DETROIT – Wild center Eric Staal has been in this position before, lingering in the final months of his contract on a team loitering at a crossroads.
Three years ago, when he was with the Hurricanes, he greenlighted a deal to the Rangers — the only time he’s been traded in his 15-season NHL career — because he figured it was time to move on from the only franchise he’d ever represented as it retooled for the future.
But now, Staal wants to stay put.
His preference is to remain with the Wild, for the rest of this season and beyond, even though there’s no guarantee of that happening.
“I’ve felt like it’s been a good fit for me, and I’ve enjoyed playing here,” said Staal, 34. “This is an organization that wants to win and will do whatever it takes to win, and you can’t ask for more than that as a player. You’re just a piece and a part of that, but it’s been fun. But whatever will happen will happen.”
The Wild has already started to sub out players on its roster, most recently shipping forward Charlie Coyle to the Bruins for winger Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round draft pick. Staal also could be on the move since he’s an impending free agent.
Staal’s agent, Rick Curran, said he had a meeting with Wild General Manager Paul Fenton early in the season, expressing Staal’s desire to stay with the Wild. Curran said Fenton responded by asking for time to evaluate the organization, and that has created a holding pattern.
Curran and Staal said there have been no talks on a new deal; Fenton said he has talked to Curran recently, but “it doesn’t mean I’ve talked to him about a contract or an extension.”
This uncertainty comes during a rough stretch for Staal, who hadn’t scored in 11 games before he netted a goal against the Red Wings on Friday and is on pace to fall far short of the 42 he buried last season. He said he believes his circumstances are complicated regardless of these woes during what Staal called and “up and down” season, and Fenton said these struggles don’t hurt Staal’s trade stock or potential to re-sign since he’ll focus on Staal’s entire body of work over his career.
“He wants to provide the kind of value the team says, ‘Yeah, we need to keep this guy,’ ” Curran said.
Staal is finishing off a three-year, $10.5 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2016 that includes a list of teams Staal can’t be traded to without his consent, so he has some control over the process.
But it takes two sides to consummate a partnership, one Staal would like to maintain after it helped him revitalize his career.
“To kind of just leave and walk away from it, I don’t know,” Staal said. “It just feels like there’s more there. I think that’s also a little to do with my personality. When I invest somewhere, I feel like it means something to me. That’s just the way I’ve always been, and I will always be that way.”
Like father, like son
Donato isn’t the first in his family to be coached by Bruce Boudreau. The bench boss had Donato’s dad, Ted, on his team in 2001-02 when he coached Manchester in the American Hockey League.
“He liked me,” Boudreau said of Ted. “I don’t know if the son is going to like me as much. When you get older, you get a little crustier.”
After tallying two assists Thursday in the slump-busting 4-1 win over the Rangers, Donato became the 11th player in team history to record at least two points in his Wild debut.
• Defenseman Jared Spurgeon’s power play goal Thursday was his 12th this season, a career high.
• Veteran forward Matt Hendricks (upper-body injury) “probably could have played” against Detroit, Boudreau said, but Boudreau wanted to stick with the same lineup that won against the Rangers. That look included right winger J.T. Brown, who was recalled from the minors Thursday, a move that helped put players like defenseman Brad Hunt and left winger Marcus Foligno back in their usual positions.