staalIf you looked solely at Eric Staal’s career trajectory at the time the Wild signed him this past offseason, there were certainly some Dany Heatley-esque and Thomas Vanek-esque red flags.

A player who used to be good for 30 goals and 70 points a season had tailed off into the low 20s … and then bottomed out with a 13-goal season split between Carolina and the Rangers last year. Staal, who turned 32 early in this season, looked like the classic declining veteran. I tried to argue otherwise — saying in early July that Staal was not Heatley or Vanek, primarily because he’s a better two-way player — but even then it felt like I was talking myself into something.

Halfway into this exceedingly successful Wild season, though, signing Staal to a three-year, $10.5 million contract appears to be a smart bargain on the part of the Wild. After another three-point night in a 7-1 rout of Montreal on Thursday, Staal has 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points. He’s registered at least one point in 16 of the past 17 Wild victories. (Photo above by the Star Tribune’s Carlos Gonzalez: Staal after scoring against Montreal).

Goalie Devan Dubnyk and improved depth across all four lines are huge reasons for the Wild success this season, but Staal is also near the top of that list. So far — and again, we’re half a season into a three-year contract — it looks like one of the best free agent signings in terms of production vs. cost in recent Minnesota sports history.

The Vikings have had their share in recent years, including great pickups of Captain Munnerlyn and Linval Joseph in 2014. The Twins got a monster offensive year from Josh Willingham in 2012 on a relatively modest contract. The Wolves have had modest success with mid-level guys like J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour. And higher-priced deals for the likes of Brett Favre, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have all helped Minnesota teams make the playoffs.

Staal’s production so far has far outpaced his price tag. For a team like the Wild that had a big need and not a lot of money to spend this offseason, he’s been about as good as it gets.

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