Eric Staal traded to Rangers
Ex-Carolina captain headed for free agency
After 12 seasons, Eric Staal is leaving the Carolina Hurricanes, who made him the second overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft.
Staal is also leaving brother Jordan, with whom he has spent the past three-plus seasons, to play with another brother, Marc, of the New York Rangers.
Carolina traded captain Staal on Sunday for second-round draft picks in 2016 and 2017 along with Finnish forward prospect Aleksi Saarela.
"Eric has been the face of this franchise for a long time, and we thank him for his dedication, leadership and many contributions on and off the ice over the years," Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said in a statement released by the team.
"We felt this was an important opportunity for us to continue our work in building an organization that can consistently compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs."
Eric Staal, who is making $9.5 million US this season, is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said the Hurricanes retained a portion of Staal's $8.25 million cap hit, and have enough financial flexibility to add another "small-salary player if we wanted to."
The 31-year-old Staal waived his full no-movement/no-trade clause to join the Rangers, who entered play Sunday second in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-20-6 record.
"We felt like he was one of the best, if not the best, player available on the market to give us what we're looking for in our top nine," Gorton said. "And that's why we made the move."
Staal leaves the Hurricanes as the team's all-time leader during its North Carolina history (since 1997) in games played (909), goals (322), assists (453), points (775), hat tricks (13), penalty minutes (674), power-play goals (105), short-handed goals (16) and game-winning goals (47).
A four-time all-star, he is one of only two NHL players who collected at least 30 assists and 50 points in 10 straight seasons from 2005-2015.
However, Staal, who had 100 points in the 2005-06 campaign, has seen his production tail off in recent years. After posting 70 points in 2011-12, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native had seasons of 53, 61 and 54 points. This season, Staal has 10 goals and 33 points in 63 contests for a 44-point pace.
The six-foot-four, 205-pound centre has 19 goals and 43 points in 43 Stanley Cup playoff games and helped Carolina to its first Cup title in franchise history in 2006, leading all post-season performers with 19 assists and 28 points.
"We're looking at a player that we think can be energized by this trade," Gorton said.
Carolina was seventh in the Metropolitan with 66 points through Saturday, four back of Pittsburgh for the second wild-card spot, but the Penguins have three games in hand. The Hurricanes mounted a late push for their first playoff berth since 2009, but lost four of six entering Sunday's game.
Saarela, 19, is playing his fourth season in the Finnish Liiga and second campaign with Assat Pori. The five-foot-11, 200-pound centre has a team-leading 18 goals, 31 points and a plus-7 rating in 46 games this season, a 19-point improvement over 51 contests a year ago.
The Helsinki native won a gold medal in January at the world junior hockey championship in Finland, recording four goals and seven points in as many games.
In parts of four seasons, the Rangers' third-round pick (89th overall) in 2015 has 25 goals and 47 points in 156 games in Finland's top league.
With files from The Associated Press