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Eric Staal signing smart move for Wild

Center's ability to drive possession, create offense will boost Minnesota

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

In one of the best moves on the first day of free agency, the Minnesota Wild signed center Eric Staal to a three-year, $10.5 million contract Friday.

By signing Staal, who is entering his 13th NHL season, the Wild have solidified their top-six forward group with one of the League's best players at driving possession and generating shot attempts.

Offensively, Staal is one of the most accomplished players in the NHL. He led the Carolina Hurricanes in scoring eight times in 12 seasons before being traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28. His 314 goals in 848 regular-season games since the start of the 2005-06 season are eighth in the League, and his 750 points are 10th.

Staal, who turns 32 on Oct. 29, is one of 20 active players with at least nine 20-goal seasons, and one of 14 to score at least 30 goals five times. As for points, he is one of 15 active players to reach 50 points 10 times, and one of 10 with at least seven seasons of 70 points or more.

Staal's scoring rate has declined each of the past four seasons, though, from 1.10 points per game in 2012-13, to 0.77 in 2013-14, 0.70 in 2014-15 and 0.47 last season, when he had 13 goals and 39 points in 83 games with the Hurricanes and Rangers.

New York was hopeful Staal could achieve some of the success he had in past Stanley Cup Playoffs when it acquired him prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. In 2006, Staal led the League with 19 assists, 28 points, seven power-play goals and 87 shots on goal in 25 games to help Carolina win the Stanley Cup, and in 2009, he had 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games.

Staal had six points in the final 20 games of the regular season with the Rangers but had zero and was minus-7 in their five-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Despite Staal's decline in scoring in 2015-16, the Hurricanes and Rangers had 239 more shot attempts (1,271-1,032) when Staal was on the ice, the 26th-best SAT in the League.

Staal's SAT of plus-669 over the past three seasons is 20th in the NHL. In other terms, his team's shot attempts percentage improved from a mediocre 49.6 without him on the ice to a solid 54.8 with him on it.

That's why Staal is a great addition for the Wild, whose SAT % has been above 50 percent one of the past six seasons (51.0 percent in 2014-15). Over the past six seasons, Minnesota's 47.7 SAT % ranks 27th in the NHL.

Staal will not have to carry the Wild. With the veteran presence of top-line center and captain Mikko Koivu, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, he will be able to fill a second-line role. In that regard, his new contract fits the Wild's salary structure perfectly.

Staal has won 52.4 percent of his faceoffs over the past five seasons and never had a season below 50.0 percent.

As the new second-line center, Staal's presence gives new coach Bruce Boudreau more options up front. It allows the Wild to develop young centers Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula gradually, and to bring out Staal's best by playing him with talented right wing Nino Niederreiter, who led the Wild with an SAT of plus-162 last season.

Though Staal has an offensive upside of 20-25 goals and 50 points, that level of scoring isn't necessarily required. As long as he helps move the play out of the Wild's end and spends more time generating shot attempts in the offensive zone, the Wild will have made a sound investment.

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