Life in the Big Apple is new to Eric Staal – it’s all so different from the first 10 years of his NHL career when he played in Raleigh, N.C., for the Carolina Hurricanes. One place conjures images of Broadway; the other isn’t far from Mayberry.
And the bright lights of New York also have an appeal on the hockey side.
Staal is there now playing for the same Rangers team as brother Marc – living in his basement, in fact – and is in the process of moving his family to the city and finding a place for them to live.
The Staal brothers of Thunder Bay, Ont., are to this era what the Sutters of Viking, Alta., were to a previous generation: hockey’s first family. Eric Staal played most of the past four seasons with his brother Jordan in Carolina, where the youngest member of the family – Jared – also played two NHL games in 2012-13.
That means Staal is the first player in NHL history to play with three of his siblings. Cumulatively, after Monday night’s Rangers-Florida Panthers, the Staals will have played 2,208 NHL regular season games, fifth most by any set of siblings, according to figures supplied by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s kind of weird how it worked out – leaving Jordan and joining Marc,” said Staal, “but nonetheless, it’s sometimes how life goes. I’m happy to be here. This is the team I wanted to join and be a part of. I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season and the playoffs.”
Under coach Bill Peters, the Hurricanes are showing signs of improvement this season, but they are likely to miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. The Rangers, by contrast, aspire to far greater heights, which is why they acquired Staal at the trade deadline for a prospect and two second-round draft choices.
Staal, who is on an expiring contract and is about to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, has the sort of championship pedigree that playoff teams seek. He is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Triple Gold club – an exclusive group of players who have each won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a World Championship.
Now 31, Staal won his Stanley Cup a decade ago with Carolina, and he sees similar possibilities now with a Rangers team that made it to the final two years ago and to the semis in 2015.
Their competitive window is open as long as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continues to play at his tyically high level. The Washington Capitals may be running away with the Eastern Conference, but the Rangers traditionally have done well against them in playoffs past.
“No question that’s what every player wants every year – to be in the hunt, in the mix, in the playoffs – and this is a team that’s right there,” said Staal.
Four weeks into his Rangers’ career, Staal is settling in, but “it definitely presents some challenges, especially with how long I was [in Carolina]. But at the same time, there’s a lot of excitement and energy from that comes from that, too. I will get more comfortable as I go.”
Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault has Staal playing on a line with two youngsters – Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller – which isn’t exactly new for Staal. In Carolina, he was paired mostly with second-year forward Elias Lindholm. Staal’s presence behind Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan at centre on the Rangers’ depth chart gives them an anchor for a solid third line.
Even though Staal had only three points in his first 10 games with the Rangers, he believes the chemistry with Miller and Hayes is starting to develop.
“They’re good kids, good players and you need balance, you need four lines that can play. And I think I can help bring that to this team,” said Staal. “I think we can keep developing and getting better and be difference-makers down the stretch.”
As for the transition to New York, Staal calls it “eye-opening, but fun. I like it. It’s been good. Sure, you’d like to score points in every game, but I think it’s coming. It’s exciting for me. It’s just about being on a good team and feeling good about contributing in ways that can help you win. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”Report Typo/Error