Veteran New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal has been a steadfast on the Rangers blueline for 10 years.
Staal has been that stay at home defenseman the Rangers have relied upon on their blue line since he joined the team in the 2007-08 season. Staal is physically strong on the puck with his reach and excellent positioning on the ice. Over the years, hockey has become more of a skating and speed game, not two of Staal’s strong skills. So, naturally, the question of if and for how long can Staal play has been an ongoing topic since the offseason.
Last season, Staal played in 72 games, averaging 19:11 of playing time per game. Not bad numbers at all, but his average time on the ice has declined over the last few seasons. The Rangers defense had an overhaul last season has the team bought out longtime Ranger Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein retired. Staal is now surrounded by new blueline teammates Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony DeAngelo.
Where does this long-time Rangers veteran fit in the team's new-look defense?https://t.co/xDfOLLKYi4
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) October 1, 2017
In a New York Post column by Brett Cyrgails, head coach Alain Vigneault said of Staal, “I thought he’s played well,” Vigneault has always been loyal to Staal over his career. Staal has battle many injuries including a very bad eye injury in 2013.
“I mean, he has been skating well, he’s been good in his 1-on-1’s,” Vigneault said. “The defending part of his game has always been there. I think he’s made some good decisions with the puck and I’m happy with the attitude he came with in camp and the work ethic he’s put forward.”
As the team prepares to head to Lake Placid for some team bonding and practice, the coaching staff will begin the process of where and how to use Staal in the lineup. It is believed that Staal and Anthony DeAngelo will begin as the third defensive pair as Nick Holden will be the man on the outside looking in, for now. The Rangers will give that pairing a look for the first few weeks of the season and see how they perform.
The team is looking to prevent the miscues of last year on the blueline. If Staal starts to struggle as Kevin Klein did last year, the coaching staff now has other options as in Nick Holden. Holden, a starting defenseman last season, finds himself as the number seven defenseman on the team. The Rangers also have other opportunities should this trio of players not work out.
Neal Pionk has an excellent training camp with the Rangers this year. Some believe one, that Pionk played better the Anthony Deangelo in camp, but the trade the team made to acquire DeAngelo was reason enough to keep him with the team for now. Another option is if the Rangers decide to make a trade, they can include Holden in a deal and the bring Pionk up as the seventh defenseman. Great options to have but for Staal, a constant reminder that there is always someone over his shoulder ready to jump on any opportunity they can get.
The final word on whether or not Staal will be a Ranger, in the long run, is, of course, his contract. Staal, 30, has four more years left on his contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.7 million. That comes out to $22.8 million the Rangers still owe him. The team discussed buying out his contract earlier this summer but decided to buy ou Girardi instead. It’s a lot of money to pay a 30-year-old defenseman who plays on the third line defense pairing.
His upside is his experience and his leadership. You can’t pay enough for either in this game. The man has man through a lot wearing his #18 Rangers jersey. The term warrior comes up often when his name is spoken, and they will need that attitude and strength to get through the vigorous season of the NHL.
I can tell you my loyalty and respect are with Marc Staal. I hope he continues to be a part of the organization and continues to find ways to help win hockey games for the Rangers.