Today Bob McKenzie broke the news that the Edmonton Oilers have placed winger Ben Eager on waivers.
It's not immediately apparent why this is the case. I mean, there is no doubt this is a positive development and a good move by management, but I can't exactly figure out why this specific management team would have such good sense? The narrative for the last couple of seasons has been around Eager's "grit" and "toughness", and for a franchise as obsessed about retail-grade gristle as the Oilers it's hard for me to come to terms with this good fortune.
"We’re very excited about the version of Ben Eager we have right now." -Ralph Krueger, 19 days ago— Colby Cosh (@colbycosh) March 13, 2013
If I could be allowed to speculate for a minute, I think Eager's unwillingness to fight after his recent concussion history may have played a part in this decision. To me, the Mike Brown trade was going to bely one of two realities: 1. The Oilers had gone full-time nutty and acquired two meat-sacks that punch things, or 2. Ben Eager's days were numbered. With Darcy Hordichuk in the minors and Theo Peckham being a healthy scratch more often than not, NHL convention of having at least one human capable of extending his arms in fury required a regular roster player who could do so. If Eager cannot drop the gloves because of health reasons, there aren't many actual hockey reasons to keep him in the lineup. He's only had one fight this year in 14 games (during which he was concussed and was rated to have lost on hockeyfights.com), while his counterpart Mike Brown has had two fights in 5 games since his arrival, both of which were voted overwhelming victories, whatever that means.
Out of 663 players in the NHL to have played at least 50 minutes, Ben Eager has the 2nd worst Corsi percentage at 35.0% (yet almost 3% above last-placed teammate Petrell!). He had posted only 1 goal and 1 assist in 14 games this year, a 0.14 PPG pace that even for Eager was his lowest in 5 seasons. He had been tried all over the lineup, but his most common linemates were Eric Belanger, Ryan Smyth, and Lennart Petrell. In the end, he's been a poster-boy for the failure of the Oilers' 4th line the last two seasons (and entire bottom 6 forwards during the Horcoff injury), a coterie of teammates who count themselves among the worst players to skate in the best professional hockey league on Earth.
So what will the future hold for Big Ben? I'm sure that even with Scott Howson not having a job (oh, right), there are enough foolish GM's who still believe in the power of "toughness" and "1st round pedigree" to perhaps take a shot at claiming him. He is overpaid at $1.1M/year through next season to be a sub-replacement level fourth liner, but if Ethan Moreau can get claimed at $1.75M/year, weirder things have definitely happened.
If he goes unlcaimed to the farm to ply his trade at $1.1 million in
cap space salary (edit: speeds on Twitter pointed out that the first $900K of a player's cap hit can be hidden in the minors this year), chalk up a dead contract that can't be entirely hidden under the new CBA. With Darcy Hordichuk already taking a regular shift in Oklahoma City, that'll make $1.95 million the Oilers are paying hired knuckles to NOT play in the NHL. End scene!