Eric Staal was traded to the Montreal Canadiens by the Buffalo Sabres on Friday for a third-round and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"This is the best atmosphere in the League by far and now to be joining the group and joining the whole city, being a Montreal Canadien, is pretty phenomenal. I'm excited," Staal said Sunday.
Staal is in the final season of a two-year, $6.5 million contract ($3.25 million average annual value) he signed with the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 25, 2019 and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Sabres will retain $1.625 million of the forward's salary.
"He's got size (6-foot-4, 195 pounds), he's got experience." Canadiens general manger Marc Bergevin said Saturday. "There's always a premium on centermen and defensemen down the stretch. We still have two thirds and two fifths and we picked a lot last year so I felt comfortable giving up these two assets to acquire Eric."
Staal arrived in Montreal on Saturday and began his seven-day quarantine. The Canadian Press reported Friday that NHL players acquired by a team in Canada from a United States-based team before the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12 will have to quarantine for seven days, down from 14.
Staal would first be eligible to play for Montreal on April 5 at home against the Edmonton Oilers but Bergevin said it's up to coach Dominique Ducharme to decide when Staal will play and where he will fit.
"I will leave that to him to tell you how he sees his lineup," Bergevin said. "You don't make decisions on the lineup until you have to. In the meantime, they could have injuries next week, where the decision becomes a lot easier where he fits in and how Dom wants to use him. So until then, I think we're only going to speculate where he's going to fit and where he's going to play. Players, with their performance, they'll tell you, they'll tell where they should be playing and how much ice time they should get."
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The 36-year-old has scored 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 32 games this season. He was acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Minnesota on Sept. 16.
"It hasn't been good enough. I haven't been good enough," Staal said March 18. "Clearly, in my mind, I had envisioned things differently coming here and it just hasn't come to fruition and it hasn't lived up to those thoughts. I think that's for sure been challenging, that's been difficult, but that's still no excuse. It doesn't matter. I have more pride in myself, what I can do in this league, what I can do on the ice, and at the end of the day it hasn't been good enough for me personally, and obviously, clearly it hasn't been good enough for our team either."
Selected by the Carolina Hurricanes with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Staal has scored 1,031 points (439 goals, 592 assists) in 1,272 regular-season games with the Sabres, Wild, New York Rangers and Hurricanes, and 51 points (21 goals, 30 assists) in 62 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He won the Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006.
"Everybody knows what's going on with the situation that we're in and we know that there's going to be changes coming," Sabres forward Kyle Okposo said Friday. "Still doesn't make it any easier. Found out about 'Staalsy' right before practice and just got off the ice to go wish him well. He's a character guy. He's a really good person, he's a good man. He's had a heck of a career to date and he's going to continue to play well. So I wish him nothing but the best."
Buffalo is 0-15-2 since Feb. 25, the longest stretch without a win since the NHL implemented the shootout in the 2005-06 season, eliminating ties. The 2009-10 Carolina Hurricanes, 2010-11 New York Islanders and 2014-15 Sabres each lost 14 consecutive games. The Winnipeg Jets hold the NHL record for most consecutive games without a win; they played 30 straight without a victory (0-23 with seven ties) from Oct. 19-Dec. 20, 1980.
"Certainly, we lost a great, great person and a great leader in the locker room," Sabres coach Don Granato said before a 3-2 loss at the Boston Bruins on Saturday. "I watched his in-between period interview the other day, he looked exhausted and depleted. I can tell you behind the scenes, he's the exact opposite. He was amazing, keeping guys up on the bench through this adversity and challenge, in the locker room, saying the right things. For me as a coach, certainly as a new coach, I could not have asked for a more supportive veteran-experience player around."
Bergevin, who on Thursday said the Canadiens would likley be quiet before the trade deadline, said two other teams were trying to acquire Staal and that the trade came together quickly.
"Some trades take a long time, some are quicker. That one came really fast. What I said was true at the time," Bergevin said. "Not that I wasn't looking but I didn't think it was going to happen. The main reason was I needed [NHL salary] cap space and whatever money I was getting in, at least in Eric's case they had to retain at least 50 percent and Buffalo was willing to do that.
"I did have conversations with Buffalo a while back, and I know the 14 days (quarantine) became an issue, but then when that was lifted it made it a lot easier to make the trade."
NHL.com columnist Dave Stubbs and NHL.com independent correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report