Kraken Expansion Dilemma: Islanders’ Eberle or Bailey

Expansion Draft Day is here, and at long last, fans of the soon-to-be-formed Seattle Kraken know what players are available from the other times around the league. Among the more intriguing lists of available players sits that of the New York Islanders. After falling just short of upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it seems the Isles are in for a shakeup of what has been a relatively successful roster.

Jordan Eberle New York Islanders Game 5
Jordan Eberle of the New York Islanders is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Two player names that didn’t make it on the Islanders’ protected list are right-wingers Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey. Both are 31 and likely past the peak of their careers, but neither is washed up, and either one would be a good addition to the Kraken’s inaugural roster. While Eberle had a better season than Bailey in 2020-21, their outputs have been similar in each of the two prior seasons, with Bailey possessing the edge in playoff point production. If the Kraken are choosing between these two players, which isn’t a certainty but for the sake of argument, which direction are they better off going?

Eberle Is More of a Pure Scorer

It’s unreasonable to expect or even hope for over thirty goals from Eberle; his single 34-goal season is a decade in the rearview mirror, and his shooting percentage from that season (18.9%) was well above his career average (13.4%). Still, he is a consistent threat to put 20 past opposing goaltenders, and the Kraken could reasonably expect that to continue. And while he has a historical tendency to be hot and cold, often starting seasons in a bit of a slump, the points eventually come, and he’s always been known as a performer in clutch moments.

New York Islanders Josh Bailey
New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey is hugged by teammates (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Bailey is unlikely to score at the same rate as Eberle, but his production historically has fewer peaks and valleys. He’ll score 15-17 goals, accompanied by 35-40 assists, and show up for every shift all season long. Is it better to go for the lesser, but a relatively sure thing, in Bailey, or hope that Eberle excels in a top-six that has the potential to include a former teammate from his Edmonton days, Taylor Hall? If Hall instead re-signs with the Boston Bruins, some other notable name will likely take that spot in the Kraken lineup.

Expansion Draft Can Have Multiple Strategies

The Islanders have done well in the playoffs recently and are a threat to go the distance next season as well. Kraken general manager Ron Francis may need to ask himself if taking one or the other of these two players will do more to hurt the Islanders’ performance in 2021-22. Bailey, as an alternate captain, is obviously an important voice in the locker room, and not only could those aspects of his game benefit the Kraken, but his departure would leave a void in a potential playoff opponent. While we don’t want to put the cart before the horse, with the way the protected lists worked out, forecasting Seattle to make the playoff cut doesn’t seem so far-fetched as it might have a week or two ago.

Josh Bailey,Mathew Barzal,Sam Motembeault
New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal and Florida Panthers goaltender Sam Montembeault watch as a shot from Josh Bailey (far left) goes into the net (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Either player could be valuable to a potential playoff run. Time and again, the thing you hear about young players, of which the Kraken will have plenty, is that there isn’t always an understanding of how difficult it is to succeed in the marathon NHL postseason. Both Bailey and Eberle will have stories to share about falling just short in recent years and how that can be both a lesson and a warning about taking things seriously and giving it your all.

Related: Kraken’s Best Inaugural Roster

The last factor the Kraken will have to consider is the salary cap. Both players are well paid, with Eberle making $5.5 million per season until 2024 and Bailey making an even $5 million with the same expiry date. Seattle normally wouldn’t need to worry about small differences in cap hit in year 1, but the potential selection of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, along with his massive $10.5 million cap hit, could change things, making each dollar important if the Kraken don’t want to find themselves handcuffed, from a financial point of view, coming out of the gate. This is only one of many dilemmas facing the Kraken this week, but no matter which player they choose, they’re getting a good one.

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