The Edmonton Oilers would doubtless like to rid themselves of Ben Eager’s contract. The recently waived forward is due $1.2 million next season ($1.1 million cap hit) and given his recent demotion to Oklahoma City, he’s not going to be worth that to the Oilers.
The Buffalo Sabres are in a similar position with Cody McCormick. The 29-year old cleared waivers earlier this year and currently has five points in 11 AHL games; he is owed $1.0 million next season ($1.2 million cap hit) and it’s a fair bet the Sabres don’t want to pay that.
Could those two unconnected paragraphs be the nucleus for a trade?
This is, as the title suggests, irresponsible speculation – there’s nothing more to this than the fact that both Buffalo and Edmonton have a similar problem, and that swapping problems in the hope that a new organization changes things is a time-honoured NHL tradition.
In a lot of ways, McCormick and Eager are similar players. Both have plus size, both play a physical game, both have concussion history, both have 300+ NHL games, both have difficulty generating offence, both find themselves playing for seven figures in the minors.
I wrote about McCormick back when Buffalo waived him in February, and while I wrote a lot there were basically two key paragraphs. The first was his game in a nutshell:
[T]he appeal of Cody McCormick is that at his best he has the size and pugilistic willingness of a model energy line player, but he can handle a regular shift and contribute in other areas, too. There are a lot of teams in the league that love exactly that combination.
Those “other areas” include an ability to shift to centre as needed – while a natural winger, McCormick’s best NHL campaigns have come in the middle (though his faceoff percentage leaves some room for improvement).
The second paragraph was the reason the Oilers should opt not to put in a claim (as indeed they ultimately decided):
It’s a choice between an internal candidate (VandeVelde) who wins faceoffs and kills penalties and an external candidate (McCormick) who plays a more robust physical game and has a longer track record of effective two-way play in the NHL. It’s a close call, but in the Oilers’ shoes I’d lean toward claiming McCormick except for his contract. McCormick is in the second year of a three-year, $3.6 million deal, and even with the reduction in his salary in year three (his cap hit stays at $1.2 million but his actual salary drops to $1.0 million) that’s a lot of money for a decent fourth-liner. Taking the dollars into account, the Oilers are better off sticking with VandeVelde.
If a bad contract (Eager) is going the other way, the objections to McCormick are significantly less. In a lot of ways, he’s an excellent reserve forward for a team like Edmonton – he’s big, physical, a reasonably able hockey player, can play both wing and centre (versatility which the Oilers could really use, as they have demonstrated this season), and it’s not a big deal if he sees a few games in the press box.
The question is whether Buffalo would be interested in making such a swap. Ben Eager has more marquee value than McCormick, owing to a Stanley Cup ring and the fact that he’s been suspended a few times. Buffalo has worked hard at building themselves into a tougher team with the additions of people like Steve Ott and John Scott; clearly it’s something they’re interested in doing and one wonders whether acquiring Eager (in exchange for a problem contract) might not appeal to that organization as well. It’s a tough question to answer from a distance, but given the team’s struggles (they are eight points out of the playoffs right now) the possibility of bringing in an energy guy like Eager in exchange for a bad contract could well tempt them.
Bottom line: all I’m suggesting here is a ‘change of scenery’ deal for two guys who have been effective NHL’ers in the past, and are being paid like NHL’ers to play in the minors. The move would be a low-risk one for both teams, and might just work out.
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