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Staal looks forward to remaining part of solution in Minnesota

Veteran center 'disappointed' with 2018-19 but relishes another shot with new contract in hand

by Phil Ervin / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- Perhaps no individual performance this past season better personified the Wild's collective dissatisfaction than that of Eric Staal.

No. 12 is still No. 12. Still capable of potting a gigantic goal at a gigantic moment. Sturdy as ever, appearing in 81 games after playing all 82 during his first two campaigns in Minnesota. Often in prime scoring position, a locale in which he's set up permanent residence during a 15-year NHL career.

But like many of his teammates and the club as a whole, Staal often found himself staring at the Xcel Energy Center rafters in disbelief throughout 2018-19.

"I think the year as a whole was different this year," the 34-year-old center said. "Even for me, confidence and goal-scoring wise, it wasn't at the level or as high as it was the year before, and that can happen. 

"I think overall, when you're feeling good as a team, collectively, and you've got everybody going, stuff like that just, goals and that stuff, they happen."

Video: Locker clean out: Staal

Staal tied a Wild record with 42 goals last season, his second in Minnesota after signing as a free agent in 2016. 

This year? Twenty markers fewer than that, his lowest total since 2015-16, a year in which he was traded from Carolina to New York before his contract expired.

Staal's dip in production was one of several factors in the Wild's 2.56 goals per game -- fifth-worst in the NHL -- and first season without a trip to the playoffs since 2012.

"It's obviously disappointing," Staal said. "It's something that we were expecting and striving for once the season began and it just felt like [we] just never really got on a real good roll consistently. It was kind of up and down a lot of times throughout the course of the year, whether we were winning or losing, it just didn't have that consistency that you need to make sure that you're in a playoff spot."

General Manager Paul Fenton has promised continued changes even after making moves toward a younger, faster roster leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline Feb. 25. That same day, though, he inked Staal to a two-year contract extension.

With Minnesota's playoff hopes up in the air at that time, Staal could've chosen to wait and perhaps seek greener pastures and a second Stanley Cup championship opportunity with a surefire contender as his career winds down. The Wild, likewise, could've cleared additional cap space in order to continue building around Fenton's vision.

But the new GM's plan includes surrounding his youth with veteran leadership and talent -- both of which Staal can provide in bunches.

And Staal, for his part, believes in the future of the club. And in the Twin Cities as the ideal place for his wife and three sons.

"Well, I think this is just a great hockey market, right? I love being here," Staal said. "I love playing in this building (Xcel Energy Center) in front of the fans here. It's been a good transition for my family, which is important to me at this stage. First and foremost, I think our owner's committed to try and win a Stanley Cup. As a player, that's what you want. He'll do whatever he thinks is necessary to try and help us get to that level."

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Specifically, finding the back of the net more often.

"Will I score 42 or will I score 22?" Staal said. "Somewhere in the middle would be nice.

"I've never really been like a number-number person. I think our team missed the playoffs and that to me is what's disappointing. And whether I had 20 or 30, if I had 35 goals and we missed the playoffs, it would still be disappointing."

It's all part of a greater team transition that includes strict offseason training aimed at avoiding the vexations that came with the previous season. Veterans like Staal, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will be counted on to not only produce but play a central role in the development of youngsters Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, Kevin Fiala, Luke Kunin and the like.

Staal's just happy to continue being part of that bigger picture.

"For us," said Staal, who wore the alternate captain 'A' on his sweater this year with Koivu out injured, "it's just about making sure everyone's committed to preparing the right way this summer and being hungry to get back at it next year."

Related:

Video: Staal talks contract extension

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