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The New York Rangers had a dire need for help down the middle before acquiring Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal ahead of Monday’s trade deadline. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers had a dire need for help down the middle before acquiring Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal ahead of Monday’s trade deadline. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rangers land Hurricanes captain Eric Staal amid flurry of pre-deadline deals Add to ...

So the Staal brothers will once again push to win another Stanley Cup, but this time, it will be Eric and Marc, playing together for the first time in their respective NHL careers, doing so on behalf of the New York Rangers.

On a busy weekend that saw many of the key pieces move ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the Rangers acquired Eric Staal, the long-time Carolina Hurricanes’ captain and 2006 Stanley Cup champion, for two second-round draft choices, plus prospect Aleksi Saarela.

For the Rangers, the deal signals their intention to go for broke once again while Henrik Lundqvist remains an elite-level NHL goaltender. The Rangers made the Eastern Conference final last spring, after advancing to the Stanley Cup final two years ago, but haven’t won a championship since 1994.

New York had a dire need for help down the middle, where Derrick Brassard is having a good year, but Derek Stepan has been decidedly average. With Staal in the fold and Rick Nash due to return to the lineup after an extended period on the IR, the Rangers will be a much deeper team, though they need Staal to return to the production he had earlier in his career.

This hasn’t been a good season for him, with only 33 points in 63 games, but his former boss, Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, suggested Sunday the change in venue would be good for him.

“He’ll go to New York, a good team, and get to play with some players who’ve had a lot of success,” said Francis. “He can just go and play the game. He doesn’t have to bear the burden of wearing the C and being the leader. I think he can hopefully relax, have some fun and be successful.”

The Rangers’ move on Staal followed an aggressive weekend by the Florida Panthers, who added three players – forwards Jiri Hudler (Calgary Flames) and Terry Purcell (Edmonton Oilers) along with defenceman Jakub Kindl (Detroit Red Wings) – without giving up a player off their roster.

In addition, the Pittsburgh Penguins landed defenceman Justin Schultz from Edmonton for a third-round pick, the same return the Oilers received for Purcell.

Meanwhile, Calgary received a second- and fourth-round pick for Hudler, who was looking forward to playing with Czech countryman Jaromir Jagr on a young Panthers team, where he could mentor some of their forwards in the same way he did with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary.

Thus far, the Washington Capitals have been the class of the Eastern Conference this season and have virtually clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, even with almost a quarter of the season to go.

But Washington’s excellent play notwithstanding, the Capitals have had a mediocre playoff record throughout the Alex Ovechkin era and lost to the Rangers in the second round last year.

Florida, Pittsburgh, New York and even last year’s finalists, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have yet to do anything substantial on the trade front, all believe the Capitals could be vulnerable, which is why they’re loading up for a post-season push.

“Washington’s obviously the cream of the crop in the East; but we’ve got a lot of good teams in the East; and it’s tough to win,” said Panther GM Dale Tallon. “We want to give us our best chance to win every night and get into the playoffs. That’s the No. 1 goal.”

In addition to Purcell and Schultz, Edmonton also made a minor-goalie deal, shipping out Anders Nilsson to the St. Louis Blues for a fifth-round pick. St. Louis had a need for a goaltender after the injury to Brian Elliott. Other than potentially moving former first overall draft choice Nail Yakupov, the Oilers’ focus is mostly on laying the groundwork for future, more substantial moves that will likely take place closer to the June entry draft.

Calgary, meantime, still has defenceman Kris Russell and forward David Jones on the market. Florida could use another defenceman, given the uncertainty surrounding injured defenceman and team captain Willie Mitchell, and Tallon acknowledged they may not be done yet. But the asking price will be important, according to Tallon, who says: “The goal for us always is not to give up a first-rounder or a prospect and we achieved that goal, so we’re very fortunate.”

As for how the market for rentals is evolving, Tallon says it’s similar to last year.

“When [San Jose Sharks’ general manager] Doug Wilson traded a couple of seconds to Toronto, that kind of set the table. Obviously, the [Andrew] Ladd deal [to Chicago from Winnipeg] – that was expensive for us. We dipped our toe in the water on that and it was expensive, from our point of view and the position we’re in.

“Everyone’s looking at what someone else did as far as picks. We gave a second and a third for Jagr last year and a second and fourth for Hudler this year. It’s pretty similar.”

The Rangers made the biggest splash Sunday and did it without surrendering a future first-round pick. Staal is an unrestricted free agent this summer and hasn’t scored like an $8.25-million player for three seasons now. But if this move succeeds in revitalizing his career, it will be worth the comparatively modest cost to a Rangers’ team whose championship window is threatening to slam shut fairly soon.

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