Eric and Marc Staal Spend First Christmas Together as Florida Panthers
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SUNRISE — When Eric Staal was on a professional tryout with the Florida Panthers in training camp, he bunked up with younger brother Marc and his family in their new house in Fort Lauderdale.
”It was good for me,” Marc said, “because when we got back from practice, my kids got to jump all over him and bug Uncle Eric instead of wearing me out. It was kind of a nice reprieve for me.”
That lasted a couple weeks into the season, but once Eric got a one-year contract from the Panthers, he moved out of Marc’s guest room and brought his family to town.
Eric Staal and his family now have a place of their own a few minutes away.
”The kids are in school and it has been great,’’ Eric Staal said. “This is a great place to be, the people have been terrific. It’s just different going to school in shorts and t-shirts and not snowsuits every day.”
The Panthers’ two Staal brothers live close to one another and, while some of their family is gathering in North Carolina where Jordan plays for the Hurricanes, they will spend their first Christmas as NHL teammates together near the beach.
Eric and Marc’s parents will join them as they drive over from their place in Naples.
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Due to the chill, this is not going to be a traditional South Florida Christmas but it is still better than the alternative.
”We get together as much as we can,” Eric Staal said. “It is nice being able to have family together and being able to be here for those three days is terrific. I have learned over the years when you get those days off, take a deep breath and relax. Because when we come back, it’s full force. I plan on having my feet up on the coach and enjoying my family.”
Eric and Marc Staal have been teamates once before in the NHL, ending the 2105-16 season together when Eric was traded from Carolina to the Rangers.
When that season ended, Marc stayed in New York and Eric ended up signing a new contract with the Minnesota Wild.
While the family has spent holidays and summers together over the years, in this one, Marc and Eric will not be doing much catching up.
”It has been nice driving to the rink with him, talking about the games or what’s coming up next at practice,’’ Marc said. “It has been a lot of fun having him around.”
As teammates with the Panthers, they have been able to stay very close.
That includes their families.
Eric Staal said one of the nicest parts of this situation in Sunrise has been how close his childen and Marc’s kids have gotten being able to spend a hockey season together.
Marc Staal agreed with that.
“It has been a lot of fun having them here,” Marc said. “It has kind of become normal in what used to be just seeing him every couple of months. It’s not that it wears off, but it was weird when it first started. It is great having our families together, having the cousins together all the time. That is really cool.”
Both players are in Florida on one-year contracts and the way this season is going, who knows what the future holds.
With the Panthers having major salary cap concerns, they have played much of this season only able to field 20 players on their active rosters.
That has meant the 38-year-old Eric Staal has had to play every night after not playing in the NHL last season.
With Sasha Barkov out for extended periods this month, the Panthers have had to shift things around and Eric has moved up from centering Florida’s fourth line to taking over its third.
The increased minutes and role have been mirrored in his production.
After not recording a single point in his first 16 games with the Panthers, Eric Staal has three goals and eight points in his past 12.
Eric Staal is averaging over 17 minutes a game in December after getting around 12 per night in October and November.
“Obviously things have gone a little different with all the injuries and movement in this first half so far,” Eric said when asked if he expected to play every single game with the Panthers since signing in October.
“Nonetheless, it has been a joy to be out there competing and playing with my brother every night. We will heal up as a team here on this break and hopefully we have a big second half as a team.
”Your playing time is out of your control, but you come here to work and compete every day. You want to perform. The coaches and management make the decisions. But if I did not expect to be in the lineup every night, I don’t think I would have made it in the league this long. That’s the right mindset to have. We have a lot of great players, a lot of talent. But we have had a lot of injuries and playing more has helped my games.
“You can play a productive game being on the fourth line, getting nine minutes but it’s still just nine minutes. I have been bumped up a little more and I feel my game has picked up and I feel more like my old self. When we get healthy, that will not only benefit myself but the team as well.’’
Marc Staal is probably playing more than was first expected when he agreed to his one-year deal with Florida in July — and Eric took Florida’s PTO offer on the same call from Bill Zito.
At the time, Florida still had MacKenzie Weegar on the team and the expectation was the Panthers would carry seven defensemen throughout the season with Staal likely rotating with the likes of Matt Kiersted or Lucas Carlsson as the team’s 6-7.
Florida’s cap restraints nixed that as well with the team only carrying six defensemen for much of the year.
Marc Staal has thus far played 35 games and is averaging 18:12— which is about a minute more than last season in Detroit but close to his average over the past six years with the Rangers and Red Wings.
He has moved throughout the lines, playing some nights on the third and some up top.
Marc Staal has played on all three lines in one game.
It has been that kind of year in Sunrise.
“It took about 10 or 15 games to adjust because we have a lot of new guys here myself included,” Marc said. “I think over the past month I have felt more comfortable out there and felt better about my own game and in trying to help this team in any way I can. I think I can continue to keep getting better as everyone in here can. We need to start stringing some wins together.”
Perhaps a winning streak will be under the tree today.
The Panthers certainly could use one.
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 51-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Dec. 30 at Carolina Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m.
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Enjoy the weather now boys, it may be your only year in town. Rumors are already starting to swirl that Marc will be moved at the deadline. However we feel about him, there are a shortage of large, left shot defenseman out there, and teams like to load up on the blue line for the stretch run. And obviously Eric is gone once our cap situation changes.
Merry Christmas to everyone at FHN