Players

A thank you to Marc Staal, a complicated legacy with the Rangers

Marc Staal was traded to Detroit over the weekend in a shocking deal that caught everyone off guard. The Rangers, saddled with the final year of his $5.7 million contract, cleared the entire cap hit, costing them just a 2nd round pick in 2021 to do so. The move was done to help the Rangers set themselves up for next season and beyond as playoff contenders. Marc Staal’s legacy with the Rangers is a complicated one, filled with nuance.

Staal played 892 regular season games with the Rangers, and almost all of them were as a top-four defenseman. He was never going to be a top scoring defenseman, packing at 7-22-29 in the 2010-2011 season. He finished his Rangers career with a line of 43-145-188, with 7-13-20 in 107 playoff games.

A Shutdown Defenseman

Staal’s tenure in New York began in 2005, when the Rangers traded up to get him in the first draft after the lockout. Just two seasons later, Staal made his NY Rangers debut as a 20 year old, something relatively uncommon. He was paired with Michal Roszival, and along with Dan Girardi, marked the beginning of the youth movement that led to sustained success until the rebuild.

Despite his lack of skill with the puck, Staal really shined as a shutdown defenseman. Frequently lined up against Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, we all have memories of Staal knocking both of them off their skates as they skated over the middle. When he was at his best, Staal was leading with his stick for a pokecheck while lining himself up for a big hit. Never dirty, Staal measured his opponents out and delivered a shoulder to the chest.

Before the game evolved, Staal was a premier shutdown defenseman in the league. He was out there against the best, and he gave his best for the Rangers. He was never offensively gifted, but it didn’t matter for a while.

Injuries and Evolving NHL

Staal’s downfall began after that gruesome eye injury he suffered. It’s been assumed Staal is partially blind in his eye after that, and it truly impacted his ability to see an outlet pass. Even though puck handling and passing was never a strong suit, he wasn’t a huge liability there until after this.

He was then concussed by his brother Eric in 2011. This was the true injury that changed Staal’s career trajectory. He was never the same after that. Despite the injury concern and his very visible declining play, the Rangers signed him to his current deal in 2015, one that eventually led to the criticism seen in recent years.

*-Update. Concussion first, then eye injury. Got that backwards. Sorry.

This is around the time when the NHL started changing the way it looked at the game. The phase out of one-dimensional players was slow to start, but really accelerated over the last 2-3 years. Staal’s declining play due to injury was compounded by the increased focus on puck moving defensemen. The puck became a grenade on Staal’s stick.

Beyond that, the NHL got faster. Staal was beat regularly wide and was often out of position in the defensive zone. Staal was a perfect 90’s and early 2000’s defenseman playing in the 2010’s era of hockey. He was misplaced.

Rangers Legacy

As mentioned, Marc Staal’s legacy is complicated. Recency bias shows him as one of the worst defensemen on the team. But that isn’t fair to Staal. He was also one of three core pieces that helped drag the Rangers out of ineptitude into the longest sustained period of success of this generation. There is no denying that he was an integral part of the Rangers’ success through 2015.

Staal was also an integral part in the Rangers’ sharp decline starting in 2016. The Rangers are in the next era of Blueshirts hockey, and one that can’t truly begin until the old guard has left. In time, Staal will be remembered as a true warrior, a consummate professional, and one of the nicest guys and leaders in the locker room.

Staal won’t have any further accolades or awards with the Rangers. His legacy with the team will be a mixed bag of success and failure. There is also a lot of “what if” with Staal’s career. What if he never had that concussion or eye injury? What kind of conversations would we be having right now?

In the end, Staal became a whipping boy. It’s impossible to argue that his last 2-3 years on Broadway were horrendous. It’s also impossible to argue that he wasn’t an effective, shutdown defenseman before that final contract. Marc Staal’s legacy with the Rangers is, and forever will be, complicated. But he deserves a big thank you for his time in New York. He truly gave it all, plus more, for the Rangers.

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  • Concussion (2011) came before the eye injury (2013) contrary to what is written here. Until 2011 Staal was a tremendous player (all-star). In recent years, everybody seemed to agree his experience and attitude were inavuable to the team… but then again armchair GMs like to think they know better than athletes and professionals and just care about Corsi or another fancy stats… Human factor always overlooked when it is a key component to success in sports. Just waiting to see who the next victim is, besides Howden. Trouba seems to be a good candidate… let’s see what the armchair GMs have up their sleeves this time around. Thanks Marc Staal, wish fans were as smart and genuine as you were.

