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Forward thinking: Wild acquire Marcus Johansson from Sabres, send Eric Staal to Buffalo

NHL: Minnesota Wild at New York Rangers
Nov 25, 2019; New York, NY, USA; Minnesota Wild center Eric Staal (12) looks to pass against the New York Rangers during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

One day after making sure Jonas Brodin stayed in Minnesota by signing the defenseman to a seven-year contract extension, Wild general manager Bill Guerin made a surprise move by dealing center Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres for forward Marcus Johansson.
Both players have partial no-trade clauses but neither had their new team blocked, according to Michael Russo of The Athletic. Both players will be entering the final season of their contracts, although Johansson (29) is six years younger than Staal (35).


Johansson, signed as a free agent by Buffalo in July 2019, had only nine goals and 21 assists and was a minus-12 in 60 games last season. The Sabres signed him hoping he could play center, but he did not thrive in that role. The Wild are in need of centers, which made it surprising that Guerin would deal Staal for a guy who might be better off at wing. Guerin also made a trade last weekend with Pittsburgh to acquire Nick Bjugstad, who also has played center and wing.
“I see him as a center,” Guerin said. “The thing that I like about him, and a lot like Nick Bjugstad, is that both players have the ability to play center and wing and to me that’s valuable. We have him slated in as a center. That’s where he likes to play and we’ll see how he does. But I’m confident that he’ll do well there.”
Johansson spent his first seven seasons with Washington and had a career-high 24 goals and 58 points in 2016-17. He also spent time with the Devils and Bruins before joining the Sabres. In the playoffs last season, Johansson had four goals and seven assists in 22 games with Boston.
“I like the play-making ability,” Guerin said of Johansson. “I love him on the power play. I remember him very well from his days in Washington when I was in Pittsburgh (as an assistant general manager). I always admired his skill set and the things that he was able to do on the power play with that talented group of guys.”
Staal had 19 goals and 28 assists and was a minus-9 in 66 games with the Wild last season. Signed as  a free agent by Minnesota in 2016 after a brief stint with the Rangers, Staal had 42 goals in 2017-18. He played four seasons for the Wild, scoring 111 goals with 129 assists in 311 games.
Johansson will be entering the second season of a $9 million contract that will have a base salary of $4 million in 2020-21 with a $4.5 million cap hit. Staal will be due $3 million next season and carry a $3.25 million salary-cap hit.