Will Trade to New York Rangers Reverse Eric Staal's Rapid Decline?

Adrian DaterNHL National ColumnistFebruary 28, 2016

Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) waits to go into the game during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins  in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Gerry Broome/Associated Press

We can safely start with this: Eric Staal needed a change. 

By all accounts, Staal is an upstanding guy, a worthy person to have worn a captain's C for as long as he did with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a pillar of the community around Raleigh—a leader on and off the ice.

But this can safely be said too: Eric Staal wasn't a very good player anymore with the Hurricanes. He had 10 goals in 63 games before being traded to the New York Rangers for two second-round draft picks and Finnish prospect Aleksi Saarela, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN (via Yahoo Sports).

While his Corsi for percentage numbers were good (62.6 this season), the Hurricanes needed more than just a guy who holds on to the puck well. They needed him to find more ways to put it in the net, and for the last three years, he just didn't do that enough for a guy receiving $9.5 million this year and $9.25 million the two before.

He was the captain, a cornerstone, a guy with a rich, long-term, no-move-clause contract. But that added up to another word that begins with C: complacency.

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 29: Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes is tripped up by Adam Henrique #14 of the New Jersey Devils during the third period at the Prudential Center on December 29, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Hurricanes
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"There's just been this easy way about being one of the top-paid players in the game and yet, not enough pressure on him to perform," Sportsnet analyst Nick Kypreos said of Staal before the trade. "It's made it easy to go to the rink for him. He is in dire need of a change to rejuvenate his career."

Now that he has the change, can Staal actually do the rejuvenation thing? We're about to find out, but what better place to reinvent oneself than New York City? If, as Kypreos theorized, Staal didn't have enough pressure to perform anymore in Raleigh, he has it now on a Rangers team that is really going for it. 

The Rangers have gotten close to a Cup in recent years but couldn't quite get there. Some of their top guys (Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash) are into their 30s, and they are retaining Keith Yandle for the rest of the season, despite the fact he might leave for nothing as an unrestricted free agent in July—just like Staal.

Rangers management clearly has a Cup-or-bust mentality this spring, and so there's your pressure for Staal and everyone else in the Rangers dressing room.

"I think if you read between the lines of what he's said the last few weeks, he's starving for that chance," Kypreos said on Hockey Central at Noon.

Staal won a Stanley Cup his second year in the league (2005-06), posting a 100-point regular season and 28 more in 25 postseason contests. But the Hurricanes missed the playoffs in eight of the next nine seasons, and things weren't looking good this year either. In 2010, he signed a seven-year contract with a cap hit of $8.25 million, but the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs in the first six years of that deal.

Barring a total Rangers meltdown the rest of the way, Staal will experience playoff hockey again. This could rejuvenate him. It's hard to say goodbye, probably, to a place you've called home the first 12 years of your career. But it was time.

And the Rangers know that, with general manager Jeff Gorton saying via Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com, "We're looking at a player who can be energized by this trade. We are going to get a lot out of him."

Staal still has excellent hands and vision, and even though he's a 12-year veteran, he's still only 31. He's big (6'4", 205 pounds), durable and has always been strong around the net. On the other hand, he has yet to score a game-winning goal this season, and he didn't get any in a 79-game, 2013-14 season. 

While Staal is leaving one brother, Jordan, behind in Carolina, he gets to go to a team with another, Marc, and that should help him with the transition. No doubt that will help make things easier, but as Kypreos said, ease and comfort might have turned into Staal's enemy in the end in Carolina. 

But now he has a bunch of brand new teammates. Now he might get to skate on what could be a great line with Nash and Mats Zuccarello. Now, he is the main guy in a blockbuster deal involving a Cup-starved, Original Six team in the biggest U.S. media market. That's pressure. That's real change. 

And it's exactly what Eric Staal needed.

Adrian Dater covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him @Adater