Eric Staal was traded to the Buffalo Sabres by the Minnesota Wild for Marcus Johansson on Wednesday.
Staal, a 35-year-old center, had 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) in 66 games with the Wild this season, and five points (one goal, four assists) in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
He has one season remaining on a two-year, $6.5 million contract ($3 million in 2020-21) he signed with Minnesota on Feb. 25, 2019.
“Eric Staal was a positive influence on guys, but sometimes it’s just change is good for us,” Wild general manager Bill Guerin said. “This is part of it. We need to mix things up. We need to find a different pathway to success and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build a better team and sometimes you have to take some drastic measures.
“We’re getting a little bit younger. It’s a different look for our team. Marcus provides a lot of speed, a lot of skill, and we’re looking forward to adding him to our lineup.”
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Selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Staal has 1,021 points (436 goals, 585 assists) in 1,240 games with the Hurricanes, New York Rangers and Wild, and 51 points (21 goals, 30 points) in 62 playoff games. He has scored at least 40 goals three times in the NHL, including in 2005-06, when he had a career-high 100 points (45 goals, 55 assists) to help Carolina win its first Stanley Cup championship.
“Eric Staal has had a world class career. He’s won a Stanley Cup, he’s won an Olympic gold medal, he’s won a World Championship gold medal, he’s been an all-star many times, he’s still a productive player,” said Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, who won the Stanley Cup with Staal in 2006. “What I’m telling you there is just what’s on the ice. He’s a tremendous person, high character, former captain. Obviously in the past with my having been a teammate with him, I’ve seen it up close and personal. We’ve added a phenomenal player and person, and I’m very excited about it.”
Buffalo is hoping Staal can provide it with center depth behind Jack Eichel, who had 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games this season. Staal played with left wing Jeff Skinner in Carolina from 2010-16, so there’s a chance that chemistry could help Skinner bounce back after he dipped to 14 goals last season after he scored 40 in 2018-19.
“Obviously, strengthening ourselves up the middle is important,” Adams said. “To me, being able to look around the League and to be able to target and identify a player like Eric was really important. So it was something we very much were looking at doing.”
Johansson, a 29-year-old forward, had 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists) in 60 games this season, his first with Buffalo. He has one season remaining on a two-year, $9 million contract ($4.5 million average annual value) he signed on July 6, 2019.
Selected by the Washington Capitals in the first round (No. 24) of the 2009 NHL Draft, Johansson has 364 points (129 goals, 235 assists) in 648 games with the Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Sabres, and 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 94 playoff games.
“I think opportunity,” Guerin said about why Johansson might succeed as a center in Minnesota. “They’ve got a pretty good No. 1 centerman there (in Buffalo) and sometimes it’s not a great fit, but I think Marcus fits well with us and he’s going to get a lot opportunity. Dean (Evason) knows him very well from Washington (as a former assistant) and believes he can an impactful centerman, so he’s going to get that opportunity.”
NHL.com staff writers Tom Gulitti and Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report