WINNIPEG – In the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, center Eric Staal decided whatever was meant to be would happen and he’d adapt to either outcome — staying with the Wild or getting shipped to another team.
So instead of tracking the rumors on TV on Monday, he went to lunch with his wife, Tanya. After they were done, Staal was still with the Wild — for this season and beyond, after signing a two-year, $6.5 million extension to remain part of an evolving core.
“I am happy to stay,” he said. “This is a great organization, a great place to play hockey. I feel like I’ve fit in with this group and this fan base, and I’m ready to be here for the next two years.”
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Poised to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Staal said the new deal came together quickly Monday, which he expected it would. Like his current three-year, $10.5 million contract, this next one also includes a modified no-trade clause.
After seasons of 28 and 42 goals, Staal is on pace to eclipse the 20-goal mark again this season with 18. Although the players around him are getting younger, the 34-year-old doesn’t envision his role changing right now.
“I feel like [I am] still going to be counted on offensively and be a contributor regardless of who I am out there with,” he said. “It’s just try and be solid both ways and be able to produce.”
Newly acquired winger Kevin Fiala was still traveling to Winnipeg when the Wild took to the ice Tuesday morning for a walk-through, but Fiala arrived in time to make his team debut against the Jets a day after he was added in a trade that sent forward Mikael Granlund to the Predators.
“Granny’s a tough guy to lose,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But to get something good, you have to give up something good. … I’ve heard nothing but good things about [Fiala] as far as the skill set. His skill set is supposedly great. First-round pick [in 2014], so other people saw him in the same vein. He’ll get probably a better chance to prove his skill set here than he would in Nashville.”
Fiala started on the right side of winger Zach Parise and Luke Kunin, who moved to center. The 22-year-old Fiala was also expected to get a look on the power play, which will have to retool after losing a key cog in Granlund.
“Fiala’s going to play the half-wall where [Granlund] did, and we’ll see if the hype is true,” Boudreau said.
Although Kunin didn’t suit up at center much in college at Wisconsin, he played the position growing up.
“I’ll be moving more, more involved in all plays,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Defenseman Nick Seeler also drew back into the lineup after sitting out the previous three games. Anthony Bitetto was the Wild’s lone scratch.
Jetting off to Winnipeg
Veteran Matt Hendricks knew he was going to Winnipeg on Monday. He just didn’t know which team he’d be playing for once he got there.
The 37-year-old center had an idea he could be on the move, but it wasn’t until about 1:15 p.m. Monday that he was told not to fly with the Wild since Hendricks was getting traded for a 2020 seventh-round pick to rejoin the Jets after he spent last season with them.
“It’s a hungry organization that wants to win now,” Hendricks said. “I’m excited but fortunate at the same time to be a part of it.”
After getting confirmation of the deal, Hendricks made the drive from the Twin Cities to Winnipeg instead of hopping on an airplane.
“Throw the stuff in the pickup,” he said. “The roads are nice and clean. Quick jaunt.”
Although his time with the Wild was brief — Hendricks chipped in only two assists in 22 games after signing a one-year contract last summer — it was still a memorable stint for the Blaine native and St. Cloud State alum, who Boudreau called “a gem” and “my favorite player of all time.”
“It meant a ton,” Hendricks said. “Growing up a kid in Minnesota, a hockey player in Minnesota, it’s really all you think about it. It’s a big bubble, just hockey players. There were some great memories there for sure.”
Another late arrival
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon didn’t accompany the team to Winnipeg after he and his wife, Danielle, welcomed a new baby, Myer Elizabeth. Spurgeon traveled to Winnipeg on Tuesday and was in the lineup against the Jets.
Winger Pontus Aberg was back on the ice for the Wild after leaving Sunday’s game sick.
Center Victor Rask missed a seventh consecutive game because of what General Manager Paul Fenton called a lingering lower-body injury.
“We were hoping that it would get better by now,” Fenton said, “but it hasn’t.”