Steve Staios was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Blues 20 years ago. Billed at the time as a tough defenseman with offensive potential -- he had 17 goals and 46 points in 66 games for Niagara Falls at age 17 -- he never played a game for the Blues.
After three years in the minors, Mike Keenan traded him and an AHL enforcer (Kevin Sawyer) to Boston for an older veteran (Stephen Leach) nearing the career twilight in which Staios now finds himself.
Late '90s NHL expansion was kind to Staios: Parts of two seasons with Boston led to a waiver claim by Vancouver, which led to an expansion draft claim by the Thrashers, which eventually led to some nice contracts with the Oilers. Time spent as both a winger and a defenseman led to a curious combo of appearances on Hockey-Reference's season leaderboards: 6th-most powerplay goals on-ice against (43) in 2008-09, 10th-most total goals against (100) in 2007-08, and tied for 7th-most shorthanded goals scored (3) in 2003-04, the year Shawn Bates led the league with six.
Injuries and age -- they so often walk hand in hand -- have brought Staios to this point as a training camp tryout. Does he have anything left to give?
It upset Flames fans and it hardly made sense for cap-stretched Daryl Sutter -- since fired -- to give up a third-round pick for Staios and his $2.7 million cap hit two trade deadlines (and two cap increases) ago. But that doesn't mean Staios had zero potential third-pairing life left in him. It's just that you want guys like that on the cheap, not at the cost of a pick and what's left of precious little cap space.
As so many offensive prospects have to do, Staios over his career adapted his game for NHL work by becoming the shot-blocking, penalty-killing, big-hitting, fights-and-trenchwork kind of player, including a big role on the Oilers team that ran to the finals in 2006. However, as Isles fans know all too well, that combination in an older player leads to injuries, and Staios played only 39 games (credited with 42 hits, 48 blocks) for the Flames last season, missing at least 25 on IR with a shoulder injury.
That left him in little demand this summer. It took until the eve of training camps for Staios to firm up his next step this summer, but this Hamilton Spectator piece sheds light on his decision-making process:
Several teams contacted him but most were interested in him taking a limited playing role, and wanted him to be more of a mentor for the younger players. One even said he could graduate to the coaching staff at the start of next season.
"I’m confident something will come up," he told The Hamilton Spectator on Thursday. "I’m not 100 per cent confident it’ll be a perfect fit. I’m not going to jump at just anything.
"It would have to feel right; it doesn’t have anything to do with money. The number one priority is getting the chance to play and the number two is an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup."
A training camp tryout seldom gets a serious crack at number one or two.
But with the Islanders taking it slow with post-surgery Andrew MacDonald, and Mark Katic going down with a shoulder injury (last report was a dislocation), a real opening for Staios to at least get ice time might just emerge this month. Certainly he's been brought in to ensure the younger prospects will have to prove it in camp if they want NHL work now -- and he could possibly be 7th/8th D-man insurance so that the Islanders don't have a developing blueline prospect spending extended time in the pressbox. He could also become the latest passenger on the nightly scapewagon.
Staios is known for his physicality (and some bad penalties) and leadership. His advanced Corsi-style stats were predictably old-man, third-pair-ish last year. It's always difficult sorting out how much is injuries and how much is plain old natural decline, but odds are one or both continue. If signed, it's tough to see him being a net positive contributor unless he's used strictly in an occasional fill-in role from the pressbox that keeps his body from further decline under the NHL grind.
The Islanders have been adding some low-risk veteran presence around the edges this summer, so Staios could end up being signed more for that purpose (if he's ready to be more mentor and less key cog).
Will he? Over the next few weeks the kids, and injuries, will let us know.