Tbnewswatch Sports
2011-08-31 at 10:30AM

At home with Rangers

New York Rangers defenceman and Thunder Bay native Marc Staal.
Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
New York Rangers defenceman and Thunder Bay native Marc Staal.
By Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
Marc Staal is getting a little more and more involved with the New York Rangers offence each season.

But no one will ever mistake the Thunder Bay native for Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey anytime soon. He’s quite happy to leave the scoring to his teammates while he protects the defensive side of things, chipping in his seven or eight goals a year.

Luckily Staal calls Madison Square Gardens home, a rink whose owners don’t mind spending a little cash to bring in top free agents as the Rangers seek their first Stanley Cup since Mark Messier’s heyday in 1994.

This summer it was playmaker Brad Richards’s turn to back the armoured car to the Rangers door. Staal couldn’t be happier to have the Prince Edward Island native in a Rangers uniform.

“He was a big acquisition for us. He’s a talented player. He’s going to be a good centreman for us. He brings leadership and we’re excited to have him,” Staal said.

Staal scored seven goals and added a career-high 22 assists in 77 games for a Rangers squad that ultimately got bounced five games into an aborted playoff run against the high-powered Washington Capitals, after making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, courtesy of a loss by big brother Eric’s Carolina Hurricanes.

The expectations, as always, are high in New York, where baseball’s Yankees are perennial contenders, the Jets and Giants have fans thinking Super Bowl and even the NBA Knicks are starting to revive from a decade-long trip to sub-mediocrity.

It’s not fazing Staal in the least, after a summer that saw him end his bachelor days. He’s got a different ring in mind now, one his brothers Eric and Jordan already sport after Stanley Cup wins in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

“I think that every year that we’ve improved. We’ve got a good group of young guys. Every year in training camp there’s an optimism about the coming year. We’re always excited and this year’s no different,” Staal said.

“We definitely (are looking forward) to the opportunity and the challenge of trying to win the Stanley Cup, and hopefully we can do it.”

The frenzy of trying to plan a wedding aside, it’s been a much more relaxing summer for the soon-to-be fifth-year veteran.

A year ago he and the Rangers were involved in a protracted contract dispute, leading many hockey insiders to suggest Staal might be on his way out of the Big Apple. Instead he inked a five-year deal to stay in New York, at an average of $3.975 million a season, making him the highest-paid Rangers blue-liner, the sixth-highest paid player on the team.

“It’s a little less stressful this summer, obviously, than last summer,” he said. “It’s nice to go into New York and have everything settled in before the season starts and not have that mad dash to get it done before the season like last year,” he said.

Though the consummate team player, who sacrifices body and soul to keep the opposition forwards at bay and out of goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s personal space, Staal does, from time to time, reflect on improvements to his own game.

Though Orr and Coffey’s records are likely safe for now, Staal did say he’d like to start emulating their style of play a little bit more as he moves into the next phase of his NHL career.

“Offensively I think I’d like to improve and contribute more there, and we’ll try to do that again.”

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