Kevyn Adams made his first trade as Buffalo Sabres general manager today, sending forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for center Eric Staal.
Staal will likely be utilized as the No. 2 center, a position the Sabres have struggled to fill since dealing Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in 2018.
Johansson, a winger most of his NHL career, centered the second line much of the 2019-20 season, his first in Buffalo.
Adams said the Sabres had focused on adding another center to their lineup.
“Looking around the league and (to) be able to target and identify a player like Eric was really important,” he said on a conference call.
Staal, 35, compiled 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games in 2019-20, his 16th NHL season. Adams knows Staal well, having spent more than two seasons with him as teammates with the Carolina Hurricanes. They won the Stanley Cup together in 2006.
“Eric Staal has had a world-class career,” Adams said. “He’s won a Stanley Cup. He’s won an Olympic gold medal. He’s won a world championship gold medal. He’s been an all-star many times. He’s still a very productive player. …
“He’s a tremendous person. High character. Tremendous leader. Former captain. Obviously, because of the past and my experience of being a former teammate with him, I’ve seen that up close and person. We added a phenomenal player and person that I’m very excited about.”
In Staal, the Sabres possess a former star who has remained productive into his 30s. Staal scored 42 goals with the Wild in 2017-18.
Staal, the second overall pick in 2003, has compiled 436 goals and 1,021 points in 1,240 NHL games.
He carries a $3.25 million salary cap hit and has one year and $3 million left on his contract, according to capfriendly.com.
Staal’s presence could help ignite winger Jeff Skinner, his former teammate in Carolina. Fresh off a 40-goal season playing beside Jack Eichel, Skinner mustered only 14 goals playing away from the Sabres’ top center.
The Sabres also probably like the idea of Staal mentoring center Dylan Cozens, their top center prospect.
Meanwhile, Johansson, 29, carries a $4.5 million cap hit and has one year and $4 million left on his deal.
With few options to pivot the second line behind Eichel, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger moved Johansson to the middle, a position he hadn’t played regularly since his rookie season in 2010-11.
Following a strong start – he scored four goals and seven point in his first nine outings – the Swede struggled for stretches, scoring just two goals over his next 39 contests. He finished with nine goals, 30 points and a minus-12 rating in 60 games.