A fire hydrant could score 40 goals on Gretzky's line. - Glen Sather
Connor McDavid is an unreal hockey player. We're only 19 games into his career and already this should be obvious to absolutely everyone. Through his first 12 games and change he scored 12 points, not bad for ant players first dozen games in the NHL. Then after missing three months of hockey - November 3 to February 2 - he hits the ground running again with 12 more points, this time in only six games.
I expected him to be very good. He hasn't been very good, he's been absolutely great. And everything he touches turns to gold. This includes his linemates. To start the season McDavid had Nail Yakupov playing on his right side; in 12ish games together Yakupov scored 10 points, in the 21 he's played without McDavid he's got four points. Since returning to the lineup McDavid and Eberle have been inseparable and Eberle's put up ten points in those six games. How'd he do without McDavid? 22 points in 37 games. The McDavid factor is a thing,
And it's not just points, the same pattern shows up in possession stats too. Yakupov, Eberle, and Benoit Pouliot are McDavid most common linemates and they're all a lot better with him then they are without him. It's a little bit crazy to say, okay it's a lot crazy to say, but McDavid is already capable of driving the play, and the guys who are playing with him just need to hold on for the ride. Which bring me back to Sather's line about a fire hydrant playing with Wayne Gretzky, it was true with the Great One and it looks to be true with McDavid as well. That's not to say the Eberle or Yakupov are fire hydrants, they're not, but their production with McDavid is more him than them.
With the trade deadline less than three weeks away could they use this to their advantage? Maybe they already are.
The Oilers need defence, anyone with even a passing knowledge of what's going on in the NHL likely knows this. And to address that need it is quite likely that they are going to have to trade one of their many skilled forwards to make it happen. Last year it was Taylor Hall's name that got kicked around, this year it's been Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Eberle never seems to be the name attached to rumours but there's no reason to think that he wouldn't be part of any trade conversation as well. The Oilers would also part with Yakupov but he's not going to bring back the type of player that the Oilers are looking for, it's going to have to be one of the other three.
You know the story with Eberle, in his second season in the league, and thanks in large part to a 18.9% shooting percentage, he scored 34 goals and added 42 assists for a total of 76 points - totals that, like the shooting percentage, he hasn't matched since. After leading the Oilers in scoring by a 23 point margin Eberle was rewarded with a six-year $36M extension in the offseason. That was a deal I did not like at the time and still think should have been handled differently, but I'll also be the first to admit that it's been nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be.
Even with three years and $18M remaining on his contract, that deal should be very tradeable today. Since the start of the 2013/14 season Eberle ranks 60th among NHL forwards (minimum 2,000 minutes played) with 1.88 points/60 minutes at 5-on-5. In case you're not sure, that's really good. And ideally the Oilers wouldn't have to trade a player like Eberle to fill holes that could have/should have been addressed years ago, but the holes on the blue line weren't addressed and are simply too big to ignore any longer; someone is going to have to go, and that someone should be Eberle.
As mentioned earlier, Hall's name has popped up in rumours and he'd also be an option, but he's a better player than Eberle and not nearly as easy to replace with someone on the current roster. Some will look at Nugent-Hopkins and say that he's expendable with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl down the middle of the Oilers' roster. Again possible but it's easier to move a centre to the wing than vice-versa and Todd McLellan has a history of icing lineups with more than four centres, something that served him well with the Sharks and could be just as beneficial to the Oilers in future seasons. If it's not Hall or Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov doesn't bring back what you want, then it has to be Eberle because he's the only guy left.
It'd be a deal that makes sense from not only a roster standpoint but a cap as well. If you trade Eberle and his $6M cap hit out of town, the Oilers should have no trouble making the dollars work on whatever is coming back. In fact they might even be able to save a few bucks that can be put towards acquiring another free agent defenceman this summer, or possibly even setting it aside for two years from now when the team's cap situation tightens up with Draisaitl, McDavid, and Darnell Nurse no longer on entry level contracts.
Whether that trade happens at the deadline or if we have to wait for summer, until it's finalized Eberle should never leave McDavid's side. The Oilers need to squeeze every goal, every point that they can out of that duo, and in doing so they'll drive up Eberle's value as much at the same time. This is Pump and Dump 101. And if they do this right they might even be able to convince a GM that he's acquiring the 2011/12 Jordan Eberle. It's not often that you get a second chance to sell high.