RALEIGH, N.C. – The height of NHL trade deadline drama peaked in the Triangle as the Carolina Hurricanes announced that captain Eric Staal had been traded to the New York Rangers on Sunday.
It all happened in a flurry before the team took to the ice for warm-ups leading into its 3 p.m. game against the St. Louis Blues at PNC Arena.
Talking with the team’s beat reporters prior to the game at 12:45 p.m., head coach Bill Peters wasn’t sure that anything would happen.
“I’ve got my game card filled out as if everybody’s goin’,” Peters said.
“If anything happens between now and game time, it could, but I’ve got everybody in. The same guys who played against Boston, we’ll shuffle the deck a little bit, but the same guys.”
Not long after, social media reports began to circulate that a deal between the Hurricanes and Rangers was in the works.
As of 2:30 p.m. the team had released its official email indicating the details of what many consider a blockbuster trade.
Staal had been traded to the Rangers for prospect center Aleksi Saarela, a second-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and a second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
“Eric has been the face of this franchise for a long time, and we thank him for his dedication, leadership and many contributions on and off the ice over the years,” executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis said.
“We felt this was an important opportunity for us to continue our work in building an organization that can consistently compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
Saarela, 19, currently plays for Assat Pori of the Finnish elite league, SM-liiga, leading the team in goals (18) and ranking second in points (31) in 46 games played.
The Helsinki native won a gold medal alongside fellow Hurricanes prospect Sebastian Aho at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, totaling four goals and three assists (7 points) in seven games.
New York’s third-round selection (89th overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, Saarela has totaled 47 points (25g, 22a) in 156 games during parts of four seasons with Lukko Rauma and Assat Pori in Finland’s top league.
Staal, the Hurricanes’ first round pick (second overall) in the 2003 NHL Draft, leaves the Hurricanes as the team’s all-time leader during its North Carolina history (since 1997) in games played (909), goals (322), assists (453), points (775), hat tricks (13), penalty minutes (674), power-play goals (105), shorthanded goals (16) and game-winning goals (47).
He ranks second to only Francis in franchise history (since 1979) in goals, assists, points and power-play goals, ranks first in franchise history in shorthanded goals and hat tricks and third in games played.
He is the franchise’s all-time leader in playoff scoring (43 points), and led the team with 28 points (9g, 19a) during its 25-game run to the 2006 Stanley Cup championship.
He represented Carolina at four NHL All-Star Games, serving as captain of Team Staal at the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, and was named the 2008 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player in Atlanta.