The drop in production was the most dramatic Wild center Eric Staal had experienced in his 15-year NHL career.
After scoring 42 goals in 2017-18, tying the franchise record for a single season, Staal finished with 22 in 2018-19 — still the second most on the Wild but a far cry from the output he registered just the previous campaign.
But when he reflected on his play, Staal didn’t put a bow on it by summing up the year as up or down and positive or negative.
He never has.
Instead, he was disappointed the Wild didn’t make the playoffs.
And if the team is to return to the postseason, the offense will undoubtedly have to be better — an area Staal feels he can contribute more to as he begins a new two-year contract.
“I’ve never labeled anything,” he said. “That’s just not how I think. I don’t think fixing your mind on numbers for your own sake is a good thing to do.
“Whether it’s good or bad, just try to play your game every day. I think my game could have been better, but it’s a new year. I’ll get after it this year.”
Not setting numerical targets has worked out well for Staal.
Since his debut in 2003, Staal is fourth among active players with 417 goals. And since he joined the Wild in 2016, only 20 players in the league have scored more than his 92.
“That’s pretty darn good,” coach Bruce Boudreau said.
During Staal’s first two seasons, the Wild’s offense ranked second and 11th, respectively, before it slipped to 27th last season when the team scored 210 goals and averaged 2.56 per game.
While the Wild’s productivity isn’t directly correlated to how Staal performs, the 34-year-old certainly has opportunity to make an impact when he’s on the ice.
Although he was idle Thursday during the Wild’s second-to-last preseason game in Dallas against the Stars, Staal is poised to start the season anchoring the top line between wingers Jason Zucker and Kevin Fiala and is set to resume his regular post on the power play.
“There’s a lot of reasons we didn’t score last year,” Boudreau said. “Eric didn’t score like he could. The team didn’t play as well as it should. But … if he got 22, 25 [goals] this year, I’d be extremely happy. I think he’s ready. He’s going to be fine.”
Even though it’s not in his nature to set benchmarks, Staal doesn’t see a reason why he can’t eclipse the 22 goals he buried last season.
Doing so would help the Wild and continue what’s so far been a fruitful partnership for both sides, one that was sustained when Staal signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract extension in February.
“My goal is to get off to a good start and help our team win games,” Staal said. “At the end of the day if I have the same numbers I did last year and we’re in the playoffs, that’s OK with me. I want our team to find success. I know it’s important for us to score goals, and it’s important for me to create offense to make us do that. [But] there’s other ways to win, too.
“Whether my numbers are what they were two years ago or what they were last year, if our team is having success and we’re doing the right thing in the win column, that’s OK with me.”