Roughly 20 hours after being traded to the New York Rangers, Eric Staal was on the ice in New York, in a new sweater, preparing for his first game with his new team.
Staal went to PNC Arena on Sunday not entirely sure what the day would hold for him. He knew there was a good possibility of a trade, that he and his agent had given general manager Ron Francis a list of teams to whom he would agree to be traded.
“I knew there was a chance it could be happening,” Staal said Monday at a New York press conference. “I went through my day regularly like I was playing in the game. I went to the rink and started preparing for the game. My name was on the (lineup) card that I would play.”
That changed quickly. Francis found Staal and delivered the news. The deal was done.
“I said some goodbyes, grabbed my stuff and came (to New York),” Staal said.
Just like that, Eric Staal’s time with the Canes ended. Brother Jordan Staal was left behind, predictably playing in somewhat of a daze as the Canes lost to the St. Louis Blues 5-2.
In New York, Staal was greeted by another younger brother, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. The Staals will be in the Rangers’ lineup Monday night as New York hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s bittersweet when you’re leaving a lot of people you care about, when you’re leaving a lot of things that mean a lot to me,” Eric Staal said. “But the opportunity to be on a great team, to play with Marc is too good to pass up. This is where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be.”
Staal, 31, won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Canes and helped them reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. He’s the Hurricanes’ franchise leader in nearly every category that matters.
But the past six years have been a struggle, as Carolina missed the playoffs each season. In 2011, the Canes needed only to win their last regular-season game to reach postseason, but fell flat.
“When you miss the playoffs six years and you’re the leader and the captain, it’s tough,” he said. “There were a lot of trying times. For a lot of different reasons it just didn’t happen the way you envisioned.
“For me it was time for this opportunity and this chance. I’m just looking forward to getting on the ice and playing my game.”
Staal said his preference was to play center but not he was comfortable at either center or the wing. The Canes had him on the wing in some recent games, perhaps showcasing him at that position with an eye on potential trade partners.
“I just want to fit and help this team win,” Staal said. “I feel like I’m still a young guy.”
Staal will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, available to the highest bidder unless re-signed by the Rangers, but said his focus for now was on winning games and looking to the postseason.
“That other stuff we’ll worry about later,” he said.
Staal said explaining the trade Sunday to his three young sons was interesting.
“My four-year-old kept telling me he didn’t want me to move away,” Staal said, smiling. “I said, ‘I’m not leaving without you, don’t worry.’”
Staal said his family probably would be with him for a few days before returning to Raleigh.
“We’ll all figure it out,” he said.