Tenured Ranger Marc Staal greeted warmly upon MSG return

Marc Staal
NHLI via Getty Images

Marc Staal, a staple of the Rangers’ new century success, returned to MSG for the first time as an opponent on Thursday night.

Marc Staal appeared in his 893rd NHL regular season game involving the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. It was, however, his first without wearing a single shade of blue.

Following in the footsteps of names like Boston Bruin Brian Leetch, Staal became the latest long-tenured Ranger to face the Blueshirts as an opponent, doing so in the Detroit Red Wings’ visit to MSG. Staal played just over 17 minutes in the Red Wings’ 3-2 victory earned via shootout.

The Rangers honored Staal with a video tribute during first period action of Thursday’s game, affording fans an opportunity to thank the defenseman for his years of service. Staal was traded to Detroit in September 2020 for cash consideration and rejoined the team on a one-year extension last summer. Scheduling issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic made Thursday his first appearance at MSG since March 7, 2020.

In a report from Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, Staal remarked that it was “strange” to enter MSG as a visitor but nonetheless looked back fondly at his time in blue.

“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been back here. It’s different coming in as a visitor, for sure. But such a great building, a lot of great memories here. It’s really fun to be back,” Staal said. “We had a lot of playoff wins in this building, a lot of big games, great memories that way. I played for a lot of good teams here and the energy in this city around this place, around that time of year, is pretty awesome. I was lucky enough to be part of really great hockey teams playing here.”

New York hockey was all Staal knew for his first 13 NHL seasons. He was the Rangers’ first draft pick after the lost 2004-05 season, chosen 12th overall out of Sudbury of the OHL. The second of four brothers to reach the league (following Eric and preceding Jordan and Jared), Staal was a staple of the Rangers’ new century success after making his league debut in 2007. He appeared in the NHL All-Star Game in 2011 (affording him a rare chance to play with Eric, a captain of the Raleigh-hosted event), one year after head coach John Tortorella made Staal an alternate captain at 23 years old.

Only five Rangers (Harry Howell, Brian Leetch, Rod Gilbert, Ron Greschner, Walt Tkaczuk) have played in more regular season contests in blue than Staal, whose 107 playoff games with the diagonal nickname on his chest rank second in the team’s skater history behind former teammate Dan Girardi. In Rangers lore, Staal is perhaps best known for his overtime goal in Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, which gave the Rangers a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals.

Staal has reassumed a leadership role in Detroit (23-22-6), granted an “A” shortly after his re-signing. Though the Red Wings will need some help to jump into the Eastern Conference’s eight-team playoff set (currently six points behind Boston for the final wild card though the Bruins have three games in hand), many have noted that Staal has been a part of Detroit’s progressive rebuild that many believe is ahead of schedule. The 35-year-old currently ranks second on the team in plus/minus at plus-10, behind Tyler Bertuzzi (plus-12).

“Staalsie has brought a lot. “He’s brought great leadership, he’s a guy who comes every day to work, (even on) days he doesn’t feel great, he still practices hard,” Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said of Staal this week per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. “Whether he’s injured a little bit or not, he wants to be out there. He’s got a good way about him as a person. Guys can kind of rally around him, so he’s brought good leadership and experience, and he’s also brought good play, still. He’s a big man who thinks the game well, and he’s still, in my mind, a real good defenseman. He’s been a really good addition for us, and I can see where, in his prime here in New York, he would have been a hell of a defenseman for these guys. I know he was. There was a lot of success around this team when he was here.”

Blashill has been particularly impressed at the impact Staal has had on budding defensive star Mortiz Seider. The sixth overall pick of the 2019 draft has been frequently paired with Staal and picked up his 30th assist of the season on Dylan Larkin’s goal in the second period.

“There’s no doubt for Moritz to see guys like him and their approach and professionalism, and just also how calm they are. How calm they are in certain situations,” Blashill said, per St. James. “To me, that’s an important piece of it as well. I think he’s definitely had a positive impact on Moritz.”

Staal and the Red Wings will return to MSG for a rematch on March 30. In the meantime, the Rangers (31-13-5) return to action on Sunday late afternoon when they hit the road to battle the Ottawa Senators (5 p.m. ET, MSG).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags