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In Staal, Wild Gets Its Center At Right Price

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was adamant in the weeks leading up to free agency that if the Wild could add a center for the right price, it would do so.

In the first hour of free agency, Fletcher and co. got their guy, at what Fletcher said was the right price, in Eric Staal.

The Wild made three moves when the free agency period opened at 11 a.m. CT on Monday, signing Staal, forward Chris Stewart, and goaltender Alex Stalock.

Staal, the biggest name of the trio, agreed to terms on a three-year, $10.5 million contract, a term and a dollar amount Fletcher said he was comfortable with for a player whom Fletcher said will fill an important role.

"We think this is a good situation with Eric, and obviously, he felt the same way," Fletcher said. "We have some quality players he can play with."

Staal said his decision to come to Minnesota (Staal said he spoke with four or five teams who showed serious interest in the 31-year-old free agent) was because he felt he would be put in a good position to succeed, both personally and on a team level.

"It’s a team that I kind of had on my radar for a little while now knowing I was going to be in this position," he said. "I still feel I will be a contributor and can be a contributor in a very good team's top six. That was what I wanted going into today, and I'm going to get an opportunity to."

Staal, who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and has seven times eclipsed the 70-point mark, has seen his production dip each of the past three years, with 61, 54, and 39 points, respectively.

But Staal's underlying numbers show a player who is still driving puck possession and scoring chances. He was moved to the wing at times last season, and said toward the end of his tenure in Carolina, before a midseason trade to the New York Rangers, was playing on a younger roster in more of a transition phase.

"A lot of things just went wrong," head coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I don’t think he liked playing left wing. He’s the kind of the guy that wants the puck in the middle and wants to handle it and play with it. He wants to be the guy.

"In Carolina, they didn’t have guys like (Zach) Parise and (Charlie) Coyle to play with either. They were young guys that are going to be good, but at that time, they weren’t the players he was used to playing with 10 years ago and eight years ago, and six years ago. When I talked to him on Wednesday night, I thought he was so excited about the opportunity."

Those two forwards, Parise and Coyle, could be Staal's new linemates in Minnesota. Boudreau said he has, " … combinations in my head, at least for the top nine," though he wouldn't show his hand.

But Fletcher has said on numerous occasions he has liked Mikael Granlund playing to the left of Mikko Koivu. He also said he liked the chemistry shown between Parise and Coyle. So that could make Staal the lead candidate to center the Wild's top-two goal scorers from the 2015-16 season.

"I actually talked to Zach a couple of days ago," Staal said. "He reached out to me. When it was the other way around, and he was becoming a free agent (in 2012), I reached out to him because I feel like our games can match well.

"We are both 200-foot players that can play both ends of the rink. I have that same work ethic and drive that he does. We'll be a good mesh, and a good unit together, and hopefully I'll get that opportunity to show that and do that."

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