Would Vegas Take an Unprotected Eberle?

The other day I wrote a piece discussing Jordan Eberle and how his lack of goal scoring has him obviously feeling the heat in Edmonton. To his credit, he came out on Thursday versus the New Jersey Devils and played a solid hockey game — only not finding the net due to some incredibly bad luck. I’m of the belief that Eberle can and will turn things around. But, not everyone is in agreement.

Some of the discussion in the comments sections of that earlier piece sparked conversation about what might happen if the Oilers didn’t protect Eberle in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft. There is a contingent of people who believe Eberle is not worth what he’s being paid and simply overrated as a one-dimensional scorer. I think it’s too early to say as much, but for every game that Eberle goes without a goal, that contingent of people is likely going to grow.

At the same time, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman spoke with Oiler’s Now Host Bob Stauffer about the lack of trade value Eberle might have around the NHL. Friedman suggests that very few managers would give up value for a player as snake bitten as Eberle, especially at his price tag of $6 million per season. When looking at Eberle both in terms of talent and money, Friedman is probably correct in that assumption.

With so much chatter about what lay ahead for Eberle, logically, I began to wonder what might happen if the Oilers chose not to protect Eberle in the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft? If he continues to have a poor season, how real is the risk that the Oilers would miss him, even if they lost him for nothing?

Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl

(Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

A few short weeks ago, it would seem ludicrous to be having this discussion. As one of the Oilers’ core pieces, Eberle was viewed as someone who would be a bonafide scorer for a contending Oilers’ franchise when they’d turned the corner. The play of Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl changed all that.

The way the versatile Maroon has grown in his play, goal scoring and reliability has become a tremendous asset to Edmonton. A throwaway by the Anaheim Ducks at last year’s trade deadline, Maroon has offered Eberle’s offense and at a fraction of the cost. The Oilers scored huge when they acquired Maroon and his extremely low salary cap hit of $1.5 million per season. That he’s doing what he’s doing while the Oilers move up the standings makes Maroon almost invaluable.

Leon Draisaitl has become Edmonton’s second best weapon. He’s currently playing in Eberle’s spot on the top line and he’s on an offensive tear. He can play center, wing, the penalty kill, power play and win faceoffs. He offers a variety of dimensions Eberle does not and he’s going to see a major pay increase when his next contract comes around. He’ll be worth it and the Oilers may be wondering, is there room for both contracts?

Defense Over Offense and Trade Deadline Pieces

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell is a controversial player when speaking about the expansion draft. (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the choices Edmonton will have to make in June is which direction to focus their protected list. Will they place a higher priority on a strong defense? Or, will protecting as many viable forwards as possible be their thinking? With a strong defense, offensive talents will be exposed and the Oilers will need to make some difficult decisions.

Add to that the fact that as the Oilers creep closer to the playoff picture, as buyers, they will add assets. What Edmonton adds may affect what they can protect and this could make protecting Eberle less of a lock than it otherwise might have been.

How Much is $6 Million Dollars?

Most days of the week, Las Vegas would snatch up a player like Jordan Eberle. Even if it meant sending something back to the Oilers, Eberle should warrant consideration in any trade talks. After all, he’s been a tremendous young talent and is still on pace for almost 50 points in a down year.

Unfortunately, there is no ignoring the money.

Jordan Eberle contract
Jordan Eberle (Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE)

$6 million is what Vegas would have to pay Eberle per season for the next two seasons after this one. $6 million dollars is money the Golden Knights won’t have to spend on a free agent(s) during the summer and free agency could be a big part of their building process. If Eberle is truly becoming an under-50 point player and offers only one type of skill set, $6 million isn’t a bargain and bargains are important for expansion franchises.

From an Oilers’ perspective, $6 million is money that could go to Connor McDavid. $6 million could go to Draisaitl’s next deal or to extending Maroon. $6 million could go to improving the defense. Simply put, there is no shortage of places Edmonton will find acceptable ways to spend $6 million per season.

What would you do? If it meant having a much stronger defense, protecting Maroon and Draisaitl and having room to negotiate new contracts, would you take a loss by potentially exposing a player with undeniable talent? Would you roll the dice with Vegas knocking on your door or is that simply too big a gamble for too good a player?