Detroit — It was a bit of a shock to defenseman Marc Staal’s system when the New York Rangers traded him to the Red Wings in September.
Staal spent 13 seasons with the Rangers and was part of the leadership group, but the only reason New York made the trade was to rid themselves of Staal’s salary to get breathing room under the salary cap.
But as it turns out, joining the Wings invigorated the 34-year-old Staal.
“It did,” Staal said during Wednesday’s media Zoom chat. “The last couple of years in New York, the last few years, we had a successful run for a bunch of years and (then) we were going through a rebuild. It’s hard for everyone.
“I don’t think I realized how much it was dragging on me until I started on a new team and I just got to go out and play and have fun.
“It helped my game, for sure. I know it did. It benefited me, and hopefully the Wings were happy with what they got.”
The Wings were very satisfied with Staal, who proved to be a sturdy, defensive defensemen as well as a stabilizing influence on and off the ice.
Staal is an unrestricted free agent, with his six-year, $34.2 million contract ($5.7 million cap hit) coming to an end, and he will have some options. He wouldn’t mind getting a chance to play with either of his brothers, Eric or Jordan, but he also leaves little doubt he’d like to return to the Wings.
“For sure, definitely not ruling that out by any means,” Staal said. “We’ll see what happens when we get closer to free agency. But we’ll see. Eric is a free agent this summer, so there’s certain opportunities. If something comes around, maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep my options open.
“(But) it was a good to have a fresh start. I enjoyed going to the rink every day and it was nothing but positives with the whole experience (in Detroit) from start to finish.”
Eric Staal is also an unrestricted free agent this summer, while Jordan is entrenched in Carolina. Marc would like a chance to play on the same team with a brother, but only if it all comes together.
“We (Eric and Marc) had 20 games in New York when he got traded there and that was fun,” Marc said. “When you have two brothers playing in the league, you try to play with one of them because it’s a pretty unique opportunity.
“(But) there’s some interest on both sides (Staal met with general manager Steve Yzerman last week). With the expansion draft and everything like that, I don’t think he’s ready to make a decision until the end of July, and for me there’s no rush to do anything right now.”
Happy for Blashill
Players are pleased about the return of coach Jeff Blashill, who was brought back Tuesday by Yzerman for a seventh season with the Wings.
“It’s good to have him back, for sure,” forward Adam Erne said. “We’re just excited to move forward and keep progressing on what we did this past season.”
Erne feels Blashill’s interaction with players is one of the coach’s key strengths.
“He really cares about the guy, he’s a good person,” Erne said. “I have no problem going into his office and asking a question if I’m not sure about something. He’s very approachable and you can just see he cares about the guys, which the guys really respect.”
Staal appreciated the preparedness and professionalism Blashill exhibits.
“He’s a good coach. I felt pretty comfortable as far as systems and what we were trying to accomplish pretty early in the season,” Staal said. “There wasn’t a lot of gray area, and for me coming to a new team, that was needed. I really enjoyed working with him.”
Erne led the Wings with a career-high 11 goals, after only scoring twice last year, in what was a major turnaround season.
“I just tried to stick with it and earn more opportunities, and tried to do something with those opportunities when they came,” Erne said.
Playing on a line with Luke Glendening and Darren Helm, the trio was arguably the Wings’ most consistent and effective line, mainly with their defense and checking but also supplying a spot of offense.
“Those are two really hard-working guys, and all three of us pride ourselves on that, just keep it simple,” Erne said. “A lot of nights we played against the other team’s top lines and we prided ourselves on not giving them much.
“When you can shut down the other team’s top lines, it definitely gives you a better chance to win. We tried to keep it simple and put pucks behind their defense, grind and frustrate them and make them play in their zone.”