Free Agent Profile: Jordan Eberle

No one seems to be talking about him, but Eberle is one of the best options on the market for a top-six forward.

Last week, we kicked off our free agency coverage with a profile of the top forward on the market, Artemi Panarin. Today, we’ll look at another winger — New York Islanders forward Jordan Eberle.

But before we talk about Eberle, let’s take a brief moment to discuss yet another winger, one who is already off the market — Jeff Skinner.

Skinner was one of the hottest trade targets last summer, ultimately landing with the Buffalo Sabres (much to the chagrin of Dallas Stars fans). He proceeded to score a career-high 40 goals and totaled 63 points, tied for his career best. There was heavy talk of Skinner testing the market, but ultimately he decided to re-sign with Buffalo for eight years at $9 million AAV.

Now, don’t get me wrong — Skinner is a good hockey player. But 63 points is not worth $9 million a year. Maybe if Skinner was younger or still trending upwards, but he is 27 years old and has hit that mark only two other times in his career, one of them being his rookie season. His career pace is 55 points per a season, and there’s not much to indicate he’s anything more than a good second line forward.

So why am I talking about Jeff Skinner in a piece about Jordan Eberle? Do me a favor and look at the stat lines below.

Two players with essentially the same career number of games played. The first one, Player A, is more of a goal scorer, but the other, Player B, has 36 more points in just five more games. The goal scorer shoots a lot more but has a bit lower shooting percentage, and the playmaker averages about half a minute more time on ice per game.

If you break out the #fancystats, Player A has, at first glance, better possession numbers. He has a 52.1 CF% and 52.1 FF% throughout his career, while the other has a 50.1 CF% and 49.7 FF%. But the playmaker, Player B, has also been held back by worse possession-driven teammates. He has a 4.2 CF% relative and a 3.8 FF% rel., while the first has a 1.1 CF% rel. and a 0.8 FF% rel. Player B also starts in the offensive zone less often (55.3%) than the goal scorer (61.0%).

The goal scorer (Player A), Jeff Skinner, just signed for $9 million a year for eight seasons. The playmaker (Player B), Jordan Eberle, is arguably a slightly better player and will get paid a fraction of that cost.

The reason for the price difference is that Skinner is coming off of a career year while Eberle is coming off of a career worst. That might give some teams pause, but it’s highly unlikely that Eberle (age 29) is starting to decline. Rather her just had a bad season in his contract year, which in turn makes him a great buy-low candidate.

Also working against Eberle’s favor is a stacked UFA class at forward. In the end, I expect him to sign a two- or three-year “prove it” deal for roughly $6 million AAV, which was his previous cap hit. That way he buys some short-term security in the event that he is declining while still setting himself up for one final payday when he’s aged 31-32.

And what better way to set yourself up a nice pay raise than by signing for a Stanley Cup contender? In Dallas, Eberle would be slotted in on the second line alongside rising star Roope Hintz, with chances to play with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as well. He would be surrounded by arguably a better cast of talent than in New York — and definitely better than the Edmonton Oilers, where he spent most of his career — and could very well score 60+ points each season with Dallas.

Long story short, you should get onboard the Jordan Eberle bandwagon while it’s still empty. He may not be the sexiest name out there, but make no mistake — when it comes to bang for your buck, he’s one of the best top-six forwards on the market.