It was a season in which no one expected Staal to replicate what he did in 2017-18, where he scored 42 goals and 76 points. It was also a season in which Staal entered the final year of his contract and his future in Minnesota was up in the air.
The season was rocky for Staal, as he experienced ups and downs, and he even later admitted that he was affected by his expiring contract. A lot of the same chances Staal was burying in 2017-18 were being missed in 2018-19. And at times, you could see the frustration from the 34-year-old center.
Leading up to the trade deadline, there was speculation that the Wild could move Staal as the team was treading water in a tight Western Conference playoff chase. There was a 12-game goal scoring drought in the month prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline, a result of Staal not being able to bury those same chances he did the year previous.
If you look closely, Staal was not generating as many chances right in front of the net but he was getting more chances in the high danger area.
Still, Staal could not seemingly convert on his great chances as he did a year ago, and it led to a 20-goal dropoff. Expecting Staal to net 42 goals again was far-fetched, but that much of a dropoff was seemingly not expected.
At the trade deadline, Staal had generated interest around the league on his expiring contract despite his dropoff in production from a year ago. He was still performing well for his age, and the Wild were seemingly poised to cash in on a deadline deal as the team was sliding down the standings.
A potential deal with Boston for a reported first-round pick and a player fell through as Staal expressed his desire to remain in Minnesota. General manager Paul Fenton did not pull the trigger on the trade, and immediately following the deadline signed the center to a two-year extension worth $6.5 million.
The extension and lack of trade were called into question, but with the Wild razor thin at the center position the deal made sense to give Fenton some time to figure out the future at the position with Mikko Koivu on an expiring contract at the age of 36 in 2019-20.
As mentioned above, Staal still finished the season as one of the best in terms of production for his age. Taking forwards aged 34 or above in the league in 2018-19, Staal finished fourth in points scored just trailing Joe Pavelski, teammate Zach Parise, and Justin Williams.
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With Koivu coming off a knee injury and Joel Eriksson Ek still needing to prove himself at center, the Wild hanging on to Staal for the next two seasons gives them some stability at the top. He could decrease in production over the next two years — which is likely — for his age 35 and 36 seasons, but he re-upped on a very cap friendly contract to allow for some wiggle room to make other moves.
The feeling left with Staal’s season was perhaps disappointing, but all in all, not a bad season given his age. It just now remains to be seen how he can fare in the two-years for which he was given an extension.