In NHL unrestricted free agency it was important for Eric Staal to not choose a team on the West Coast.
If that happened, his father Henry would have been forced watch hockey almost all night in his Thunder Bay, Ontario home between Eric and his two younger brothers Jordan of the Carolina Hurricanes and Marc of the New York Rangers.
“Him and my mom would have been watching a lot of hockey but they’ve been doing that they’re whole lives to they’ll be OK with it,” Eric joked.
Eric chose the Minnesota Wild, a team that plays 41 home games in the central timezone, so ultimately Henry won’t have a lot of trouble with early morning bedtimes.
Staal signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Wild on the first day of free agency in hopes he can rediscover his scoring touch with the team.
This was a major drop in pay from the seven-year $57.75 million contract he received from Carolina in the beginning of 2009. Last September, Staal was reportedly seeking $9 million annually.
His 13 goals and 39 points in 2015-16 were the second-worst of his career. A trade deadline deal to the Rangers didn’t do much to push Staal forward. He had six points in 20 games with New York and had no points and was a minus-7 in a five-game, first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I was really, really, really happy with the chance in Minnesota and having talked to them and trying to make it work for me to go there and it did,” Staal said. “I was very fortunate and very happy. It’s now an opportunity and chance for me to get back to the type of game I feel like I can play still and going from there. It should be fun and I’m comfortable with it now and excited about the chance.”
Even though Staal’s goals and points numbers have dropped, his advanced stats indicate he’s been bitten by bad luck. The last two seasons he’s held a 55.76 5-on-5 score and venue adjusted CF% and a plus 6.23 5-on-5 score and venue adjusted CF% Rel. Last season Staal had a 6.5 percent shooting percentage, far down from a career mark of 10.6 percent.
But he hopes a fresh start with the Wild along with the offensive leanings of coach Bruce Boudreau can help him find his scoring ways again. At age 31 Staal doesn’t believe he has lost a step and thinks his struggles have more to do with confidence.
Staal took a break from preparing for the Staal Foundation Open to talk to us about his crazy 2015-16, how he sees his role moving forward, free agency, playing for Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota and living in New York City for short period of time with his family.
Q: Was free agency humbling for you at all? Seems like you didn’t get the type of mega deal you may have hoped for.
Staal: It was a different experience. I had never been through free agency before – the talking period or all those things that go along with it. It was different for me but I didn’t start playing this game because I wanted to make a ton of money. That really wasn’t my main focus or idea of why. I’ve been fortunate, no question and the game has given a ton back to me and my family but that’s not why I play and when I got to the day, coming off of some of the numbers I’ve had and the career I’ve had it was, you never know. What if you get a big, huge offer from some team? For me that didn’t come. It was more about opportunity and fit with some of the opportunities I had and I was really, really, really happy with the chance in Minnesota and having talked to them and trying to make it work for me to go there and it did. I was very fortunate and very happy. It’s now an opportunity and chance for me to get back to the type of game I feel like I can play still and going from there. It should be fun and I’m comfortable with it now and excited about the chance.
Are you a center or a winger? There seems to be this debate on where you fit currently. How do you see your game as strategies have changed?
I feel like I’m a center. I feel like I play my best hockey at center and I’ve always felt that way. You want to be on the ice and counted on in key situations so for one you want to be on the ice if you’re playing left wing, right wing or center. If you’re on the ice that’s a good thing but for me personally I feel like center is where I’m most comfortable. I mean I’ve played it since I was five years old. I think I can play wing but I’m a better center. For me I’m hoping to have that chance in Minnesota with some very good wingers and playing hard and playing my game and going from there.
Where is your game right now? Your advanced stats are pretty solid but the goals and assists just haven’t been there the last couple of years.
I still feel like I can be a good player. I still feel good on the ice, I still feel like I have a lot of legs and juice left. For me personally, I need to get the confidence back offensively going. This game is so hard and if you don’t have the confidence and good feeling it makes it even tougher, so I have to try to get that back and enjoy playing and having fun and competing as hard as I can to the best of my ability to help the team and help the team win. Hopefully I’m going to a good situation where we have a lot of guys that compete, work and just enjoy doing those things and gaining confidence that way and go from there. I feel like I have a lot of years left and I’d like to get back to some of the numbers and some of the play I’ve had in the past and haven’t had in the last two years. I’m excited for the chance and having the opportunity and going from there.
How important was the chance to play for Bruce Boudreau in your decision to come to Minnesota?
No question. I’ve played against Bruce’s teams for over 10 years now. I remember the first lockout he was in Manchester and I was in Lowell. He coaches at a high tempo and coaches good teams. He wins. He has won wherever he’s been and that was definitely appealing. I’ve had good conversations with him personally and he seems like a coach for me that would be real exciting to play for and play hard for and bring what I can. I feel like in conversations with him that he believes in me as a player and my game and kind of knows me because of coaching against me, so looking forward to the opportunity to play for him along with some of the other great players on the team and be a contributor like the rest of the guys.
