The Flyers have activated defenseman Marc Staal from IR, the team announced Tuesday. In a corresponding transaction, netminder Felix Sandström was assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers yesterday. Staal is expected to return to the lineup when the Flyers take on the Islanders tomorrow.
The 36-year-old Staal has regained some value after being viewed as one of the worst defenders in the league a few seasons ago. His possession numbers and advanced defensive metrics had long been subpar after his peak with the Rangers in the mid-2010s, but they’ve rebounded to a level closer to average since joining the Panthers in the 2022 offseason.
His lone season in Florida was effective, playing in all 82 regular-season games for the first time in over a decade and logging over 20 minutes per game in their run to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. While never a hallmark of his game, Staal’s offensive contributions have dried up, though – he posted no points in 21 playoff contests and had three goals, 12 assists and 15 points in the regular season. Still, that decent showing with Florida earned him a one-year, $1.1MM deal with the Flyers in free agency last summer to extend his NHL career.
Staal’s return supplements a Flyers defense that’s inexplicably been playoff-caliber through the first several weeks of the season. The team is sitting with a 10-7-1 record and a .583 points percentage that would put them in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Much of that has been because of the underrated play of offseason trade addition Sean Walker, who Staal is projected to pair with in his return to the lineup. Viewed as a throw-in for cap purposes in the Ivan Provorov three-way deal this summer between the Flyers, Blue Jackets and Kings, the 29-year-old has ten points through 18 games while averaging over 21 minutes a night.
Staal had missed the last 14 games with an upper-body injury sustained on October 19 against the Oilers. A return to action seemed imminent at the tail end of last week, with multiple reports indicating he’d been cleared to return ahead of Saturday’s contest against the Golden Knights, but he remained out of action through the weekend.