NHL trade grades – Montreal Canadiens get a steal in landing Eric Staal from Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres traded center Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks on Friday, perhaps starting off a period of serious roster reshaping that will take place between now and the April 12 trade deadline.

The Canadiens sent 2021 third- and fifth-round draft picks to Buffalo for Staal. The Sabres retained 50% of Staal’s salary: $1.625 million of his $3.25 million cap hit.

So how did both GMs do in this swap? Here are our grades for the deal.

Perhaps this stellar grade should go to the Canadian government instead, for dropping the federal quarantine period for NHL players entering Canada from two weeks to one week of isolation. Staal waived his no-trade clause to move to the Canadiens, as Montreal had been one of the teams on his no-go list. We’re not sure if he does that if it meant 14 days in a hotel room before playing again.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said on Thursday that the Canadiens were hamstrung by the salary cap in trying to make a deal. “At the end of the day, it always comes back to the cap. Once you’re a team that’s up against the cap, it’s money in and money out, unless you want to give up an asset. I wouldn’t be expecting a lot near the deadline,” he said.

Around 24 hours later, Bergevin acquired Staal and didn’t send a contract back to Buffalo in the trade. Which, it turns out, makes this a solid deal for the Habs.

2 Related

Staal was bad for a terrible team in Buffalo. His 10 points in 31 games and minus-20 were some of the worst numbers of his career. He had a 0.09 goals-per-game average with the Sabres. When your calling card is as a goal-scoring center and you’re generating as many goals per game as Cal Clutterbuck, something is amiss.

But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Sabres had 2.29 expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 when Staal was on the ice, second best among their forwards. He got his share of high-danger shot attempts. No, the results weren’t there. But it’s not hard to understand why Bergevin would look at Staal and think a change in scenery to a contending team might spark the player who had 47 points in 66 games last season for the Minnesota Wild — even if Staal is now 36 years old.

The Canadiens needed a center, specifically one who was solid on faceoffs. They could have done better in that department: Staal has been under 50% on draws during the past two seasons. But while a trade deadline option like Luke Glendening of the Detroit Red Wings could win you a faceoff, he can’t provide the offense that Staal is capable of providing. That includes in the postseason, where Staal has 51 points in 62 career games and seven points in his last nine games.

But what makes this an ‘A’ trade for the Canadiens 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 more fifth-round picks this season, from Ottawa and Philadelphia. They had two second-round picks and didn’t have to give either of them up for a name-brand center on an expiring contract, even with the Sabres retaining salary. That’s wild!

Again, some concerns here about whether time has caught up with Staal. But in a short sprint to the postseason, and nothing contractually beyond that, it makes tremendous sense from a financial and personnel standpoint. Plus, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Corey Perry now have someone else with whom to reminisce about the Canadian Olympic team.

Acquiring Staal from Minnesota was Kevyn Adams’ first big move as general manager, and it was widely praised for giving the team another offensive center behind Jack Eichel. No one thought the Sabres would be this bad. No one thought Staal would be this bad. Things happen.

Staal was traded for Marcus Johansson in September 2020. Here he could only fetch a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder from Montreal, even with Buffalo retaining 50% of Staal’s salary.

The Canadiens have two second-round picks. One of their third-rounders will be determined by Chicago’s final spot in the standings. One of their fifth-rounders will be similarly determined by the Senators. Not only did Adams not get at least a second-rounder 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 received from the Habs.

What’s the point of retaining salary to bail out a trade partner if you can’t maximize the return? To do an old teammate a solid by trading him to a desirable contender?

If you’re a Sabres fan — first off, condolences — you have to be a little worried about what the return for players like Taylor Hall is going to look like.

Published: 2021-03-26 22:44:42

Tags: #NHL #trade #grades #Montreal #Canadiens #steal #landing #Eric #Staal #Buffalo #Sabres

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