With one player’s decision, the New York Islanders lost more game-breaking potential off their roster than any other team over the summer.
There’s a John Tavares-sized hole in the lineup now and the Islanders, whose top-10 offence was cancelled out by a league-worst defence last season, are considered a longshot to improve and get to the playoffs. Mathew Barzal is their best bet to become a star, Kieffer Bellows could be the next rookie up, and Lou Lamoriello’s team is coming off a fantastic draft.
The future, at least, isn’t off the rails.
But even now the Islanders are heading into a season with one of their most impactful players on an expiring contract that will take him into unrestricted free agency. Jordan Eberle returned to his career-average levels last season by scoring 25 goals and 59 points in his first season with the team. As far as proven scorers go — guys who have put up totals without Tavares — Eberle stands with value on his own.
And yet he hasn’t begun contract extension talks with the Islanders.
“To be honest I haven’t had any conversations with anybody,” Eberle told NHL.com after a Tuesday morning skate. “Going into the summer I was trying to focus on me and being the best I can be and come into the camp the best I can be. Once that happens you start trying to fill a role and try to make this team as good as it can be.”
Eberle came to New York in a shocking trade with the Oilers that sent Ryan Strome the other way and was largely dismissed as a loss for Edmonton, an opinion that proved true last season.
Looking at ice time, Eberle was used as a second-line contributor in all areas, but he was third on the team in even-strength points, just two behind Tavares.
“I think with the changes that we’ve had, I think it’s always fun to prove yourself,” Eberle continued. “I think there’s going to be some competition in camp and that always makes your team better, and myself included. You want to be a part of that. You want to be able to prove yourself.”
Making $6 million against the salary cap, Eberle has the second-highest AAV of any winger set to become a UFA next summer, behind only Mark Stone who signed a one-year $7.35-million deal with Ottawa ahead of their salary arbitration hearing.