Montreal Canadiens reaffirm their win-now mentality with Eric Staal trade

Eric Staal #12 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Eric Staal #12 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Trade Deadline madness has started early after the Montreal Canadiens acquired veteran center Eric Staal earlier today.

Roughly a week out from the 2020-21 NHL Trade Deadline, the Montreal Canadiens sent a third-round and a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft to the Buffalo Sabres for Eric Staal, with the Sabres also retaining $1.625 million of the forward’s $3,250,000 cap hit.

It was widely expected that the Sabres would be moving Staal, along with Taylor Hall and others, given that their historic winless streak now stands at 16 and they will now miss the postseason for a 10th consecutive year, which will no doubt lead to major changes yet again at the KeyBank Center during the offseason.

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And Buffalo General Manager Kevyn Adams decided to get some business in early ahead of the Trade Deadline by striking a deal with the Montreal Canadiens, who took immediate advantage of the quarantine period in Canada being reduced from 14 days to seven.

We’re going to delve into this trade a lot more and look at it from the perspective of the Buffalo Sabres as well as give it a final grade but, for now, let’s take a look at what this move means for the Montreal Canadiens going forward.

So, firstly, it is perhaps fair to argue that the decision by the Canadian Government reducing its federal quarantine period to seven days probably played a huge factor in Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin deciding to make this move now. After all, Staal will now likely only miss two games due to quarantine as opposed to the five or six he could have missed if the rules were not relaxed.

That is a big, big difference, especially in a shortened 56-game schedule that is already halfway done.

Eric Staal (12)
Eric Staal #12 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Montreal Canadiens trading for Eric Staal prove they want to win now

Secondly, and as we mapped out here when they fired Head Coach Claude Julien, the Canadiens are all in to win this year after spending a lot of money during the offseason to significantly bolster and upgrade this roster, so adding a veteran presence in Eric Staal is yet another example of this franchise doubling down on their intention to embark on a deep postseason run this season.

Currently fourth in the North Division having gone 4-2-4 in their last 10 games, Montreal needs to start stepping on the gas here to ensure that they even make the Stanley Cup Playoffs given that the Vancouver Canucks are much improved with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10, while you can’t count out the Calgary Flames just yet under veteran Head Coach Darryl Sutter, who knows what it takes to win at this time of year.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Marc Bergevin decided to make a big move prior to the Trade Deadline in order to inject some fresh energy into that locker room, and giving up two draft picks this year is further proof that the Canadiens mean business.

They don’t just want to squeeze into the Playoffs, they want to go deep hence the offseason additions of players in the ilk of Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson, Jake Allen and Corey Perry, and now trading for a proven and established veteran in Eric Staal just hammers that point home.

Now, granted, Staal hardly lit it up for the Buffalo Sabres this season with just 10 points (3 G, 7 A) in 32 games to go along with a -20 rating while averaging 15:34 of total ice time per night. However, it is worth remembering that the Sabres are in the midst of a historically bad year and it has been hard for any player to stand out.

Staal, at 36-years-old, is also in the back nine of his career and is way past his prime, but he did put up 47 points (19 G, 28 A) in 66 games for the Minnesota Wild during the 2019-20 season, so it is clear that the veteran can still contribute in a big way offensively when put in the right situation.

And the pivot will be placed in a pretty good spot in Montreal. For starters, he’s going to be surrounded with much better weapons than he was in Buffalo, and that alone should be enough to ensure that Staal enjoys a productive finish to the 2020-21 season. Plus, the fact that he’s going to be on a team with cup aspirations should be enough motivation alone to elevate his play.

It is also a good fit for Montreal given that they now have more depth down the middle, which is absolutely crucial especially in the postseason, and Staal gives them a lot more grit and experience in that department given that both Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are still cutting their teeth in the National Hockey League.

Eric Staal (12)
Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal (12). Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

Staal gives Montreal more protection behind center Phillip Danault, and they now have more quality and more leadership at one of the most important positions in the sport, which is invaluable. Also, Staal will be a pretty nice third or fourth-line center for the Canadiens, making this lineup even deeper which should put them in a good place both down the stretch and come Playoffs time.

Known as a reliable two-way pivot who can win faceoffs, who can lay the body on, block shots, play solid defense in his own zone, make big plays, produce on a consistent basis and come up clutch, Eric Staal has a big body that can also excel as a net-front presence and you need those type of players if you are going to go deep in the postseason.

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Overall, this is a pure rental for the Montreal Canadiens who have been consistent all year long when it comes to their intentions of being a win-now team, so the price of giving up a couple of mid-to-later round draft picks for a veteran in Eric Staal who can certainly have a positive impact on this roster both down the stretch and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the stakes are a lot higher, can be viewed as a risk well worth taking especially if he can make a sizeable impact and help to take this franchise back to the promised land.