SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers signed Eric Staal to a one-year deal with $750,000 on Friday.
The 37-year-old forward joined the team on a professional try-out offer and impressed and earned a spot with the team.
Florida ran into a roadblock where they could not sign Staal after training camp ended due to salary cap restrictions but an injury to Aaron Ekblad opened up cap space when he was placed on long-term injured reserve.
“He had a really strong camp and, to his credit, I think he might have come into camp in the best shape of his life,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”There is so much to this man; character, leadership, the love of the game and the love of the idea of winning. I think it is great for a relatively young core here having a veteran guy like that, but it’s not just the veteran. It is who he is as a man, how he trains, how he competes, how he practices, how he chirps out there, how he is just wired right in. He just makes our organization better.”
It was a long road for the probable future Hall-of Famer to make his way back to the NHL.
After helping the Montreal Canadiens to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Staal did not receive an offer for an NHL contract in the 2021 offseason.
He took the early part of the season off before receiving an offer to play for Team Canada in the Olympics when NHL players were forced to pull out of the competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He had four points (one goal, three assists) in five games.
“After the Stanley Cup run in Montreal and the grind of that whole season with no fans all across Canada, it definitely paid a toll on the body and it took a while to get back,” Staal said.
”Having that extended time off and then doing the Olympics kind of refreshed the body and the mind.”
Staal had some history with his new Panthers coach, who happened to be the first coach he had in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maurice was not letting that history with him determine whether or not he made the team — despite Staal owning records for goals (322), assists (453) and points (775) at the time he left Carolina. Only Ron Francis bested those totals when accounting his numbers with the Hartford Whalers.
“There were no guarantees,” Maurice said.
“And it was not me telling Eric ‘I don’t know if there was a spot.’ He said ‘Listen, I am going to come in and go as hard as I can and if it’s not there, just tell me.’
”He is as honest as he is tall,” Maurice added on the 6-foot-4 forward.
”He is truly an easy man to work with because there is no agenda. He just wants to win and he wants to play here.”
Staal became a popular figure around the Panthers’ locker room over the course of his professional tryout offer. Enough so that when his teammates got word that his contract was sign, they erupted into cheers and stick taps when they found out the contract was done.
”He brings a lot,” Ryan Lomberg said.
”First and foremost, leadership and experience. He is a kind of guy who has been around for a while and he knows everything about everything so he is definitely a guy I’ll be picking his ear if I have any type of question and he is the type of leader that will more often than not have the right answer.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Streaming ONLY: ESPN+/Hulu
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Split four regular season games; Tampa won second-round playoff series 4-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 73-49-18, 10 ties