For Eric Staal it's a new beginning. For the New York Rangers, the hope is the longtime Carolina Hurricanes forward will be the final piece of their quest to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994.
Staal's 12-year tenure in Carolina ended when he was acquired by the Rangers for second-round picks in 2016 and 2017, and forward Aleksi Saarela, one day before the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. Monday.
Staal, 31, will make his Rangers debut and wear his familiar No. 12 Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, SNE, SNO, FS-O, MSG). He has 10 goals and 33 points in 63 games, on pace for his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2003-04, but Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton is confident the former Hurricanes captain will spark a team poised to make a deep run into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We're looking at a player that we think could be energized by this trade," Gorton said. "We see the numbers. We scouted him a lot. I think we know the player as well as anybody. We think we put him into our team, surround him by some of the pieces we have, that we're going to get a lot out of him, and that he's going to be energized to come to New York and play for the Rangers."
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Staal joins his brother defenseman Marc Staal, in New York, after playing with another brother, Jordan Staal, for three-plus seasons in Carolina.
"To have his brother, Marc, here had to have helped," Gorton said. "He would have known a lot about [playing] in New York, what it's like, from his brother over the years, so obviously that's probably one of the reasons he waived his no-trade to come here."
The No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Eric Staal is a five-time 30-goal scorer with 322 goals and 775 points in 909 regular-season games with the Hurricanes. He has 19 goals and 43 points in 43 Stanley Cup Playoff games, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.
The Rangers are in second place in the Metropolitan Division (78 points) and have hit their stride since going 4-7-2 in December. They won consecutive road games against the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars, and have won nine of their past 12 (9-2-1).
"One of the things we wanted to do is try to add to our team," Gorton said. "Our team is playing well, they've played well in the last few months here after a dip there in December. We felt like the group, if we could do it, needed an addition, something to show them that, maybe, to help us add in one area. This is the area we thought was best suited to help us and that's what we did."
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Staal is the final year of a seven-year, $57.75 million contract, but Gorton made the trade with his eyes on the present and not the future.
"I think we'll take it as it goes here," Gorton said. "We're acquiring him to help our team get better today and see where it takes us and then on a going forward basis we hope it works out real well for both and we'll talk then. He's a Ranger for today and we'll see what happens. We're acquiring a player to play for us [Monday] and we'll go from there."
Staal is second in the history of the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise in goals, assists and points behind general manager Ron Francis.
"Eric has been the face of this franchise for a long time, and we thank him for his dedication, leadership and many contributions on and off the ice over the years," Francis said in a statement. "We felt this was an important opportunity for us to continue our work in building an organization that can consistently compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs."
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One player Gorton said is not going anywhere is defenseman Keith Yandle. Acquired by the Rangers one day before the 2015 trade deadline, Yandle will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. But the Rangers are prepared to make another Cup run with Yandle, whose 31 assists lead New York.
"I would say to you that we're not trading him," Gorton said. "We like the fact that he can really move a puck, that he can play in your top four, he can play on your power play, he can play against most players in the League. He's here, he wants to win. The way we looked at it is we're going to have a least two good runs with Keith and that's how it's going to play out."
Saarela was selected by the Rangers in the third round (No. 89) of the 2015 NHL Draft. He has 18 goals and 31 points in 46 games for Assat of the Finnish Elite League, and won a gold medal playing for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Video: Thank You, Eric Staal