In a move that makes the Rangers bigger and stronger down the middle or on the wing, they acquired 6-4, 205-pound Eric Staal from the Hurricanes for two draft picks and a prospect Sunday.
Whether the first major deadline transaction by general manager Jeff Gorton, completed about 24 hours before Monday’s 3 p.m. cutoff, is the key to a Stanley Cup is yet to be determined, obviously. But at the very least, without surrendering a young roster player or a future No. 1 pick, Gorton embedded a top-shelf rental on a team with visions of another deep postseason run.
To acquire Staal, 31, in the final season of a seven-year, $57-million extension, the Rangers gave up second-round selections in 2016 and 2017 and Finnish forward Aleksi Saarela, a third-rounder last June.
Staal, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, will debut Monday night against the Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.
“We felt like he was one of the [best] if not the best available player on the market,” Gorton said on a conference call.
There is little doubt that Staal, who was the Hurricanes’ captain, wanted to come to New York, but he didn’t demand a trade to the Rangers, as was the case with Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis in 2014. Staal agreed to waive his no-trade clause specifically to join the Rangers and one of his younger brothers, Marc, 29, a defenseman. Eric played with another brother, Jordan, 27, for three seasons with the Hurricanes.
Carolina agreed to retain half of Staal’s salary, which is why the Rangers can fit him under the cap. “We had $900,000-plus of salary-cap space, which equates to a little more than half of Eric’s salary,” Gorton said.
Staal, a 12-year veteran, is having his least productive season statistically, with 10 goals and 23 assists in 63 games. He has 43 points in 43 playoff games but has not been in the postseason in seven years. He will wear No. 12, as he did during his entire career in Carolina.
“We’re looking at a player we think can be energized by this trade,” Gorton said.
Staal has 159 shots on goal this season, more than any Ranger, and his possession metrics are high. When he was on the ice, Carolina controlled the puck 57 percent of the time, one of the league’s better stats.
Staal also plays wing, giving Alain Vigneault some flexibility and another chip on the power play. Staal might begin by playing wing on one of the top two lines. If so, Jesper Fast could slide to a third line with Kevin Hayes and Viktor Stalberg while rookie Oscar Lindberg goes to the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass. Whenever Rick Nash (week-to-week, left leg) returns, the top nine will undergo another shuffle.
With Marek Hrivik being returned to Hartford after four games on the fourth line, the Rangers have about $630,000 in deadline cap space and one open roster spot, which is why Gorton said there’s “enough room to add a small-salaried player if we want to.” Even if that doesn’t happen, the Rangers targeted and landed the player they wanted.
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Born: Oct. 29, 1984, Thunder Bay, Ontario
Drafted: 2003, second overall, by Carolina
NHL experience: 12 years, all with Carolina
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent this summer
322 goals, 453 assists, 775 points in 909 regular-season games
19 goals, 24 assists, 43 points in 43 playoff games
Best season: 2005-06 — 45 goals, 55 assists, 100 points, when Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup
10 goals, 23 assists, 33 points in 63 games
Scored 70 or more points seven times
Represented Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics and in three World Cups
Will wear No. 12 with Rangers, as he did his entire career with Carolina
Has two younger brothers in NHL: Jordan with Hurricanes, Marc with Rangers