The Buffalo Sabres traded center Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks on Friday, potentially leading to a major roster change before the trade deadline on the 12th. April will take place.
The Canadiens sent a third round pick and a fifth round pick to Buffalo for Staal in 2021. The Sabres retained 50% of Staal’s salary: $1.625 million of his $3.25 million.
How did the two GMs come to this exchange? Here are our estimates for the operation.
Perhaps this excellent criticism should instead be directed at the Canadian government, which has extended the federal quarantine period for NHL players entering Canada from two weeks to one week of isolation. Staal waived his no-trade clause to join the Canadiens, with Montreal being one of the teams on his ban list. We don’t know if he would if he had to spend 14 days in a hotel room before he could play again.
Canadiens general manager Mark Bergevin said Thursday that the Canadiens were hampered by the salary cap in their attempt to strike a deal. Eventually it all comes back to the lid. If you offset that against the limit, it’s money in and money out, unless you want to give up an asset. He said not to expect much right before the deadline.
About 24 hours later, Bergevin acquired Staal and did not return the contract to Buffalo in an exchange. Which, ultimately, is a good deal for the Habs.
Staal was bad for a terrible team in Buffalo. His 10 points on 31 and minus-20 are among the worst numbers of his career. With the Sabres, he’s averaging 0.09 goals per game. If you are a scoring midfielder and you score as many goals per game as Cal Clutterbuck, something is wrong.
But it’s not because I haven’t tried. With Staal on the ice, the Sabres had 2.29 expected goals in 60 minutes at 5-on-5, second best among forwards. He’s been through a few firearms tests. No, there were no results. But it’s not hard to see why Bergevin would look at Staal and think that a change of scenery to a team that is in the race would provoke a player who scored 47 points in 66 games for the Minnesota Wild last season – even though Staal is now 36.
The Canadiens needed a center, especially a solid center at the face-offs. They could have done better in this area: Staal has shot less than 50 percent over the past two seasons. But while Luke Glendenning of the Detroit Red Wings can win a faceoff, he can’t provide the offense that Staal is capable of. The same is true in the postseason, where Staal has 51 points in 62 games and seven points in his last nine games.
But what makes this deal a 10 for the Canadians is that it didn’t really cost them anything. They have two more third round picks this season from Chicago and Washington. They have two other fifth round picks this season, from Ottawa and Philadelphia. They had two second-round picks and didn’t have to give one up for a top center with an expiring contract, even though they saved the Sabres salary. It’s wild!
Again, one wonders if time has caught up with Steel. But in the short time before the postseason, and with nothing else under contract, this decision makes sense from a financial and personal standpoint. Plus, Shea Weber, Cary Price and Corey Perry now have someone to remind the Canadian Olympic team of.
The acquisition of Staal from Minnesota was Kevin Adams’ first big move as general manager, and he was widely praised for giving the team an offensive center behind Jack Eichel. Nobody thought the Sabres would be this bad. Nobody thought Steel would be this bad. Things happen.
Staal was traded for Marcus Johansson in September 2020. He could only get a third and fifth rounder from Montreal here, though Buffalo retained 50% of Staal’s salary.
The Canadiens have two second round picks. One of the third rounds will be determined by Chicago’s last place in the standings. One of their five members is also appointed by the Senators. Not only did Adams not get at least a second-round pick for Staal – in a trade market with very few good options among veteran scoring centers – he didn’t even get the best versions of the picks he got from the Habs.
What’s the point of saving your salary to bail out your business partner if you can’t maximize your profits? Turn a former teammate into a solid by trading him for a coveted opponent?
If you’re a Sabres fan – first of all, condolences on your loss – you have to be a little worried about what it will look like when players like Taylor Hall return.
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