Sabres acquire Eric Staal, send Marcus Johansson to Wild

Kevyn Adams didn’t have to do too much homework on centre Eric Staal in completing his first trade as Buffalo Sabres general manager.

A former NHL player, Adams had plenty of firsthand insight on the 17-year veteran going back to their days as teammates with the 2006 Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes.

“Eric Staal has had a world-class career,” Adams said Wednesday, shortly after acquiring Staal in a trade that sent forward Marcus Johannson to the Minnesota Wild.

“There’s very few players in the league that just from what they’ve done on and off the ice command the respect and have the presence that an Eric Staal does,” he added. “I’ve seen that up close and personal. We added a phenomenal player and person that I’m very excited about.”

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Adams is a first-time general manager, in being hired from within the Sabres parent organization, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, after Jason Botterill was fired in June.

In taking over a team in the midst of a nine-year playoff drought, Adams addressed needs at centre and leadership in a deal in which both players waived their no-trade clauses.

Mixing things up

Both are in the final year of their contracts, with the cost-conscious Sabres saving $1.25 million US in space under the salary cap. Buffalo, however, takes on a 35-year-old Staal, who is six years older than Johansson.

“We’re getting a little bit younger. It’s a different look for our team,” Wild GM Bill Guerin said of a team that was eliminated by Vancouver in the preliminary round of the NHL’s expanded playoffs. Minnesota hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoff since reaching the conference final in 2003.

“We need to mix things up. We need to find a different pathway to success,” Guerin added. “We’re trying to build a better team, and sometimes you have to take some drastic measures.”

Johansson has a connection to newly hired Wild coach Dean Evason. He spent his first seven NHL seasons in Washington, where Evason served as an assistant coach.

Staal remains productive after finishing with 19 goals in 66 games, just missing out on his 12th career 20-goal season, which was shortened due to the coronavirus in March. He also had 28 assists.

Staal is sixth among active players with 436 goals and eighth with 1,021 points. He also won an Olympic gold medal (2010) and world championship gold medal (2017) representing Canada.

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In Buffalo, Staal can immediately step into the second-line centre job, behind captain Jack Eichel. Such a move would relieve the burden from Dylan Cozens of being rushed into role.

Cozens, Buffalo’s 2019 first-round draft pick, is projected to compete for a spot on Buffalo’s roster after completing his junior eligibility last year.

Johansson is a two-way forward who struggled finding a niche in his first season with Buffalo and finished with nine goals and 30 points in 60 games. He’s a 10-year veteran who was signed to a two-year, $9 million contract in July 2019.

Guerin projects Johansson to play centre, a position he briefly played in Buffalo before returning to the wing.

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