When discussing restricted free agent defenseman Marc Staal with fellow fans, it has come to my attention that the fanbase, as a whole, apparently does not value the 23-year-old defenseman as highly as I thought it did. Now I think all of the rumors saying Staal does not want to be a member of the New York Rangers (I still don't believe) have helped to contribute to fans looking down upon him, but some of the opinions fans have shared with me took me by surprise.
I guess I should briefly share my thoughts on Staal before I go ahead and tell you what others have been saying. I believe Marc Staal is one of the top players in the new breed of shutdown defensemen for several reasons. First and foremost, last season he was statistically the best defensive defensemen in the National Hockey League - that is special in itself. In addition to that, he has been the Rangers' top blue-liner for about three years now, both with Tom Renney and John Tortorella. Both coaches have used him as their go-to guy on defense in crucial situations.
Also, tell me who you see out there opposite every team's top offensive line during the season? Marc Staal, that is who you see. Whether it is Crosby's line on the Penguins, Ovechkin's line on the Capitals, or Thornton's line on the Sharks, Staal is almost always matched up against them by the coaching staff. And not only is he just paired against them, but he actually stops them. If you have followed the Blueshirts for the past couple of years, you are well aware of the battle between Alex Ovechkin and Marc Staal every time they play each other. Ovechkin once mentioned he enjoyed having to go against Staal because it was a challenge of both skill and physical toughness.
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I watch a lot of Ovechkin (how could you not when he is on Versus every other night) and majority of the teams he plays against have trouble just slowing him down, let alone keeping him off the scoresheet. Many clubs do not have a player in which they can throw out there and give "The Great Eight" a run for his money. The Rangers do, though, in Staal, and that alone makes him a bit more valuable than your routine defensive defensemen.
The thing that drags him down the most is, I think, the lack of offense in his game. When playing with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, Marc was an offensive threat, sort of like Brian Leetch in his prime. He had that ability to take the puck end-to-end and bury a goal. But once he hit the NHL he had to make an adjustment and that adjustment was to improve his defensive game instead of his offensive one; a decision I respect. That is the only flaw I see in Staal's game, because otherwise he is near perfect.
Now for what the fans think. Tuesday afternoon I proposed a question on twitter asking followers what the maximum price tag on Staal should be. I got answers ranging from $2.5 million to $5 million. I can understand fans holding back after seeing what has happened with Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, but $2.5 million? And trust me; there was more than just one person who said that to me (no offense to those that did).
If you think Staal is going to be paid $2.5 million when Dan Girardi just received $3 million then I have a bridge to sell you. There is no way that will ever happen, and if it does, I will make the background of the site pink for an entire week.
If the Rangers go short-term with Staal - which is what he wants - then expect them to be paying around or just over $4 million per year. If they go long-term - which is what the Rangers want - then I expect him to get around $5 million per year because then they are buying into his unrestricted free agency years.
So, how do you value Marc Staal?