Irresponsible speculation: Cody McCormick for Ben Eager?

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.

McCormick

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.

Eager

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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  • Vaclav

    I don’t see it Jonathan. The minute they brought in Mike Brown (who’s signed through next season) they replaced Eager with a more effective player.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eager bought out this summer. $800K in actual dollars, $300K cap hit for next season, $400K for the following.

  • Ducey

    Eager is the better player. So is Brown.

    McCormick may play center but he is lousy at faceoffs (somewhere around 47 to 48%) and would not be of use on the PK.

    You just bring in another 5-8 minute a night guy who can’t even fight any more. It just gives the coach fewer options.

    At least Belanger can PK and win key faceoffs.

      • Ducey

        Eager 84 pts in 400 NHL games = .21 ppg
        McCormick 54 pts in 329 games = .16 ppg

        Not sure what part of that makes McCormick’s career numbers better.

        What evidence do you have that he is better in his own end?

        • They aren’t – I looked at them quickly and misread them.

          Defensively, Ben Eager has been on the ice this season for an average of 39 shots against per hour 5-on-5. McCormick’s been on the ice for an average of 22 shots against per hour. Looking back years, McCormick’s teams typically outshoot or break even with him on the ice; Eager’s teams only manage it if he starts two-thirds of his shift in the offensive zone.

  • Oilers21

    I don’t see it. If we want to rid ourselves of Eager’s salary, why take on virtually the same amount? And McCormick might play centre, but it’s not like he plays it particularly well. Unless it’s done so “management” can prove to the fans they can do something other than pick first overall, I don’t see the reason. It doesn’t improve the team one bit

  • RE: Why take him?

    Because Ben Eager has no value. He was offered free to everyone on the waiver wire; everyone said ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ McCormick is in the same situation. Neither guy is going to command so much as a conditional seventh round pick from any team in the league.

    The upside is that in the present McCormick can fill in for an injured player like Belanger, can offer the Oilers more flexibility to trade Belanger if they so desire, and is a much, much better fit as the 14th forward next year than Eager because he doesn’t need to supplant Brown for ice-time – he can play any position, the sort of utility you want from a 14th forward.

    The real question is whether Buffalo would do it – it’s a no-brainer for Edmonton.

    • Eddie Shore

      To me it seems more like a waste of paper then a beneficial transaction. I think that VV, Smyth can cover for Belanger this year and if we do trade him, then we find an actual replacement in the summer.

    • Phixieus666

      Ya I agree with you. What would be really nice is if Edm could work out a trade that sent two contracts to Buf and only one back. Maybe Plante for a 6 or 7th rounder. Something to help free up some contract space.

      I would pick the versatile player every time all other things being equal. And for those complaining. If this trade was made and he sucked as much as Eager what exactly would it change right now??? NOTHING

      Safe Gamble and maybe an opportunity to create more flexibility.

    • Ducey

      Those were exactly my thoughts as I was reading your article and found out he was a C. Wouldn’t Lander be the next best option, though? Belanger, in my opinion, should be traded to any available partner. I know Anaheim is rumored to be looking for a #2 C and Belanger clearly doesn’t fit the bill, but a shrewd GM should place calls in advance saying, “hey if you lose out on Morrow, Iginla, etc. we can give you a great deal on someone to help bolster your FO% (currently 25th)”…

      However, I think it is unfair to continue to play Smyth at center, or expect VandeVelde to play in the NHL and ice a competitive 4th line (not that they are doing it any ways). Everyone seems to be avoiding the issue with Smyth, I know he is not the same player but last year when he had a great start he played with good players in a natural position. Now, at an older age, being asked to play with Petrell and Brown, etc. on a 4th line at center, with greatly increased time bagging him on the PK, is not an easy task, even for a cagy veteran. In my opinion we can’t judge his potential value to this team based on these games. Has anyone analyzed how he’s played in the few games where (a) was playing winger, and (b) had decent linemates???

      As I digress, dealing for McCormick only makes sense if you plan on trading Belanger and having McCormick and Lander competing for 4th center. Otherwise, you are taking on 100,000 more cap hit. Also, having McCormick, Brown/Petrell, Smyth on a line also seems like cruel and unusual punishment for Smytty (but I suppose no worse than his current situation)…

  • oilerjed

    @ JW

    wouldnt a better idea have been to claim Adam Hall off waivers instead? Career plus FO% and bigger guy. I know we have contract issues, was there no way we could have had him? Then we have the option of trading belanger as well. No? I know its moot now but still curious on the oilers thought process.

