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Hamilton: Sabres win trade with Staal's production, leadership

Not only will he be a mentor to Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson and Victor Olofsson, he can help Jack Eichel emerge as a leader in Buffalo.
Credit: AP
The Buffalo Sabres acquired veteran center Eric Staal in a trade that sent forward Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In my mind, Kevyn Adams' first trade as the Sabres GM was a very good one. Buffalo needed to address who was going to be its No. 2 center, and Adams has done just that.

Eric Staal comes over from Minnesota with 16 years of NHL experience. Staal has been a captain and has won a Stanley Cup, but more importantly, at age 35, he’s still productive. Had Staal played 82 games this season, he was on pace for 23 goals and 35 assists. 

I think another reason this trade is a home run is Buffalo doesn’t have to rush Dylan Cozens. Staal’s locker should be right next to Cozens and they should be joined at the hip.

I mentioned last month on the air that I thought the perfect player to acquire would be Staal. Not only will he be a mentor to Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson and Victor Olofsson, he’ll be phenomenal help to Jack Eichel as a leader on this team.

Eichel didn’t take advantage of having Brian Gionta on his team, but he’s much more mature now, and I don’t think he’ll miss this opportunity. 

Another thing Staal brings is size down the middle. He’s a big body, which this team desperately needs. 

Adams knows the kind of leader Staal is after being teammates with him. 

I asked Adams twice if he’s free to spend to the salary cap or if he has a budget under the cap. He answered the question both times, but dodged what I was asking him. Adams did shave $1 million off his budget in the trade and $1.25 million off the Sabres' cap figure. Both Staal and Marcus Johansson have one year left on their deals.

I don’t understand this trade for Minnesota at all. Yes, they got the younger player by six years, but every advantage after that goes to Staal. I also don’t get why Bill Guerin acquired Johansson to play center. It was proven last season to be a really bad move.

Between signing defenseman Jonas Brodin to a seven-year, $42 million deal and making this trade, I’m starting to wonder if training in the Pittsburgh organization to be a general manager isn’t a great idea. 

Another advantage to having Staal is he can be reunited with Jeff Skinner. I bet Skinner is very excited about having Eichel and Staal as the team’s top two centers. 

If Olofsson stays with Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Skinner will be with Staal. Cozens would be on the next line, so Tage Thompson or Dominik Kahun could get an opportunity with Staal. 

Having Staal for one season, and maybe two, would give Cozens plenty of time to get acquainted with the NHL. If Mittelstadt has a great training camp, Cozens could start on his wing and then be eased in at center. 

Kirby Dach was eased in on the wing in Chicago this season, then showed up for the playoffs looking really good. Dach went third overall in the 2019 Draft while Cozens was seventh. Dach had six points in nine playoff games playing center. 

There, of course, is still a lot of work to do.

Adams needs to decide which restricted free agents he’s going to keep. Reinhart and Brandon Montour need contracts as do Olofsson, Linus Ullmark, Kahun, Mittelstadt, Thompson, Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons. I don’t see all of those players coming back. 

There are still trades that need to be made to make this team better. They’re a long ways away, but in my estimation, this was a great start.