Well, wasn't that a nice surprise?
When the Dallas Stars signed forward Patrick Eaves to a modest 1-year, $650,000 contract on July 1st of last summer it was a move that was met with little to no fanfare. Actually, more than anything else the move was met primarily with confusion from Stars fans.
Here were the Stars, a young team with lots of depth, picking up a 30 year-old forward with an injury history that was coming off of a season that saw him only put up five points in 30 games, and even spend some time down in the AHL. What gives?
"Patrick is a smart and disciplined, two-way player who plays a high-tempo game," Nill tried to assure us all of at the time. "His speed and versatility will fit in well with our style of play and add great depth to our forward corps."
Clearly Nill, who was part of the Detroit Red Wings organization at the same time as Eaves, had a good feeling about the guy that he was signing. We here at Defending Big D still weren't convinced, slotting Eaves in at 22nd in last year's Impact Player Rankings.
Boy, were we wrong.
Eaves was a revelation for the Stars last season, far and away exceeding all expectations. He seemed to fit in wherever he was placed in the lineup and consistently made good things happen, finishing the season with 27 points and a 54% Corsi For rating in 47 games. He also had six powerplay goals (tied for 3rd on the team) and nine powerplay points (good for 6th) while only averaging 1:53 per game on the man advantage (9th among all players) and despite playing fewer games than most others.
Most impressive of all, however, was how well Eaves fit into the team's top line alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin at even strength. There was no shortage of players that auditioned for that role on the top line - Valeri Nichushkin, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Colton Sceviour, Brett Ritchie, Cody Eakin - but it turned out to be the plucky, unassuming Eaves that was the best fit, spending the majority of his ice time there when he was healthy.
A first line right wing making only $650,000 per season? Are you kidding me? I dare anyone to find a better value player anywhere in the entire NHL last season.
Like starfighter pilot Wedge Antilles, Eaves always assumed more of a secondary background role, never being the most important Dallas player on the ice, but he always found ways to be effective and do his job. Despite lacking any single area of his game that really stands out, Eaves is the quintessential "little things" kind of player, helping his team out in any ways that it needs him to: driving the net, skating back hard to the defensive zone, winning puck battles along the boards, fighting to create space in the slot, banging home rebounds, you name it.
While these sorts of little things might seem easy, not all players have the awareness or, often more importantly, the desire to actually make them happen. Eaves made them happen, and both he and his team were regularly rewarded for it.
Not only was Eaves extended this summer for one more season, but he was also given a healthy raise, bumping his salary up to $1.15 million per season. Both were well deserved. While the acquisition of Patrick Sharp and the return to health of Nichushkin will likely mean a lot less time on the top line for Eaves, the Dallas Stars can rest assured that they've retained a player that they can trust and rely on whenever and wherever they need him.