  • vetinari

    Great title by the way– appreciated the honesty unlike some bloggers who post rumours “from reliable sources” that turn out to be their beer drinking buddy.

    On one level, I see the possibility of an Eager for McCormick swap, but on another, I see it as almost an apples-for-apples swap.

    The one distinguishing factor which would sway me is their injury history: Eager’s got more concussions on his record while McCormick seems to have an endless string of “upper body injuries” (source: tsn.ca, player profiles). Bones and muscles heal quickly but brains don’t– while Eager might have more offensive potential doing third or fourth line duty, McCormick gives you another potential faceoff man on the ice and more physicality. I’d say McCormick by a broken nose wins this race…

  • Dipstick

    Could someone please explain the buyout provisions in the new CBA? I thought that each team could buyout two contracts without the usual cap hit. If that were the case, then Eager, Belanger and Smyth might be in the conversation. I think that Horcoff is still much too valuable to buy out, even though that contract is bigger than the other three combined.

  • T__Bone88

    I see that Komisarek has been waived. Maybe Lowebellini can strike a deal if Komisarek passes waivers and trade Eager for Komisarek + the 4th rounder acquired in the brown trade.

  • Rob...

    I’d say it’s worth a shot. At worst, it’s showing veteran utility players that when they can’t find their game the organization is going to give them every opportunity to find it again, even if it means providing them with an opportunity with a different team.

    I like Eager’s energy. You do notice him when he’s on the ice and bringing his ‘A-‘ game. However, the statisticians say he hurts the team more than he helps, something that can’t be ignored as the team tries to fill the many holes around their young developing talent.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Rinse, recycle, repeat. It’s what this management group does with alarming regularity. Eagers contract isn’t a burden, especially when the Oilers are still paying Sheldon Souray more than that i’m sure to play for Anaheim now.

    You just can’t put a price in that kinda incompetence. How much more of Katz’s cash will Tambo flush down the shipper before Daryl finally grows a pair.

    Not big on Mcormick, he doesn’t appear to fight with the necessary rage or willigness to eliminate/injure his opponent.

  • 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.

    In other words, they both suck and a trade in all liklihood will just continue the pain for everybody. I understand the “change of scenery” argument, but guys who suck will suck wherever they go.

    The Oilers took a flyer on Eager. He didn’t pan out. We may as well eat the contract and get somebody who can actually contribute to where this team wants to go. Swapping a problem for a problem would not seem to be logical way to foster success.

    Our first step towards credibility will be to end the insanity of having these sorts of players on our team. Eager was a tanking “rebuilding” trade. At some point we have to start the “building”.

  • Minister D-

    I was hoping against hope that Eager’s demotion was at least partially a recognition that perhaps the Oilers don’t need this type of player, though the Brown trade dashed those hopes. Though I’d still rather have a warm body coming back than picks, if the Oilers trade for even more spare parts than they already have, I’ll scream. For heaven’s sake, can’t we find some actually useful players to play here?

  • RexLibris

    BTW, I love irresponsible speculation. Way more fun than reasonable expectations! 😉

    On another note, shipping out some prospect depth to clear up contracts, as mentioned above, sounds like a good idea to me (Plante for a 6th or 7th was suggested).

  • RexLibris

    I think there will be a fire sale in Buffalo, whether it is at the trade deadline or in the off-season. Darcy Regier will likely get canned and they will find a full-time coach in the off-season. The suggested Eager for McCormick deal is pretty meh to me but I am wondering about players like Steve Ott who might come available. Thinking bigger, I wonder if there is any tempation to move Tyler Myers? He had a good start in the NHL but he has struggled since. We always talk about letting other teams draft dmen and then swooping in when they grow frustrated with the growing pains. Just thinking aloud.

  • OilClog

    WHOA WHOA WHOA

    if we’re going to make articles up like this, could we not aim for something a wee little bit better. Cody McCormick is possibly an upgrade on VDV, that’s where it ends. Trading Eager for him is a loss for the Oilers, not trying to up and over defend Eager but his numbers, and “seen him good” are both superior to McCormick.

    If I’m talking trade with Buffalo, I’m trying to make some actual player moves here.

    Oilers get –
    Keleta, Stafford, McCormick

    Sabres get –
    Whitney, Jones, Eager, 3rd

    See what I’ve done Willis, I’ve irresponsibly speculated if I was GM what my starting point would be, go big or go home.

    I claim the Heavyweight title of making trades up.