On July 1, the Dallas Stars re-signed winger Patrick Eaves to a one-year, $1.15 million contract. The move was one of just two the Stars would make as free agency opened, as they also signed forward Curtis McKenzie to a two-year deal before calling it a day.
While the Stars were not drawn into the annual first-day frenzy, Dallas General Manager Jim Nill would not stay silent for long. He pulled the trigger on a deal that brought Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns to the Stars on July 10 and signed veteran free agent defenseman Johnny Oduya on July 15.
The excitement of these big-name transactions has landed Eaves’ deal on the back burner for many Stars fans, and last year’s injury-riddled campaign has left lingering questions about what exactly Dallas will be getting for their money in 2015-16. Eaves missed stints of 21 and seven games with a broken foot and a concussion, respectively, and also sporadically missed several other contests with various injuries. All told, the forward played just 47 games last season, an underwhelming number for the seemingly injury-prone 31-year-old.
Showing Signs of Valuable Point Production
However, Eaves’ numbers, along with his play in the games he was able to skate in in 2014-15, suggest that the forward can still contribute to the Stars’ potent offense at a high level. In his 47 contests, Eaves tallied 14 goals (six on the man advantage) and 13 assists for 27 points, the most he’s recorded since his 32 in 73 games with Ottawa in 2006-07. Every other Stars skater with 25 points or more last year played at least 55 games, and only Erik Cole, who was traded to Detroit at the deadline, didn’t eclipse 60.
Eaves bounced around the lineup, filling holes for Lindy Ruff and often changing lines mid-game in an attempt to provide a spark at one end or the other. He worked his way into a stable top-six role toward the end of the season and found a scoring touch, finishing the year with four goals and seven points in his last seven games.
Where Does Eaves Fit Among Comparable NHL Skaters?
In the face of these numbers, Eaves’ contract is worth a closer look. For those that watched him play consistently, $1.15 million seems a fair price for the valuable, Masterton-nominated depth forward, but just how fair is it? Who are Eaves’ comparables in the NHL when it comes to what it costs for a certain level of production?
First, a look at who else makes the kind of money that Eaves will bring in in 2015-16. According to spotrac.com’s list of right winger salaries for next season, the following players are within $100,000 of Eaves: Mike Brown, Alex Chiasson, Chris Thorburn, Shawn Thornton, Ryan Reaves, and Alexander Semin. Brown, Chiasson, Thorburn, and Thornton will all collect $1.2 million next season, while Reaves will bring in $1.125 million and Semin $1.1 million.
Of all of these players, none matched or bettered Eaves’ 27 points. Former Star Chiasson recorded 26, but played 76 games for Ottawa on his way there.
So, how much money does a team typically have to pay for 27 points? Out of 13 forwards to hit the number on the nose last season, only two made less than Eaves will in 2015-16: David Pastrnak and Matt Nieto, who are both still under $1 million due to their entry-level deals.
The rest of the group features a wide range of salaries, topped by Dustin Brown’s $5.875 million paycheck. For the purposes of comparing Eaves, take three comparatively middling deals out of the cluster: Lars Eller, Shawn Matthias, and Patrik Berglund. Each accomplished the feat, but they played 77, 78, and 77 games respectively. Matthias will be paid the least for his efforts, as he’s slated to make $2.3 million in 2015-16. Eller will make $3.5 million, and Berglund will take home $3.7 million.
Granted, each of these players is also younger than Eaves, with the oldest of the three being 27. Four years can do a lot to a body asked to play in the NHL day in and day out, but the takeaway is this; if Eaves can match the rate of production that he exhibited when healthy last season and stay on the ice for a full slate of games, his contract will look like an absolute bargain.
Stars Offense Primed to Give Eaves a Chance to Shine
In an offense that now features Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp, and Jason Spezza as its top-end talent and is chock-full of talented depth players, a healthy Patrick Eaves should have no issue racking up points. The Stars were second in goal scoring behind the Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and they show no signs of slowing. Eaves should also see time on one of the Stars’ power play units, which should be poised to cash in on the potential they failed to capitalize on in 2014-15. Ruff has already briefly speculated about next season’s lines to Mark Stepneski and, while it is far too early to read into those pairings, Eaves’ name was discussed as a potential top-of-the-lineup skater.
All told, if the Stars return to being true contenders and Eaves stays on the ice to play his part in it, his signing could be one of the more underrated moves of Dallas’ 2015 offseason.