The phrase, “____ played himself out of town,” is often used to describe an underachieving player who has worn out his welcome with his current club. The Dallas Stars, like every other team, have certainly seen their fair share; Fabian Brunnstrom and Patrik Stefan, among others, come to mind.
Stars center Cody Eakin may have played himself out of town, too, but not for a lack of performance. When Tyler Seguin went down with a partially-sliced Achilles tendon in mid-March, the 24-year-old Winnipeg native stepped up. From March 19 onward, Eakin centered Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp on the Stars’ top line.
In 13 playoff games, the player Stars fans affectionately refer to as “The Ginger Ninja” tallied one goal and seven assists, making him the third-highest scoring Star in the postseason. His lone playoff goal was a thing of beauty, an overtime game-winner one sagacious scribe dubbed the “Scottrade Snipe.”
Among Dallas forwards, his average ice time of 18:48 per game was second only to Benn. Eakin skated on the power play, killed penalties and won more faceoffs than any other Dallas center. In short, he did everything asked of him, and more. Why, then, could Eakin be headed out of town?
The Numbers Game
The Stars currently have an embarrassment of riches down the middle of the ice. When healthy, Seguin centers the top line. Jason Spezza anchors the second line. Young Radek Faksa, Dallas’ first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, earned his spot between Antoine Roussel and Ales Hemsky on the third line, which was the Stars’ best line for much of the postseason. Whether Vernon Fiddler returns to Big D for another season or a youngster – Jason Dickinson or Devin Shore, perhaps – centers the fourth line is irrelevant, as Eakin would be wasted in that role.
Should one of Dallas’ top four pivots get hurt, it’s worth remembering that Jamie Benn played center before Seguin came to town and Mattias Janmark might be better in the middle than he is on the wing. Centers? The Stars have a few.
Also worth noting is Eakin’s cap-friendly annual salary of $3.85M for the next four years. Though he’s not really a full-time top-line center, he’s a good, low-cost option for the second line and an absolute steal on the third. At 24, he’s just entering his prime. Eakin’s combination of talent and reasonable cap hit give him excellent value as a trade chip.
The biggest issue Dallas general manager Jim Nill must address this summer is goaltending. The Stars have many options for upgrades in net. Several teams find themselves with two (or more) NHL-caliber goalies, and in the anticipated expansion draft next summer, they’ll only be able to protect one. Many of those same teams would benefit from an upgrade at the center position; Detroit, Winnipeg, Arizona and Tampa Bay (assuming Steven Stamkos signs elsewhere) immediately come to mind. Could Nill trade Eakin for a goalie? It makes a lot of sense.
If Cody Eakin is moved out this summer, Stars fans will mourn his loss. Not merely a fan favorite, he’s a valuable part of this team. He’s helped make the Stars a playoff team again. It’s oddly fitting, then, that trading Eakin might make the Stars better still.