The drawback to trading Jordan Eberle is that once he’s gone
your team doesn’t have Jordan Eberle anymore. Specifically, you don’t have a
right-shooting, elite level offensive right winger who can play with the
talented young Connor McDavid. He won’t be easy to replace, but neither will
any of the $6 million dollar men. Taylor Halls and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins don’t grow
on trees either. That said, there isn’t a replacement for them about to enter
free agency either.
There happens to be an offensively minded right-shooting
right winger with a history of playing with an elite centerman who is going to
be an unrestricted free agent this July in Kyle Okposo. There’s still time for
New York Islanders GM Garth Snow to come to a deal with his 2nd
leading scorer, but when he appears on radio then says things like this:
“We’re just in a situation with the salary cap that you
really have to analyze where you are today and where you’re going to be five
years from now,” Snow said. “There’s always tough decisions. We’re
not the only team that has tough decisions to make and potentially could lose
free agents on July 1.
“Kyle is a great person and has been a terrific player
for this organization. I wish him nothing but the best.”
Well, those words don’t strike a lot of confidence in the prospect
of resigning the pending free agent. There’s more than enough time for a sudden
change of heart, but wishing someone nothing but the best sure feels like there’s
a parting of ways about to happen.
Okposo might be the kind of player that could make an Eberle
trade palatable. In the list of scoring righties, he shows up early. NHL scoring
from 2012 to 2016 Eberle ranks seventh among RWs with 212 points in 278
games. Okposo is 9th with 208 points in 258 games. Over that same
timespan Eberle is 37th among NHL forwards with 1.98 Points per 60
minutes. Okposo is 26th with 2.08 Points per 60 minutes.
These are comparable players when it comes to offensive
production. We know that Eberle has played with the best linemates Edmonton has
had available since he joined the club. He can play with talent like Hall and
McDavid and he gels well with them. Okposo has been playing with John Tavares
for years. He knows how to play with elite thinkers in the game as well.
Okposo isn’t just an Eberle replacement. I think to many
Oiler fans he might be an Eberle improvement. In addition to the points, he
plays a much more physical game, and at 6′ feet and 217 pounds he also brings a
heaviness that Eberle does not. That’s something that Oiler GM Peter Chiarelli
might also be looking for as he quests to make Edmonton a heavier club.
With things like hits as a proxy for grittiness (which we
know isn’t perfect at all) we can see that Okposo has 50% more hits than Eberle
over the last four years. The Islander forward has 258 hits to Eberle’s 172. PIM’s show a similar story when it comes to a willingness to mix it up. He’s a comparable scorer with a much more noted physical edge.
The draw back to a player like Okposo is that as a UFA he’s
already 28-years old and looking to maximize his next contract. I think he’ll
sign in the $6 million dollar range but it’s really hard to pin down his asking
price. With the Cap not moving and a lot of teams in dire straights, there’s a
chance we are over-valuing players like Okposo, but I think he’s earned his
pay. The one thing the Oilers have that nobody else in the NHL does, is Connor
McDavid. He’s the draw. He’s the carrot (and a massive pay increase) that the
Oilers dangle to anyone.
Trading Jordan Eberle for a defenseman in a market that
seems to be drying up by the day will be tough to swallow. He might score 35
goals and 65-70 points alongside McDavid next year. Okposo might not score as
many goals, but he can pick up a lot of slack in the offensive zone and he
costs only money. It might take an asset like Eberle to net a defender and then the Oilers will have to replace their top RW. Okposo can be that guy.