Have you changed anything this offseason to try to find your form again?
Over the last couple of summers I’ve really ramped up my offseason training and it hasn’t really brought the results yet I was hoping for but I think this summer for one I’ve been on the ice a little bit more, just trying to keep the skating legs and hands shooting and all those things. I’ve definitely skated more already this summer than I had in the past but I feel like I train hard and try to prepare myself as best I can every year, but I think you have to nowadays with how fast and the tempo of the game is going. For me it’s try to do similar things to make sure that I’m prepared properly.
Right now we’ve been on the ice six-to-eight times already, but mostly just with my brothers, the four of us. We do a package of different stuff shooting, skating, hands just trying to hold everything together and then we’ll try to amp it up more as we get to the end of July or August. There’s a good group of players in Thunder Bay. We get some good skates. We have a couple of guys who run us through similar drills you go through in the NHL and stuff like that so you’re well prepared when you get down to where you’re playing.
How strange was the last year for you, essentially now being part of three organizations in the last 12 months?
It’s been a lot of different emotions. When I’ve been in Carolina as long as I was, you don’t envision yourself playing anywhere else and a quick pit stop in New York with another brother, it’s pretty neat. We’re disappointed with how it ended and how quickly it ended but it was one of those things that for me, I was excited about being back in the playoffs and having that opportunity and feeling those emotions of playoff games. It’s something I hopefully want to continue with here the rest of my career and going into free agency is just about opportunity and fit and what I thought would be beneficial for me career-wise and being on a good team already. Minnesota was a lot of those things and I was fortunate we got it to work out. Now it’s about going there and kind of restarting and being excited about a new chapter and opportunity to hopefully play real well and help our team win games and try to win a Stanley Cup.
Were you ever comfortable in New York? The trade happened so quickly and it seemed like you were so emotionally invested in Raleigh.
Honestly I think it goes so fast. I don’t think you have a chance to really settle. When you get traded at the deadline there’s not much time left until the end of the season. I think it was 20 games. You’re trying to – for me who was already joining a very good team that was having a good season, they had a lot of points. They were high in the division and so you’re trying to work your way into a lineup position to where you can contribute. You don’t want to go in and make it all about yourself, that’s not what you’re there for. You’re trying to fit and be comfortable with the lineup that’s already existed and performed well all season. It was a good experience. It’s a great organization. It was fun to play with Marc. I wouldn’t say I was settled and comfortable the whole time. When you’re one place for as long as I was it’s going to be different when you’re somewhere else. Nonetheless it was awesome and I was grateful for the opportunity to be back in the playoffs and I wish I could have done more for them and we could have gone further but it wasn’t meant to be. It was nothing I was totally comfortable with because of how quick it went but it was still something I’m thankful for.
Did you live with Marc. How did it work out going from being around one brother to another?
I lived with Marc for the first little bit. We were kind of in and out and we traveled a lot right after the deadline. We were on the road quite a bit right after the deadline. I did stay with Marc for the most part in the basement for a good part of the first month after being traded there and then we ended up finding a place to rent in Tribeca. We went month to month and my family came for the last month and we loved it. It was awesome. We had a lot of fun. New York’s a very cool city. It was definitely a change of pace from what we were used to in Raleigh, but it was springtime and warming up in New York and the city is pretty cool, especially in that area for families and kids. We really enjoyed it. We wished it was longer than what it was but that’s part of how hockey goes. We ran into a pretty good team in Pittsburgh that was playing really well and we just couldn’t find our game to what we needed to be able to extend (the series). But we enjoyed our time and loved living there.
What did you do in Tribeca?
We did a lot of wandering. My two older boys are six and four. They have those scooters like a lot of kids down there do. We would just put the other guy in a stroller and did a lot of walking with different parks in the area and just cruise around. It was pretty cool. They liked it. It was a lot of fun to watch them go and kind of wander around. It was a cool experience and something we were thankful we got to do. We wished it was longer and a lot of things went different with the team on the ice. Personally I wish I played better than I did. But it was an experience we’re thankful we got to have. It’s definitely a great organization and a very cool city.
Where is your mind now that this whole process is over and you got a multi-year contract?
I think it’s a combination of a few different things. One is a lot of excitement. Two, probably a touch of nerves just because being in a new situation but I think the biggest one and the main one is the excitement of going to a new team with a new coach and new opportunities and chance to hopefully get off to a good start there and I’m just kind of looking forward to training camp and going from there.
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY
– – – – – – –