In terms of rental centers that might be available at the deadline, most of the focus has been placed on just a few names. Matt Duchene, Kevin Hayes and Derick Brassard have been speculated on ad nauseam, but a new name may just enter the conversation before long. Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild opened up to Michael Russo of The Athletic (subscription required) for a superb feature that examines how his play has been affected by the lack of contract talks this year, and how the veteran forward knows that the next few games might decide whether he is playing for the Wild or someone else after the deadline. The biggest takeaway from the piece is that Staal and the Wild have still had no conversations at all regarding a potential extension, despite him being in the final season of a bargain three-year contract and scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1st.
Though it’s obviously impossible to know just how much a team would pay up for Staal’s services down the stretch, Russo asked a few front office executives who all believed that the Wild would not be able to secure a first-round pick for the 34-year old center. Any asking price though is contingent on what the Wild do over the next few weeks, since they currently sit in third place in the Central Division and would be going to the playoffs if the season ended today. Like other teams over the last few years though, perhaps the Wild know that even if they do make the playoffs they’re not going to be able to navigate the field of powerhouses in the Western Conference. The team would be looking at a first-round matchup with the Nashville Predators at the moment, and getting through both Nashville and the Winnipeg Jets seems almost impossible at the moment.
This isn’t a situation exactly like Columbus, where the Blue Jackets must make a decision about whether holding onto Artemi Panarin through the deadline is worth it. Panarin’s potential return through trade would be enormous, and it seems less and less likely that he wants to re-sign with the Blue Jackets at the end of the season. Staal is open about his desire to stay in Minnesota if possible, and if the potential return is just say, a second-round pick, it’s hard to imagine Fenton slapping a for sale sticker on his first-line center.
Still, there’s a reason why Staal still found himself in our Top-20 Midseason UFA Power Rankings. The veteran center brings almost everything that a contender like the Jets, Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins would be looking for at the deadline, and should have several suitors chasing him in free agency if he reaches it. A recent resurgence has him with 36 points through 49 games this season, just after recording 42 goals and 76 points for the Wild in 2017-18. While a first-round pick at this exact moment may be out of reach, remember how the Bruins ended up paying a lofty price to secure another veteran goal scorer last season. Rick Nash cost Boston a first-round pick and prospect Ryan Lindgren, even if the Rangers did take some salary back in Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey. If an arms race does ramp up closer to the deadline, Staal might be the ticket to recouping some of the draft picks the Wild have sent packing over the last few seasons.
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