Eric Staal and the New York Rangers simply needed each other at this stage of the game. The trade was also something his fantasy owners needed.
The Carolina Hurricanes sent their longtime No. 1 center to the Rangers on Sunday, solving a longtime need for New York and providing a potential spark to one of the more disappointing fantasy forwards League-wide.
Staal, who has spent his entire career with the Hurricanes, has 33 points in 63 games this season and is on pace for his lowest single-season points-per-game average since his rookie season (2003-04). Carolina was hanging around in Stanley Cup Playoff contention prior to a string of losses this week, so Staal waived his no-trade clause to join his brother Marc Staal and the Rangers in a win-now spot.
The 31-year-old center is a seven-time 70-point scorer, but is nearing the end of his prime based on his decline in point production the past two seasons. We advised fantasy owners to buy low on Staal (C/LW, 67 percent owned) leading up to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, and we still encourage them to add him if he's available in your league.
The New York Rangers have not had a true No. 1 center in years. The Staal trade allows Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan to shift down in the lineup at even strength into more appropriate No. 2 and 3 roles. Since 2008-09, the Rangers have had two centers score more than 60 points in a season: Brad Richards had 66 in 2011-12 and Brassard had 60 in 2014-15.
Video: Ron Francis discusses trades including Eric Staal
Although this is a short-term move because of New York's salary cap constraints, Staal provides a potential huge lift to an offense that has been without injured Rick Nash (who finished third in the NHL with 42 goals last season) since Jan. 22. Staal is expected to make his Rangers' debut Monday at Madison Square Garden with 20 games remaining in the regular season.
One area where Staal specifically can help the Rangers is in the possession realm; he led the Hurricanes in Shot Attempts Relative percentage this season, while New York ranks 22nd out of 30 teams in Shot Attempts percentage. Even though Staal was in the midst of a down season, the Hurricanes saw more scoring chances when he was on the ice compared to when he was off the ice.
Until we see the exact line combinations, fantasy owners can assume that Staal will be playing with some combination of New York's top-six wings with Nash still out, including Mats Zuccarello (LW/RW, 80 percent owned), Chris Kreider (LW, 59 percent owned), J.T. Miller (C, 20 percent owned) and Jesper Fast (LW/RW, 2 percent owned). The ownership percentages of these wings allow fantasy owners of all league shapes and sizes to get a piece of the Rangers' revamped forward group.
Stepan or Brassard, depending on which ends up playing third-line center for the rest of the season, could see a slight downgrade in usage and production at even strength and/or on the power play. Brassard has been by far the better fantasy center this season, ranking 48th among all players in Yahoo's performance-based rankings. But with Brassard having played third-line center in years past alongside Zuccarello, Stepan (C, 44 percent owned) could potentially remain the Rangers' No. 2 pivot. Regardless of how the lineup shakes out, Staal (seven power-play points this season) is no given to play on the Rangers' top power-play unit.
From a Hurricanes standpoint, the trade allows Victor Rask (16 percent), Elias Lindholm (five percent) and Eric's brother Jordan Staal (C/LW, 42 percent owned) to compete for the No. 1 center job and first-unit power-play minutes.
Jordan, under contract until 2022-23, has played third-line center for most of the season, but is tied for seventh in the NHL in scoring since Jan. 6 with 24 points in 24 games. Rask played 19:01 (2:31 on power play) Sunday in Carolina's first game without Eric Staal, assisting on Jeff Skinner's goal in a 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. The 22-year-old center has 37 points in 62 games and his 14 PPP lead Hurricanes forwards.