Staal played 892 games in a New York Rangers uniform before a September 2020 trade to Detroit, where general manager Steve Yzerman saw Staal as a useful addition to the rebuild. The relationship continued last summer with a one-year, $2 million extension, and that could be repeated again this offseason. The Wings have been a good fit for Staal, who because of the pandemic-limited 2020-21 schedule didn’t make a return to Madison Square Garden until this season.
“It’s a bit strange,’ he said. “It’s different coming in as a visitor but it’s such a such a great building. I’ve got a lot of great memories here.
“I came into a good situation in Detroit. I was here in New York for a very long time, had a fantastic bunch of years. I think the trade came at a good time. Need a change. I’ve really enjoyed myself in Detroit.”
Staal, who turned 35 in January, played all 56 games last season. He was second on the team with a plus-11 rating in 43 games going into Thursday. He plays with a physicality befitting a guy who is 6 feet 4 and 208 pounds, while averaging around 17 minutes a game, including time on the penalty kill.
“Staalsie has brought a lot,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s brought great leadership, he’s a guy who comes every day to work, and days he doesn’t feel great, he still practices hard. Whether he’s injured a little bit or not, he wants to be out there. He’s got a good way about him as a person. Guys can kind of rally around him, so he’s brought good leadership and experience, and he’s also brought good play, still. He’s a big man who thinks the game well, and he’s still, in my mind, a real good defenseman. He’s been a really good addition for us, and I can see where, in his prime here in New York, he would have been a hell of a defenseman for these guys. I know he was. There was a lot of success around this team when he was here.”
Staal was named an alternate captain at the start of this season. He often has been partnered with either Filip Hronek or Gustav Lindstrom and has helped mentor Moritz Seider. All are young defensemen who play varying roles in the rebuild.
“There’s no doubt for Moritz to see guys like him and their approach and professionalism, and just also how calm they are. How calm they are in certain situations,” Blashill said. “To me, that’s an important piece of it as well. I think he’s definitely had a positive impact on Moritz.”
When the trade happened, Staal was, by his own description, “shocked.” But the Rangers needed salary cap relief and offered Yzerman a 2021 second-round pick to take Staal. Yzerman ended up using the pick as part of the package that landed the Wings the No. 15 pick, with which they added goaltender-of-the-future Sebastian Cossa. Staal turned out to be a valuable acquisition, too, and the Wings might squeeze another season out of him. He and fellow veterans Danny DeKeyser and Nick Leddy are all on expiring contracts, and even with making room for 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvinsson on next year’s roster, Staal projects as a continued good fit.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.