How a change of scenery helps a player find new confidence

New York Islanders' Jordan Eberle takes the pass from Matthew Barzal in overtime and makes no mistake, as he rips it upstairs and beats Darcy Kuemper and the Los Angeles Kings.

I’m always amazed how often we see a player who is given up on or who struggles in one market move to a different organization and immediately flourish. It can drive a fan base absolutely bonkers to lose out on what might have been.

How does this happen? How does a player get better after changing teams? Is it not the same player who is prone to the same mistakes?

Sometimes it’s the result of a coach, the organization, or the player himself, but the vast majority of the time the reason for a rebound is the same: Landing with a new team is a chance to hit the reset button and feel wanted.

A prime example this season is former Edmonton Oiler Jordan Eberle, who has 13 goals this season after being traded to the New York Islanders.

Where was this player in Edmonton?

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Media and fans have scrutinized the Eberle-for-Ryan Strome trade, but let’s be honest, Eberle was not good in Edmonton the last few seasons and it was not going to get any better. They had to move him.

For Eberle it was a confidence issue. He went public by saying it was difficult to play in Edmonton due to the constant scrutiny. Some of this is an excuse, but when every mistake you make is dissected 100 times over it’s hard to not start taking it personally and Eberle lost his confidence. Playing in a Canadian city is the most amazing experience. When the fans love you there is nothing better, but when it goes bad and the boo birds rain down on you it’s hard to not let it affect your game.

Some players can handle it, and some players can’t. Eberle has gone on to feel wanted again and that positivity can breed confidence.

Not all of these situations are as extreme as the Eberle trade, though.

In early October, Derrick Pouliot got that reset button handed to him by the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks were seeking depth and mobility on defence when they picked him up in a trade with Pittsburgh. Canucks head coach Travis Green had coached Pouliot in the WHL and knows him inside and out, so it was a no-brainer addition to him.

Will the Pittsburgh Penguins ever kick themselves for letting go of Pouliot?

He was barely even playing in Pittsburgh, so probably not. He would have never gotten the opportunity in Pittsburgh that he’s getting in Vancouver. It’s tough to crack a lineup when the guys in front of you have all won a Stanley Cup as starters.

Lastly, sometimes humanity kicks in and a player is given a reset button as a favour.

This happened to me.

I was with the New York Rangers as a prospect hoping to crack the lineup when they signed Glenn Healy as the backup to Mike Richter. His contract was a four-year deal at $1 million per season. That kind of money for a backup was unheard of in 1993. This meant I was going to have to play in the minors and wait four more years for a chance, or I needed to go elsewhere.

Two years later I was floundering in the AHL with no end in sight when GM Neil Smith traded me to the Vancouver Canucks, where I got my chance to play in the NHL.

If this trade didn’t happen I may have never played in the NHL.

So in the end, are there bad moves where teams get bit and regret letting go of a player?

Absolutely, but in pro sports one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.


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