Eberle could fit the Sabres need for a scoring winger this summer
Jordan Eberle has a history with Ralph Krueger that could make him a fit for the Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have a need to find scoring on the right wing this summer. Sam Reinhart is the only legitimate scoring winger that they currently have on the roster. If Reinhart is going to be put on a line away from Jack Eichel (as he should be) the Sabres need to find another winger to play in a top-six role for the next few years on the right side.
Early in the offseason, a few right wingers appear to be available via trade and the free agent market this summer.
With the hire of Ralph Krueger, an interesting idea that comes to mind to fill this need is Jordan Eberle. Krueger coached Eberle from 2010 to 2013 while with the Edmonton Oilers. While the Sabres new head coach was behind the bench in Edmonton, Eberle, had some of his most productive years.
In the 2011-12 season, he scored a career-high 34 goals and 76 points in 78 games. In the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13, he scored 16 goals and 37 points in 48 games when Krueger was the head coach of the Oilers. That production projects to 27 goals and 63 points in an 82 game season.
Kruger also elected to name Eberle as one of his leaders on his young club. He named 22-year-old Eberle as an alternate captain along with Taylor Hall. The rest of the story is history. Krueger was let go after one season as head coach and Eberle was eventually moved to the New York Islanders in one of Peter Chiarelli’s poor trades as general manager of the Oilers.
The former first-round pick is known mostly for his impact on the ice offensively. He’s been one of the better offensive players in the league over the last few years. The isolated impact chart from Micah McCurdy below gives you an idea just how impactful he’s been the last few years.
Eberle has been in the top 40 among forwards in on-ice expected goals for in two of the last three years according to Evolving Hockey. He’s averaged 2.90 xGF/60 over the last three seasons. He’s one of those players that go to the high-quality areas around the net to find his scoring opportunities. We saw another winger in Jeff Skinner excel with that type of mindset with Jack Eichel this past season.
The 29-year-old winger also helps address the Sabres issue of even strength scoring. He’s scored 74% of his goals and 72% of his points at even strength in his career. Eberle would help the Sabres improve on their 21st ranked 2.21 goals per 60 at even strength this past season.
The final area of his game that is impressive is his penalty differential. Micah’s chart above shows that in two data points of a +55 in penalties drawn and a -43 in penalties taken. Over the last three seasons, Eberle is ranked 47th in penalty differential GAR according to Evolving Hockey.
This past year was an odd one for Eberle with the Islanders. He didn’t reach 20 goals for the first time in five years. His 37 points were also a career low. It’s safe to say that Eberle wasn’t a great fit for the defensive style of game that Barry Trotz had the Islanders playing last season. His defensive impacts are one of the areas in his game that is below average. Although, he had one of his best defensive seasons in terms of xGA/60 impact during that season Krueger was his head coach.
Eberle had some poor luck this season which impacted his production and also resulted in poor GAR metrics as you’ll see below.
In the 2017-18 season, he was one of the Islanders most important pieces on the roster for that team.
The Sabres benefited last season with Skinner by taking on a player that was coming off a career-low season. They could reap a similar reward with Eberle if they decide to bring him in this summer.
While it makes sense for the Sabres to explore the Canadian-forward in free agency, the contract is important. Evolving Hockey’s contract projection has Eberle at a seven-year contract with a $6 million annual average value.
Coming off a down year I find it hard to believe that a team is going to give a max term deal to Eberle, especially at his age. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $6 million annually. It’s likely that his agency would want to do their best to keep him at that salary level and could seek a small raise this summer. If he’s willing to sign a deal with a four or five-year term, then a deal makes sense for the Sabres. That would mean his contract would expire when Eberle is 33 or 34-years-old
The connection with Krueger makes this idea extremely interesting. The player has had success previously with the new coach and also fills a need for the club as a scoring winger.