Rangers deal Marc Staal to Red Wings for cap relief

For better than a decade, Marc Staal was a fixture on the Rangers blueline. After 13 years, one of the longest tenured defensemen in franchise history is moving on.

In a cap cutting trade, the Rangers dealt Staal and a 2021 second round pick to the Red Wings for future considerations. The 33-year old veteran was taken 12th overall in the famed 2005 NHL Draft that saw the Penguins land franchise superstar center Sidney Crosby. That late Draft followed the lockout that canceled the whole ’04-05 season.

The second of four brothers that were all drafted by NHL teams including youngest brother Jared, Marc was the only defenseman in the Staal family. A solid skating two-way player who was part of Canada’s gold medal teams at the ’06 and ’07 World Junior Championships, Staal debuted with the Rangers in 2007-08.

A poised player, who didn’t look overwhelmed, he took part in 80 games and 10 postseason contests. That season is best remembered for Staal’s late goal in regulation of Game Four at MSG that put the Blueshirts up 3-1 on the Devils. It was one of seven postseason goals he scored in 107 playoff games. The most memorable coming early in overtime of Game Five against the Capitals during the second round of 2012. A game we attended. Brad Richards tied it with seconds to spare and Staal won it on the power play. Yes. There was a time when he played on the man-advantage.

Throughout his first 13 seasons spent on Broadway, Staal was a steady top four defenseman who the team could rely on for important minutes. He was frequently matched up against Crosby when the Rangers faced them in the playoffs. That included the team’s first ever comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to stun the Pens in the second round of the 2014 Playoffs. It was also the first time they defeated Pittsburgh in a playoff round. A year best remembered for how the team rallied around the death of Martin St. Louis’ Mom France.

Staal was a big part of that run to the Stanley Cup Final. Paired with Anton Stralman, he worked well with the smooth skating right defenseman. Ryan McDonagh teamed with Staal’s former partner, Dan Girardi. In many aspects, the two gritty warriors were tied together. Even as their bodies betrayed them due to the hard-nosed physical style each played, both are well respected by Ranger fans for their blue-collar work ethic.

When GM Glen Sather had a tough choice to make, he decided to keep both Girardi and Staal over popular captain Ryan Callahan, who was instead traded for St. Louis. It worked out well for both sides. Though the Lightning got the better of the Rangers in a unpredictable seven-game Eastern Conference Final five years ago. A series in which four of the Blueshirt defensemen were broken in half. That included Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Keith Yandle. That’s how much they were willing to sacrifice their bodies to try to deliver a championship back to the Big Apple.

Instead, those teams featuring Henrik Lundqvist and a host of mainstays fell short of their ultimate goal. Staal was there for all of it. Unfortunately, the window officially closed when they were eliminated in the second round by Ottawa in 2017. Leaving the building as Game Six concluded was gut wrenching. You knew it was over. Even if management still tried to get help by signing Kevin Shattenkirk, it was all for naught. Now, Shattenkirk is ironically bidding for a Cup with the Lightning tonight. He scored the overtime winner last night to put Tampa up 3-1 on Dallas.

It’s funny how things work out. At least Staal didn’t wind up like so much of the old core, who went to the Bolts. That’s where McDonagh, Girardi, Callahan, Stralman and Brian Boyle went. So too did JT Miller. Only McDonagh and Shattenkirk are left vying for the Cup.

Staal lasted 13 years as a Ranger. He played in 892 games while registering 43 goals with 145 assists for 188 points and a solid plus-46 rating. He also was disciplined despite being tough. He totaled 432 penalty minutes. Never more than the 64 PIM he had in his second year as a 22-year old.

The astonishing thing about him is that he was always willing to play hurt. Who can forget when former coach Alain Vigneault used him on a road trip despite Staal being far from 100 percent during 2017-18? It’s one of the reasons Vigneault was dismissed. That also marked the first season the Rangers missed the postseason since 2010. The infamous shootout at the Flyers in Game 82.

It was Lundqvist and Staal who were the longest tenured Blueshirts. Lundqvist coming in during ’05-06 where he took the starting job from Kevin Weekes and got the team back to the playoffs. Jaromir Jagr and friends had a lot to do with it. Those teams were exciting for fans. They gave us hope. There was that close call against Buffalo in ’07 before Staal’s arrival. A good second round series they lost in six.

As easy as it was for misguided fans to criticize Staal due to his contract that came with an average cap hit of $5.7 million that expires next year, he always laid it on the line. It’s easy to forget the scary concussion he suffered after absorbing a tough hit along the boards from older brother Eric during a game on Feb. 22, 2011. He missed some time before coming back in 2012. That’s why it’s easy to marvel at how well Marc played during the team’s run to the Conference Final. He had three goals and three assists in 20 postseason games.

What about the scary eye injury he suffered the next season against the Flyers? He missed a majority of the ’12-13 season and only got into one playoff game. They missed him. It didn’t help former coach John Tortorella, who was dismissed following a second round exit versus the Bruins.

What if Staal didn’t have those setbacks? Could he have been better? He was on the cusp of becoming an All-Star defenseman who could contribute offensively while playing strong D. Instead, he was only an All-Star once in 2011.

The injuries didn’t help his skating. Maybe it’s easy to forget what Staal brought. It was similar to Girardi, who eventually was bought out. He played his final two seasons in Tampa. All the hits absorbed and delivered along with blocked shots adds up. Despite some in the analytics crowd alluding to his possession statistics, Staal was always utilized more in the defensive zone. That’s where he started most shifts. He was a fixture on the penalty kill. They never look at zone starts. It doesn’t apply.

Even David Quinn trusted Staal to take on tough assignments. He became a steady influence on offensive defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who had a career season. Now, the Rangers are moving on. They freed up necessary cap space so they can afford to re-sign DeAngelo and maybe Ryan Strome. Both of who are restricted free agents along with Alex Georgiev, who won’t cost as much. That’s assuming they keep him and make an even harder decision on Lundqvist.

The only thing left to say is thank you to Staal for the kind of high character team player he was. A true locker room leader, who certainly will be missed. Maybe that’s the kind of player the even more rebuilding Red Wings can use. He’s only got one year left and that defense is a mess. It sure will be strange to see Staal in a Winged Wheel jersey. That’ll take some getting used to.

Wishing Staal and his family the very best. Stick taps to Number 18. Thanks for 13 good years.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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