    • I wouldn’t be so seemingly sarcastic about ‘armchair GMs” when fan sites such as this one are all about being fans and arm chair GMs, armchair coaches, and armchair refs!

      You are otherwise correct, Staal brought intangibles beyond his play. He didn’t take shifts off, he gave his all every game. A leader in the club house with a great attitude and playoff experience too. So the club wanted him around as an example to the young players I am sure even though his play had deteriorated a great deal. Now, they hope to move along some and could use the cap space, so it was time to bid him adieu. I will never say a bad word about Mark Staal, or Dan Girardi for that matter. They are both classy individuals.

  • Flip the injuries …. it took him quite a bit of time to come back from the concussion, but he got up to speed and looked like the old Marc Staal and then the “EYE INJURY”.

    He was a warrior and his name will always be linked with Dan Girardi’s, they shut down many a star player in their prime. I will remember him that way.

  • How many times during Staal’s prime times on the ice did we see Crosby, Ovi and other top lines completely shut down. He was so solid defensively those days that we didn’t even have that much concern playing against super stars because of how well Staal played them.

    LGR!!!

  • I was at my son’s this past week end, and didn’t hear about the trade with the Red Wings.

    First of all, the best to you Marc, you gave us some very good years before the injuries started to limit your play. I have been a critic of your’s due to that play, but it never was with hard feelings to you personally.

    This move by JG was terrific, and shows how serious a GM he really is. This gives us cap space ( Capt Obvious on my part), and makes room for a younger player to be moved in his place. I see Miller getting an honest to goodness shot at the top left defense position. The cost is somewhat high, but you need to give to get, in our case we got plenty.

    I can’t wait for the draft. We get Alexis, and there will be other transactions to build a tougher team to play against. I hope they can work a deal with Florida for their #1, and select Lundell with it. This draft is deep, we will get quality no matter where we draft from in the first round.

    I still can’t get over the fact that we got someone to trade for Staal, for just a draft pick, holy cow!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Staal was a warrior and a well respected Ranger and I wish him well……It was time to move on from Staal. Hank could be next and as for Smith, they might keep him….Friend we are in a new era with a savvy GM, who has a vision of long term success for the team……….A center, defensman and some sandpaper needed…..Time to marinated the team with some Salt and pepper!!

  • We should remember him as a leader and warrior to us fans.

    For those few years he was part of one of the best defensive corps in the league. Always shutting down the other teams top lines.

    It’s a shame that injuries and the speed of the game deteriorated those skills.

    I know this is a business and all good things come to an end.
    The nature of the beast.
    I’ll wish him well in Detroit, he’s close to home.

    I’m sure when he returns to MSG there will be some kind of tribute for all his accomplishments for NY Rangers.

  • How can you NOT love this deal. The GM pulled a rabbit (and $5.7M) out of his hat on this one. I mentioned that we may start moving picks, but didn’t think there was a way to move Staal. Nice work Gorton!

    • Sweetening the pot with a draft pick was a necessity….Seriously, how many more prospects do we need at this point. We have plenty….

  • “It’s impossible to argue that his last 2-3 years on Broadway were horrendous.”

    Horrendous is a strong word – Marc was clearly better than that. In fact, he was an order of magnitude better hockey player than Mr. Lundqvist during that period and you would not use such a word for him.

    In 2013-2014, the Rangers had perhaps the best defensive unit in NHL history (excluding teams with Bobby Orr on them) and Marc was a second pair guy on that team.

    I think the trade was a win-win (I hope so as Yzerman has been good at snookering Gorton). For Detroit, which has plenty of money and no doubt excess cap space, Staal will provide a veteran presence helpful during their rebuild and they get a draft choice to boot. The Rangers unload a player perhaps worth $1.5M with a $5.7M cap hit — and the draft pick is not a huge penalty.

    Hockey history: This century, the Rangers have had 20 #2 picks. These have incuded Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Sauer, Artem Anismov, and Derek Stepan. Some good players for sure, but otherwise Fedor Tyutin and Boo Nieves have been about as good as they come. Mind you, we can’t speak of Lindbolm, Robertson, Jones yet (though we are pessimistic regarding Lindbolm).

    So no big hits since 2008 and more failures than successes, but sometimes a very good player. It may be that early second rounders are truly worth much much more than late second rounders as the stars happened when the Rangers were terrible.

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