Patrick Eaves is having a dream season. At 32, the veteran winger has managed to set a new career best in goals, scoring 21 through the first 59 games of his campaign. His 37 points are five points clear of his previous career high, and, up until Friday, he had become a legitimate top-six point producer for the Dallas Stars. He has been doing it all in what has, to this point, been the most notable campaign of his career. And his season just got that much better.
Eaves was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks on Friday at the cost of a conditional second-round pick, one which has the potential to become a first-rounder for Dallas if Anaheim makes it to the conference final. The trade itself is an undeniable win for both sides, too. The Stars nab a draft pick in what has sadly become a lost season at a time when the organization believed they were about to take a major step forward. And the Ducks, well, they land themselves a coveted asset at the deadline, especially with Eaves earning a mere $1 million this season. The biggest winner, however, is the winger himself, as Eaves has the chance to cash in big time come next season.
There isn’t a player heading into the deadline who has had a more perfect situation to be set for the deadline than Eaves. Not only was he playing the most productive hockey of his career on a contract that was palatable for everyone in the hunt to add a piece at the deadline, but through much of the season he has had the pleasure of playing alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, two of the league’s best scorers. There’s absolutely no doubt that Eaves benefitted from playing alongside the Stars’ all-star duo, but that doesn’t make his production any less impressive. Matter of fact, to the Ducks, it probably made acquiring him that much more attractive.
The duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf no longer consistently play together on a game-by-game basis, but for years that has been a go-to combination for Anaheim. That’s still the case, sure, but over recent outings the two have been split and playing on separate lines. One reason for that, among others, is that Anaheim has struggled to find a consistent fixture to play the other wing with the duo. Over the past five seasons, seven different players have occupied that spot for more than 150 minutes at 5-on-5, with everyone from Nick Ritchie to Rickard Rakell filling in alongside the Ducks’ duo.
What makes it difficult to find a third to play alongside Perry and Getzlaf is that not everyone is capable of filling in on a line with Anaheim’s two star players. Not even some players who are stars, or former stars, in their own right can be up to the task. Need an example? How about the Dany Heatley experiment? Heatley was one of the games premier scorers during his heyday and the thought in 2014-15 was the Ducks would bring him aboard as a reclamation project. He fizzled and flamed out, ending up in the AHL before being dealt away to end the season. So, while Perry and Getzlaf may currently be split, what Eaves represents is a player who understands how to play wing with two offensive players and he’s shown a proclivity for it this season. And even if he isn’t playing alongside Perry and Getzlaf, there are other combinations where Eaves could be a fit in the top-six.
That’s an intriguing aspect of Eaves’ game, too, because he’s proven this season just how versatile he can be. Unlike many of the fill-in players the Ducks have used to form a top line or bolster their top six, Eaves offers the ability to play from both sides of the ice and up and down the lineup. He’s equally sound at left and right wing, and that’s a skill that not every player has. In that sense, he’s an even better fit for the Ducks. If the lines need to be put in the blender, coach Randy Carlyle knows he can throw Eaves on either wing and make things work.
How does this all benefit Eaves, though? Well, not only does he go to a Ducks team in a position to make the post-season, but he goes to a club that’s set to attempt to make a run in a wide open Western Conference and what might be an even more wide open Pacific Division. He has a legitimate chance to finish the season with 30 goals — he needs nine to make that a reality and 20 games to do it — and then will follow that up with the opportunity to make noise in the post-season. And for Eaves, if there’s any way to get off of his current run of high-six and low-seven figure one-year deals, that’s exactly the path.
If the Ducks can make it through the first round of the post-season, or if they can piece together a two- or three-round run, and Eaves is a contributor, he’s almost certain to land himself a longer deal when he almost inevitably hits the open market this summer. In the past three seasons, the longest and most lucrative deal Eaves had was a one-year, $1.15 million contract, and his last long-term deal was inked in July 2011. It’s been a while since he’s had job security beyond one season.
Others have cashed in on one big season before, and while Eaves may be the rare case of a player doing so into his early 30s, that doesn’t mean he can’t pull off a nice finish to the campaign and payday come the summer. And if he manages that, the deal will have paid off for all parties. It could be the perfect storm for Eaves. Now all that’s left is for him to do everything in his power to make sure there’s a payoff on the potential.
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