Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marc Staal: A Greek Tragedy

By February of 2011, the Staal family were royalty in the NHL. Oldest brother Eric was a perennial All Star forward who led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup behind his 100 point season as well as the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, younger brother Jordan, a Calder Trophy Finalist in 2007, had already competed in two Stanley Cup Finals for the Pittsburgh Penguins winning it all in 2009. And finally, defenseman Marc Staal was on the rise after helping bring the Rangers back from irrelevance and appearing in his first All Star game a month earlier.

But it all came crashing down on the night of February 22, 2011.

Before we can exam the repercussions of that night, we must first go back to where it all started.

On draft day in 2005, Glen Sather and the Rangers organization felt they had drafted the next Brian Leetch.


A smooth skating defenseman out of Sudbury with size and offensive ability, Marc had the look and pedigree of a future great.

And his career got off to a fast start, as, in his rookie season, he was nominated to the Young Guns Game during All Star weekend and scored a pivotal goal in his first playoff series against the Devils that spring.

As he became more and more comfortable in the NHL, his coaches gave him additional responsibilities culminating with a spot on the left side of the Rangers first defensive pair alongside Dan Girardi.

His battles with Alex Ovechkin were the stuff of legends and he could effortlessly go coast-to-coast on you at a moment's notice.

Marc was rewarded with a rich 5-year, $19.875 million extension in September of 2010 followed by being named Rangers alternate captain just a month later at the fresh, young age of 23.

Then came the pinnacle of Marc's young budding career. On January 30, 2011, he joined Eric on the Eastern Conference All Star Team. He was officially one of the top defensemen in the NHL.

Two Stanley Cups. Numerous personal achievements and team successes including a 2010 Olympic gold medal for Eric. And now All Star teammates. The Staals were on top of the hockey world and Marc was about to shoot off into orbit.

But that all ended on that fateful February night in Carolina:

While the affects of the hit were not immediate as Marc was able to play out the remainder of the 2010-11 season, the downward spiral of the Staal legacy had been set in motion.

Marc was forced to miss the first half of the following season due to post concussion syndrome resulting from the misguided hit. While Eric was suffering through another playoffless season in Carolina.

Against all odds, Marc triumphantly returned to the lineup for the Rangers appearance in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2012. And he put an exclamation mark on his fairytale come back with one of the biggest goals in Rangers playoff history on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

During the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Staal was better than ever as he posted 11 points in the first 21 games. But tragedy would hit Marc once again.

Not only did Marc miss the remainder of the season as well as 11 of the Rangers 12 playoff games due to the gruesome eye injury, there were questions of whether he'd ever regain full sight in his right eye.

Meanwhile, Jordan, who was coming off two straight one and done playoff series in Pittsburgh, joined Eric in Carolina, but couldn't stop the Hurricanes from missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Back in New York, Marc began another renaissance during the 2013-14 season as he was able to regain enough vision in his eye to help lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1994 playing alongside Corsi hero Anton Stralman on the second defensive pair.

After two more playoffless seasons with Jordan in Carolina and his scoring on the decline, Eric forced a trade to Marc's Rangers which resulted in more disappointment for the Staal family as the Blueshirts were unceremoniously bounced in the first round by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion and ironically Jordan's former team the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After producing just six points in 25 games with the Rangers including zero in the five game series vs. the Pens, Eric was not brought back to Broadway and signed with the Wild this past offseason.

Marc has remained a serviceable defenseman for the Rangers the last three seasons, but he has never regained the All Star form he displayed before Eric altered the tragectory of his career.

Meanwhile, in a cruel coincidence, after piling up postseason victories early in their careers, neither Eric (karma is a bitch) nor Jordan have experienced a playoff series win since "The Hit" in Carolina almost six years ago.

And as if all that wasn't enough, yesterday, Larry Brooks at the New York Post reported that Marc is now out indefinitely with post concussion symptoms after sitting out the last two games with what the Rangers called an upper body injury. This is Staal's third concussion since 2011.

Can't miss kid on track for stardom derailed by older brother resulting in family misfortune? If that's not a Greek tragedy, I don't know what is.

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