New York Islanders GM Garth Snow had one major piece of business to take care of this off-season: landing a high-skill winger to play alongside captain John Tavares. Snow can go ahead and cross that off of his to-do list, though, as he’s gone out and completed a deal to bring Jordan Eberle to Brooklyn.
Eberle is exactly the type of player Snow has been looking to land, too. It was evident this past season that the departure of Kyle Okposo impacted the offense in a way that Snow didn’t believe it would, and no player suffered more from the loss of Okposo than Tavares. While the Islanders’ superstar center still managed a healthy 28 goals and 66 points, it was his lowest point total in any season where he had played at least 70 games. Prior to 2016-17, the last time Tavares had failed to his the 70-point plateau was when he put up 66 points in 59 games during the 2013-14 campaign.
It’s not that the Islanders hadn’t tried to find fits within their roster to play with Tavares. Andrew Ladd was brought in during the summer at a price befitting a top-line triggerman, but he failed to fit in with Tavares early on and most of Tavares’ time this past season was spent playing with Josh Bailey and Anders Lee. And while it’s nothing against either Bailey or Lee, both of whom have scoring talent, neither are really all that comparable to Eberle, who is an incredibly skilled puck handler and playmaker.
That Eberle, 27, was the Islanders’ target is far from surprising given his consistent scoring ability. Many considered him the top option to land in New York. Over the course of his career, Eberle has been as consistent as goal scorers come, putting up 20 goals in all but two of his seven seasons — he narrowly missed the mark in his rookie campaign and in the lockout-shortened season — and he’s a near lock to put up at least 50 points. The best-case scenario for the Islanders, however, would be for Eberle to replicate his sophomore season. Back in 2011-12, Eberle was exceptional, posting 34 goals and 76 points in 78 games. Playing alongside someone who can set the table as well as Tavares, there’s a realistic chance for Eberle to get back into that 30-goal range with the Islanders.
But the reason for acquiring Eberle goes beyond simply producing as Tavares’ regular linemate. One area of concern for the Islanders this past season was the power play, which ranked 28th in the league at 14.9 percent. Eberle has shown prowess with the extra man over his career, and in the past four seasons alone has potted 24 goals and 66 points on the power play. His creativity with the puck could make him a major asset for the Islanders’ power play.
It’s a good trade for Eberle, too, who appeared to be in need of a fresh start. During the post-season, Eberle slipped down the Oilers’ lineup and finished the post-season, the first of his career, without a single goal to his name. He managed two assists, but more was expected of Eberle, which led to trade rumors and speculation about his future. This isn’t even to mention that his ice time had slipped in each of the past three seasons, with Eberle moving from the top line to top six and finally into the middle of the rotation for the Oilers. But Thursday’s deal gives Eberle the chance to start anew in New York.
As far as the deal is concerned, it’s not as if acquiring Eberle cost the Islanders all that much, either.
Going the other way was 23-year-old Ryan Strome, a winger who entered the league with great promise and potential but has never been able to fulfill it in New York. Few would suggest Strome doesn’t have the raw talent to make it in the NHL, but after a breakout season in 2014-15, Strome came back down to earth and his past two seasons have seen him remain in the Islanders bottom six without much indication he was moving up the depth chart in the near future. In that sense, the deal also offers Strome a fresh start in Edmonton, one that will come with the chance to be part of a team on the rise and potentially find a fit alongside other high-skill players on a promising Oilers squad.
As much as landing Strome made the deal work, though, the trade was also about cap space for Edmonton. In the exchange, the Oilers free up $3.5 million in cap space — Eberle earned $6 million per season, while Strome comes back the other way at $2.5 million for one more year — this coming season. The space is important for the Oilers, too, as Edmonton has to sign Leon Draisaitl before the upcoming season and Connor McDavid will be up for a contract extension come July 1. Both deals could exceed $6 million per season, and freeing up the additional cap space gives the Oilers nearly $24 million to work with this summer. That’s exactly what Edmonton needed.
In that sense, regardless of what Strome produces in Edmonton, this looks to be a deal that can work for both sides. The Oilers needed the cap space to keep their core together well into the future, while the Islanders needed to add to their core with a talented winger who can play alongside their captain, an undeniable star they’re hoping to keep long-term and build a perennial contender around. They’ve done that by acquiring Eberle, and it could be just the thing that helps push the Islanders forward.
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