton may put them over the hump and help them win the Stanley Cup in what will likely be their last season as contenders. It could be a great deal for both sides.
It remains to be seen if talks between Sather and Staal’s agent start between now and the beginning of the season, but it is very likely that Sather will let this unfold the same way he dealt with Callahan and Girardi’s contract negotiations. We could see Staal dealt in a big trade deadline day deal, or if a trade comes before the season starts, it would finally give us something to talk about in a summer that has disappointed hockey fans looking for blockbuster late-offseason news.