It's rather unusual to see a National Hockey League franchise even consider trading their leading goal scorer but the 2018 - 2019 National Hockey League regular season may have exactly that in store for us.
The Minnesota Wild took a big gamble when they signed veteran forward Eric Stall to a three year deal worth $10.5 million back in the summer of 2016 but the move was arguably one of general manager Chuck Fletcher's very best. The 33 year old center is coming off of two outstanding seasons with the Wild, the first in 2016 - 2017 when he recorded 28 goals and 37 assists for a total of 65 points on the season. Staal looked rejuvanated that season after some dreddful moments in Carolina but he showed even better form in this most recent season.
Staal was the Wild's leading scorer last season and was one of the top goal scorers in the entire National Hockey League only behind players like Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Winnipeg Jets superstar Patrik Laine and Las Vegas Golden Knights breakout sensation William Karlsson. All in all Stall would go on to record 42 goals and 34 assists for a whopping 76 points over the course of the full 82 game season, a performance that put his name back on the map when it comes to the elite centers in the National Hockey League.
It's perhaps that performance though that may leave the Wild and newly appointed general manager Paul Fenton with some tough decisions to make over the course of the season. According to Minnesota Wild insider Mike Russo the Wild's new general manager wants the opportunity to scout his current roster and figure out which players fit into his future plans and how they fit into them as well, that includes Eric Staal. Russo also believes that a slow start could result in the Wild having one of the hottest trade commodities on the market next season.
So that leads me to believe Fenton wants to get his own eyes on both Staal and the team to make sure neither regresses. As you said, Staal very well could be the “kingpin” to any significant move Fenton may or may not make. If the team falls back and looks at the trade deadline that it won’t make the playoffs, Staal, in the final year of his contract, is absolutely trade bait to a contender.
Russo believes that in spite of the fact that he is currently 34 years old Staal could still command upwards of $5 million per season on a multi year deal after his dominant performance last season and that may scare Fenton off. Investing big money into aging players rarely pays off and this is something that Fenton will be acutely aware of thanks to his vast experience as an NHL executive, and that could make Eric Staal very expendable in his eyes in spite of how important he was to the Wild last season.
There's been some speculation that Staal would consider taking a hometown discount to remain with the Wild but that won't matter if Fenton doesn't see Staal as part of the Wild's future.