Over the past week or so, members of the mainstream media just cannot get enough of the “Eric Staal to the Rangers” rumors. To be honest, it’s gotten a bit out of control. These rumors seem to neglect a number of factors that make this type of trade improbably, but hey, anything can happen, right? Let’s take a look at some of the basics and see how hard we have to squint to see a legitimate fit here.
First, on Staal’s contract. He is in the final year of his seven year/$57.75 million contract he signed back in 2009. Staal’s cap hit is $8.5 million ($9.5m actual salary) and he will play this year finishing out his age 31 season. If Staal was to be traded for on deadline day, his remaining cap hit would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.92m. The Rangers are believed to have about $4.83 million of cap space on deadline day.
The financials, while not particularly pretty, are not completely out of the realm of possibility, so let’s look at the fit. Staal is Carolina’s leading forward in TOI. He is the face of the franchise and their number one centerman. He has spent his entire career in Carolina, but it does not appear they will continue the relationship beyond this season. The ‘Canes are in the middle of a significant rebuild, and a soon-to-be 32 year old commanding significant dollars doesn’t really fit their current position.
So, how does Staal fit this Rangers roster? Not particularly well, it turns out. Staal has been playing big minutes in the middle for Carolina, a position the Rangers are relatively settled at in the top six. If Staal is acquired, the Rangers would have a couple choices: 1) move Staal to wing. This isn’t particularly attractive, since he has been a center his entire career, has success in the face off circle and is used to the defensive assignments. 2) Move Derek Stepan down to 3C. While this looks great from a depth scenario, Stepan is signed for another five seasons after this year. That type of demotion may not play well between player and organization. Stepan has the skillset to play defensively in that role, but it’s an uncomfortable situation for all involved. 3) Move Brassard or Stepan to the wing. See explanation for point 2, since Brassard is signed for three more seasons after this year.
Good teams find a way to make room for good players, right? So, we can table the fit for a minute and take a look at Staal’s performance. Staal is a statistically strange case. He is still driving possession, but he isn’t shooting nearly as much as he has in the past and his shooting percentage is down slightly. His PDO is low, but he is anchored by a deplorable .899 save percentage, that seems to indicate he hasn’t been unlucky offensively. The scouting reports indicate there has been some decline in his game, but it seems that, due to a poor team around him, you can manipulate the stats to paint any picture you want. The effectiveness level you will receive from him for the next couple months is really anyone’s guess.
What about the acquisition cost? The Hurricane’s will understandably want a handsome sum for their franchise player. The problem is you aren’t buying a franchise player. You are buying a possibly in decline rental, that may or may not fit the roster and may or may not put this team in a position to make a deep run. The cost of this type of player has to be hedged against those factors. Any conversation that starts with Buchnevich or Skjei is a non-starter for me. The other issue is that the Rangers don’t have a ton of draft picks or prospect depth to get creative on this. One team is going to have to bend for this trade to happen.
Traditionally, the Rangers have always been big game hunters. Connecting one of the biggest franchises in the world to one of the biggest names available is good media business. This type of content certainly generates clicks and ad revenue. It’s quite impressive, actually. Many outlets are beginning to suggest putting Rick Nash on LTIR to accommodate Staal and keeping him out until the playoffs. It’s getting a little wonky out there.
I think the easy culprit behind this is everyone’s favorite “Staals are brothers!” meme. It’s an easy connection to make and Staal is one of the bigger names available at the deadline. It was a media perfect storm. I think you have to squint pretty hard to see a real fit here, considering roster construction and acquisition cost. I’m hoping for more reasonable asset management, myself. I guess we will see come Monday.