VOORHEES, N.J. – When your team is in complete rebuild mode with an emphasis on youth, it doesn’t hurt to add a veteran or two who can show the way.
For instance, someone like 36-year-old defenseman Mark Staal, who signed a one-year, $1.1-million free agent contract the other day to join the Flyers.
Many of his career stats are impressive but the one that jumps off the page is 128 Stanley Cup playoff games.
That sort of number commands instant respect.
And, if anyone is wondering whether an aging backliner has still got it, consider this: He was one of only four defensemen who played more than 20 minutes per game last postseason when he helped the Florida Panthers make it all the way to the Cup Final.
During a media Zoom call on Wednesday, Staal discussed why he chose to sign with the Flyers, why he believes it’s a good fit and how he’s looking forward to being reunited with coach John Tortorella, a relationship that goes back to their days together on the New York Rangers.
Ultimately, the Flyers – who have missed the postseason three straight seasons — are hoping Staal can show and tell a lot of the team’s youngsters what it takes to achieve the goal of making the playoffs.
“I think the mentality throughout the season is it’s extremely hard to get into the playoffs,” said Staal. “Nothing’s ever given to you. You have to work at your game in order to get there. I think once you’re there, everything just becomes tighter – checking, defense and details. All that stuff is just magnified.
“The team that does it over and over again usually wins. Just that message of team accountability, how you play the systems and how you approach playing defense, all that stuff builds as you go. It’s hard but it’s the best. You play 82 games in the regular season to be able to skate out there in round one. That’s why you play hockey.
“So the work starts right now to try to get into the dance. Hard work is the biggest thing.”
The Thunder Bay, Ontario native believes his experience can help the process, which factored into his thinking when he signed with the Flyers.
Tortorella coached the Rangers for four-plus seasons and took the Blueshirts to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011-12.
“We’ve had a good relationship,” Staal said. “We’ve kept in touch a little bit over the years. I have a lot of respect for him and how he coaches, the accountability he has and how he wants the game to be played.
“Just being an extension of that in the (locker) room and the expectations he has – there are a lot of parallels there. If I can be an extension of that and help out the younger guys. . .I’m sure I’ll be able to do that.”
Staal has played a lot of games versus the Flyers and respects what they’ve accomplished over the years.
“I’ve competed against the Flyers for a lot of years,” he said. “Everyone who’s played there has always spoken highly of the organization.
“The opportunity to compete and play again, it just seemed right. It wasn’t a very hard decision, the feeling was mutual. It came together pretty quick.”
With Ivan Provorov traded and Tony DeAngelo all but out the door due to a speculated trade-to-be with Carolina, the Flyers’ defense corps can use a guy like Staal.
“Be an example for the guys of how to approach day-to-day life of being in the NHL,” Staal said. “They have a lot of guys who has experience already. I think the biggest things for a veteran who’s played a long time, come to the rink and put the work in. Just show that example everyday.”
While in New York, Staal played alongside Hall of Famers such as Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. Now Staal gets a chance to pay it forward.
“Leaning on older guys with questions about a variety of things that go on is nice to have around,” Staal said. “Just watching those guys, they had a lot of experience. They knew what it took to stay in the league. Just having them around the room is always a big bonus.
“If I can provide that for some of these guys and helping stick around the NHL, I look forward to doing that. And lending as much help as I can.”
Staal has played in 1,101 NHL regular-season games over 16 seasons. As for leadership skills, he has served as an assistant captain on teams for 10 seasons.
The unexpected run to the Cup Final was one for the Staal family scrapbook. The Panthers upset Boston, Toronto and Carolina before falling to Vegas in the championship series.
“It was awesome,” Staal said. “I didn’t know what to expect going in. Kind of like what it’s going to be like this year. I just wanted to go in playing a role, competing everyday and carving out a nice spot with Brandon Montour. Played a lot of minutes.
“It was ton of fun to be on a run like that.”