It’s been more than three years since Marc Staal signed his six-year, $34 million contract extension. In that time both Staal and the Rangers have gone through a lot of changes. Today, the 31 year old defenseman is the longest tenured Ranger not named Henrik Lundqvist on a team that is pot committed to a rebuild.
It might be hard for some Rangers fans to remember, but Staal was an All-Star in 2011. The big, left-handed blueliner was New York’s first round pick in the 2005 Draft (12th overall). In his first few seasons with the Rangers Staal looked like a promising shutdown defenseman in a division that featured opposing threats like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. John Tortorella made him an alternate captain at the tender age of 23, which cemented Staal’s status as part of the team’s core.
When Staal signed his six-year deal to stay in New York during the 2014-15 season when his game had begun to decline. However, the Rangers were just seven months removed from an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Glen Sather, then the team’s general manager, believed that Staal “one of the cornerstones” of the franchise. Sather gave Staal a contract with an AAV of $5.7 million that included a full no-movement clause.
Of course, we all know how costly that big contract has been to the Rangers. Staal played a difficult and inglorious role on a terrible Rangers defense last season. When the dust cleared after deadline day, Staal was one of the few veteran faces who still had a stall in the locker room. The Rangers Cup window, long kept open in defiance of gravity by the superb play of Henrik Lundqvist, was finally slammed shut.
So, where does that leave Staal, who is turning 32 in January and still has three years left on his deal? Right where he was at the tail end of last season. Staal will be a captain and leader on and off the ice for a young team.
All offseason long the Rangers’ front office has been talking about its search for character players, leaders, and guys with great work ethic. Staal, who is now the Rangers’ most senior skater, fits that bill. He’s endured hardship in his career, he has an unquestionable dedication to the game, he knows what it’s like to be a highly-touted prospect, and he has handled the pressure of playing in New York and dealing with the media with grace for a decade. He has a ton of experience he can pass on to youngsters like K’Andre Miller, Libor Hajek, and Nils Lundkvist. In other words, Staal can potentially be a very valuable asset to the Rangers during the rebuild.
The best path forward for Staal and the Rangers is for the veteran defenseman to see eye-to-eye with new head coach David Quinn. Quinn needs veteran players like Staal to promote accountability on and off the ice and embrace the team’s new direction and philosophy. Which is why it’s been a little surprising to see and hear so little from Staal this offseason. But it’s worth mentioning that Staal didn’t have a previous connection to Quinn like Kevin Shattenkirk and Kevin Hayes did. So perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that.
This next chapter in Staal’s career with the Rangers will likely be his last. He will be 34 when his contract expires in the summer of 2021. By then, with any luck, the Rangers will have a roster defined by its young, homegrown talent. What happens between now and then is up to Staal, his contract, and coach Quinn.
Contract and salary cap information made courtesy of CapFriendly.com.