It will be strange seeing Marc Staal patrolling the blue line next season in a Detroit Red Wings uniform. After the Rangers traded up to select Staal 12th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft, his long reach, physical strength, and shutdown ability helped fuel several deep playoff runs.
On Saturday, a 13-year relationship ended when the Rangers traded Staal and a 2021 second-round draft pick to Detroit for future considerations.
“I would like to thank Marc for everything he has given to the New York Rangers during his 13 seasons with the team,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton stated. “The success we had throughout Marc’s tenure, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, would not have been possible without his tireless efforts on and off the ice. The respect we have for Marc is immeasurable, and we wish him and his family all the best.”
Few defensemen thought the game better than Staal. Though age and injury eventually caught up to the 33-year-old, there was a time when Staal was a master of taking away time and space from the NHL’s most dominant forwards. During the first half of his career, he excelled at making life difficult for the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom in the most intense playoff confrontations.
A history of concussions and a 2013 eye injury played havoc with Staal’s trajectory.
Remember, Staal was 26 when his right eye was struck by a deflected Kimmo Timonen slap shot. His vision and offensive potential were restricted by the injury.
For a player who accomplished so much in a Rangers uniform across 892 regular season and 107 playoff games, seeing him traded in what essentially was a salary dump was an unfitting end. Yet, Staal’s impact will continue to reward the Rangers even though he’s gone.
After a game, Staal was the guy you’d go to for a deeper explanation of how a play unfolded or why the Rangers were successful or not in the contest. The couple of minutes of wisdom he’d give to reporters was invaluable.
Staal was generous with his time and made a reporter’s job easier. If he could sum up events in an illuminating and insightful way to scribes directly after a game, one could imagine how effective his teaching was to young Rangers on the practice ice or during film study. Surely, Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, and other youngsters gained much from soaking up Staal’s instruction and advice. Now, the rebuilding Red Wings will see the benefit of Staal’s experience.
The Rangers get exactly what they needed – an additional $5.7 million in cap space and Staal’s place freed up for a younger defenseman with upside to assume. This will help alleviate a complicated salary cap situation, though a decision on Henrik Lundqvist’s future is also looming. Still, there’s more wiggle room in negotiations with Jesper Fast, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Brendan Lemieux, and Alexandar Georgiev.
Staal’s departure could fast track top prospect K’Andre Miller’s path to Madison Square Garden. Miller thrived at the University of Wisconsin by effectively combining his 6-foot-5 size, long reach, and incredible athleticism. If Miller is ready for the big stage and delivers on his promise right away, the youth-driven Rangers are in very good shape.
As for the last word on Staal’s Rangers career: he should only be remembered as a stalwart defenseman and a consummate professional. Age and injury can plague any player’s career. His contributions to the Rangers’ crest were tremendous and will not be forgotten by the organization or anyone who witnessed his best years.
Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey