UPDATED with Boudreau and Fletcher quotes on the bottom
The Wild struck out on St. Louis captain David Backes but has signed former Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal to a three-year, $10.5 million contract. That's an annual cap hit of $3.5 million.
The Wild has also brought back right wing Chris Stewart on a two-year deal worth $1.15 million per and has signed former San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock, who played at Minnesota-Duluth, to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 ($300,000 in the minors) to be the Wild's so-called third goalie and start in Iowa.
The Wild also looks like it may bring back veteran Matt Cullen on a one-year deal.
Staal, 31, who hails from Thunder Bay, Ontario, has scored 325 goals and 781 points in 929 games. He won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006. Drafted second overall in 2003.
Highlights from Staal's conference call with the media:
On his mind-set: “I’m super excited, it’s a team that I kind of had on my radar for a little while now knowing I was going to be in this position … [I was] looking for spots and opportunities where I could be put in position to play my best hockey. Minnesota was right up there.
“[There were a] lot of moving parts, but glad it worked out where it did. This is a team that wants to win and expects to win and all those things.”
On his struggles the past two seasons: “The way the last year went and the one before that, for me in my mind there’s a lot of circumstances that go along with it why they went the way they did, but I believe I’m still a very good player. I’ve scored a lot of goals and a lot of points in the league. I can be a contributor in a team’s top six. I’m going to get an opportunity with a new coach and a team that’s hungry to win and hungry to be a top team.”
On playing with Zach Parise: “I talked to Zach a couple of days ago, he reached out to me. When it was the other way around, I reached out to him. I feel like our games can match well. We are both 200 foot players that can play both ends of the rink. I have that same work ethic and drive that he does. Those are things you look at as a free agent, to play with guys like him and other guys they have there.”
On coach Bruce Boudreau: “He had some different opportunities when he was hired in Minnesota, and his message was they want to win and I want to win, and that’s why he wanted to go there. For me, it’s the same. I want to go to an organization and a team that will do whatever it takes. Hearing what he has to say, I’ve played against Bruce’s teams for a number of years, and feel like I already know him. The opportunity was too good to pass up, and to play with him is something I’m looking forward to.
“He’s about pace, and about attack. He puts his players in position for them to be successful. He’s a passionate guy who has won everywhere he’s gone. An extremely hard worker and a guy you want to play hard for.”
On being from Thunder Bay: “It’s the closest NHL city to where I grew up. I’m sure I’m going to have a lot more weekend visitors than I had in the past. I came to Minneapolis St. Paul a lot as a kid playing in youth tournaments. Love the area, always have, since I was a younger player.”
On other teams: “I had conversations with about four or five leading up to today. Minnesota was high on my list before the day even started.”
What went wrong in Carolina? It's just a different market, Carolina. They're not a cap team. They're in a different time. They're going with youth, younger players, there were just a lot of different things. And missing the playoffs as many years as we had in a row, we were very close a couple of years, but in the cap world, and the way the game is now, you just need more. You need extra help. Sometimes it just didn't feel like they were able to do some of those things, and it made it difficult. It started to wear, and it was tough, and last year they had a lot of younger players that were taking steps, and then for me, I needed the opportunity to get back to the playoffs, and moved on. Now I'm here in this opportunity, and like I said, enjoying going to a team that's already very competitive, and expecting to be very competitive, and to be in that environment and be excited about it is one of those things that I'm looking forward to.
Stewart, 28, has scored 137 goals and 284 points in 519 games. He played for coach Bruce Boudreau last season. He scored three goals and eight assists in 20 games for the Wild two years ago after being acquired from Buffalo for a 2017 second-round pick.
He was loved by the Wild players, particularly Matt Dumba. Here's a feature I wrote on the Stewy Sprint.
I just got off the phone with Stewart:
"I'm ecstatic," he said. "Best fans I've ever played in front of in my life. The decision was easy. Now that they've got Bruce back there is a bonus. He's just a hockey guy, you can approach him and talk to him man to man. He played the game and understands the game. He's easy to relate to and commands respect."
Stewart had a broken jaw last season and had a shoulder injury with the Wild, but he says he's healthy and ready to go.
Asked if he's expecting top-6 minutes or could even be on the third or fourth line, Stewart said, "I'm always one to come in and earn my role. I can go up and down the lineup, I can play with top players and can bring that physical and energy side. Whatever they need from me has kind of been my MO. Power play if they need it. I know I can contribute in this league if I get the opportunity."
Stalock, 28, who led South St. Paul to a state title once upon a time, is 24-19-7 in the NHL with a 2.37 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and four shutouts.
"It's a great situation for me," Stalock said. "Last season, I didn't get a lot of playing time and that comes with not playing well. At the same time, I need to play. To play consistently and get my game back to where I want it is a crucial step to getting back to where I want to be, and that's obviously the NHL. I just have to worry about playing well. That's my goal.
"To be able to be close and have family come watch more often is very exciting. I'm really excited to actually play."
The Wild also signed minor-leaguers Pat Cannone, who was the captain of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League last season, and Victor Bartley, a defenseman who played 10 NHL games last season.
Backes signed a five-year, $30 million deal in Boston. Kyle Okposo got seven years in Buffalo.
Here are quotes from Wild coach Bruce Boudreau:
Boudreau on Stewart: The one thing I was impressed with him last year was how good of a team guy he was. And he stood up for everybody. Anybody that was picked on, he would go right up to them and he knew how to handle it for us. He can play. Just before he got the broken jaw, him, Getzlaf and Perron was playing really good as our No. 1 line and we were playing good as a team. Now that put him back seven weeks, but he’s fully recovered from that. He liked it when he was here the first time and I know Minnesota liked him the first time. … He certainly wanted to come back. I know he’s a good addition to the team, but he makes everybody else bigger on the team, too.
His role: I think he can move up and down. Last year I had him on the first line or the fourth line. I think it depends on how deep we are. I really like to use four lines. If he was playing on the fourth line and the power play to get his minutes up, it’s one thing. If he played as a top-6 forward, he’d get enough minutes as well. Actually he was one of our better players in the playoffs as well.
Staal still top-6 forward or reclamation: I think a lot of things just went wrong. I don’t think he liked playing left wing. I think he’s the kind of the guy that wants the puck in the middle and wants to handle it and play with it. He wants to be the guy. In Carolina, they didn’t have guys like Parise and Coyle to play with either. They were young guys that are going to be good, but at that time, they weren’t the players he was used to playing with 10 years ago and eight years ago and six years ago. When I talked to him on Wednesday night, I thought he was so excited about the opportunity. It didn’t have much to do with money or any of that. He wanted the opportunity to be the Eric Staal that he was in the past. And I told him he would definitely get that chance here.
Staal vs. Washington: When he was on top of his game, Carolina beat us all the time. He would get three or four points and that meant he was having the puck between the blue line’s, carrying the puck, he was a dominant force everywhere. Second year was in Lowell in the lockout, and we played them 12 times and got a chance to see him and knew he was going to be a great player. Things haven’t gone well for him the last year and a half statistically speaking, but I have a hard time thinking that 31 in today’s day and age with how fit the players are that he’s all of a sudden gotten old. I think there’s a lot more for him to give. I think he’ll be rejuvenated by the situation here. He’s used to the cold weather. He’s from Thunder Bay, so it all should work out (jokes).
Boudreau on if they missed out on anybody: I wanted that Stamkos guy, but I think he was taken (jokingly)
Lines:We can move guys around. I think I’ve got combinations in my head at least for the top-9, but the other guys are going to mix and match right now. And who knows, Chuck may do another deal before the summer’s out, but who can tell.
on the day: We were able to add a couple of quality NHL forwards, and we've added a couple of quality players for Iowa that will provide great depth for us. It's been a good day. Obviously having the shopping period you’re able to speak with agents and players for several days before today, so it's changed the nature of July 1st so now you have a pretty good idea of what's happening. You have a pretty good idea of who has interest in you, and who doesn't, and the type of term they may be looking for. You still have to wait until today to talk specific figures, so there's always some risk, but coming into today we had a pretty good idea of what we accomplished was able to be accomplished.
Eric Staal the same Eric Staal: Time will tell. As players get older, let's be honest, when you're 32 years old you're not the same player as when you're 25, 26. But we think this is a good situation with Eric, and obviously, he felt the same way. We have some quality players he can play with. We certainly have an important role he can fill. And the most important thing about the deal is he was able to give us a cap number that works for us, and will allow us to fill in some players around him as well. He was willing to work with us. He's a quality centermen, has skill, good on faceoffs, can play 200 feet, and along with Mikko and Haula we now have three guys through the middle of the ice who can defend well, and also contribute offensively.
Granlund and Coyle at wing: I thought Granlund played really well on the wing, even through the World Championship. He looked very comfortable there. There's obviously a lot less responsibility defensively on the wing. That allows him to focus a lot more offensively. He's such a diligent player. When he defended as a center iceman, he never cheated, he played hard, and that maybe compromised his ability to get up the ice and contribute offensively all the time. This should lead to a much more productive season for him.
Same thing with Charlie. He's a big body. I know the coaches were certainly comfortable playing him at center, but Charlie likes both positions. Certainly he's a premier power forward on the wing, and he's a very good power center at center. With Staal and Koivu, that's tremendous size through the middle, and now we can get Charlie on the wing, and along with Nino, and now Stewart in particular, we have three really big bodies on the wing. Our team is much bigger, we're much more experienced, we're much deeper, and I like our group. The fact that we didn't have to sacrifice any of our young defensemen to fill these holes is important. Certainly strength of our team remains the strength of our defense corps.
Wanted to get bigger? More physical, maybe, but bigger, (to) control the walls better, and be able to establish better offensive zone play. We had a stat that our folks came up with. We were one of the worst teams in the league last year on puck recoveries. Does that speak to size? Possibly. We've added a bit more size up front, and allowing Charlie to play the wing more often will certainly allow us to recover more pucks, and that's a big part of the game. We didn’t' seem to have as much offensive zone play last year. Clearly we need to shoot the puck a little bit more often, but if you can't get the puck, it's hard to shoot it. This was a big part of fixing that problem in terms of generating more offense, generating more shots. We'll be able to recover pucks a little bit better than last year.
Stewart: I'm a big fan, personally. He fit very well with our team; great chemistry. I know Bruce really enjoyed him last year in Anaheim. Again, he had a tough injury. Broke his jaw and missed a lot of time, but he was on pace for about an 11-goal season again playing about 11 minutes a night only in Anaheim. He's a guy we think can contribute 10-plus goals and potentially 30 points depending on where he plays. He had good chemistry with Mikko when he was here, but he's also a guy who can play on the third or fourth line. It gives you a lot of flexibility, and that size is important. When we went on the road when he was here we were a much more confident team.
Staal other interest: You'd have to ask him. I can't speak to what he was offered. I just know that by buying out Vanek we created some cap space, and actually, if you look at the dollars we spent on Staal and Stewart, plus the Vanek buyouy, it almost adds up to what Thomas made last year. We basically allocated all of those dollars for two players. That's really what we felt what we had. We want to have a little bit of space here going forward, and we have enough space that depending on how the next few days go, we might find a situation where we have a player that's very interested in playing for us at a very good cap rate. We haven't had that luxury the last couple of years. We're excited that we can still potentially add somebody here and still have a bit of flexibility going forward. You'll have to speak to Eric, but I know he made it very clear to us that he wanted to come here. Money is always a bit of a factor, but the cap number, the salary he took was way down his list of considerations. We're the beneficiaries of that, and very fortunate for that.
Stewart bring lightheartedness to room: Going 1-14-2 led to that a little bit. I mentioned this at the end of the year that the things about our room were a little bit overstated. When you're winning, usually your room is great. When you're in a tough stretch you're certainly more tense, and guys aren't as happy with each other, or happy with the coach, or happy with the manager. It's just the way it goes. Adding both these guys, they're veteran guys, they've played in the league. Staal has won a Stanley Cup, Stewart is familiar with our group. He got along with everybody when he was here. Any time you add veteran guys that have been through the ups and downs it will help your room. And our younger guys again, they're not that young anymore, but now they've had a lot of experiences. Guys like Charlie in Granlund I challenged at the end of the year. 'You guys have to step up, and it's time for you guys to grab some leadership here, and start to assert yourself too, within the room, and within the group.' Hopefully last year will make us stronger this year, and certainly we're deeper, bigger, and I believe more skilled than we were last year. We just have to learn for last year.
who you going after?: We'll get the best player we can get. Whether it's a big guy, or a skilled player, it doesn't have to be a fourth line player. As the days go on, prices come down dramatically, and hopefully we can be shopping in an environment where we have some options to look at. We'll see what happens. Maybe something happens tonight; maybe it's a week or two from now. I like the flexibility that we have.
Trades done?: You can never say that. Trades are a two-way street and we certainly, I don't think I've ever spoken to more managers more often than I have the past few weeks. We were very well aware of what was available, and what wasn't. We made the right move with the information that we had right now. But going forward we'll see how things play out. I know Scott Stevens in particular and obviously Bruce really wanted to get to know our young defensemen. I believe it's the strength of our team. We have great depth. Going forward we'll see how that works out, but it's a nice luxury to have. It certainly gives us options down the road.
who was overpaid? I would say almost all of them (laughs). But again, good for them. That's the nature of it, and we've certainly been a part of the free agent market before. You typically have to pay bigger dollars, or add a couple extra years of term. The players have worked hard to get that right. That's their CBA right, and it's an opportunity to acquire a player without making a trade or giving up an asset. But cap space is still an asset, and I'd like to think the deals we signed today were certainly very easy to justify on a production basis.
Stalock: Alex had a great attitude, and he's very excited about getting down to Des Moine and playing. When you're a backup goalie sometimes for a few years you don't get a lot of starts, and you're game can slip. He really wants to get in and play games, and get his game back to the level it can be. He's a competitive guy, and to have Dubnyk, Kuemper, and Stalock, that's the best depth by far we've had since I've been here. You combine that with our defense where we have great depth, and now up front we have a lot of depth, and still have guys like Schroeder, and Dalpe, and Tuch, and Anas, and Downing, and a lot of young talent that's pushing through. It's going to be a highly competitive camp, and it's going to be a pretty good hockey team.