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Taub: Eberle Stays On and Shows That Isles Are A Destination

Out of the four key unrestricted free agents that were a priority for Lou Lamoriello this summer, Jordan Eberle was placed at the bottom of the pack. That was, until today.

This morning, the New York Islanders announced that they had signed Eberle, 29, to a new contract that would pay him $5.5 million for the next five seasons. Eberle, who had just come off a deal that paid him $6 million over the last six years, took $500K less to stay on Long Island when for sure he would have probably received close to $6.5-$7 million on the open market.

“I obviously talked to Lou at the end of the year and really focused on trying to get something done,” Eberle told reporters after signing. “I really liked the team, the guys. My wife and I love it there. It just made sense.”

There had been rumblings from TheFourthPeriod.com’s David Pagnotta that the Isles and Eberle had been on the same page contract-speaking dating back to a couple of weeks ago. It still seemed like a long shot that Eberle would be back.

For a majority of last year, it was clear to spot that Eberle had trouble adjusting to head coach Barry Trotz’ new structure and basically got lost in the shuffle. Playing a more will-than-skill style which didn’t mesh well with Eberle game. That affected him as he only produced 19 goals and 37 points in 78 games this past year, tying for his least amount of goals and points in a season since his 2013-14 season in Edmonton.

Something changed though in the stretch run: Eberle flipped the switch.

In those final weeks of the season — coinciding with his return to the first line with center Mathew Barzal — Eberle got hot and was riding high as the Isles entered the postseason. In the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was the star of the show. Scoring in all four games and notching six points resulting in a sweep of the Pens, Eberle helped the Islanders advance to the second round for the second time in three years and just the third time in 26 years. He fell off a bit in the second round sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes — zero goals and three assists — but Eberle’s overall performance definitely opened eyes, mainly Lamoriello and Trotz.

Looking forward, Eberle committing to the Islanders for the next half decade validates that he believes in what Lamoriello and Trotz are trying to accomplish here — making the Islanders are Stanley Cup contender.

After the showing he had in the playoffs, Eberle would have definitely had a number of teams vying for his services. Re-signing and taking less money to do proves he wants to be a part of a core that has only scratched the surface, a part of a franchise that’s on the upswing, and a part of a nucleus that is only going to grow and get better. Brock Nelson ultimately wants the same; the Islanders locked him up a few weeks prior for the next six years.

The contract also indicates that Eberle’s comfortable in his surroundings, whether that’d be Brooklyn, Uniondale, and eventually Belmont. And it basically shatters the narrative that players who wear the Islander crest and live in this area love playing here and are willing to stay.

“I think you talk to a lot of people who have played on Long Island, they all say the same thing,” Eberle said. “It’s a great community. Fans love their hockey. They’re passionate about it.”

From an organizational perspective, this is another steal of a deal for Lamoriello and the organization.

Re-signing Eberle to a bargain $5.5 million gives Lamoriello more room to flex for the other two key free agents, goaltender Robin Lehner and captain Anders Lee. The deal also is a plus because it will give the organization a better chance to upgrade at the forward position via trade or free agency, something Trotz preached about at the team’s clean out day after the playoffs ended.

Forgetting the player perspective for a second, Eberle’s deal is good for the image of the organization.

For so long — and particularly under the former regime headed by Garth Snow — key free agents would look down upon the Islanders because of all the nonsensical drama that came with the franchise — arena problems, instability at the top, losing culture. Seeing that Eberle has returned and that the franchise is on the right path, will now hopefully give free agents a different perspective on how they view the Islanders organization as a whole.

Something also to be accounted for with Eberle re-upping, he’s betting on himself once again.

As noted above, Eberle will enter training camp in September coming off his least-productive season. The motivation will absolutely be there for Eberle to be not just the same player the fans bore witness to in the playoffs, but the player that in his first year with the organization scored 25 goals and produced 59 points. The motivation should also be there for the Regina, SK native to be relied upon as a consistent top-line presence and one of the team’s bigger offensive weapons.

With the draft and free agency right around the corner, there’s still room for the Islanders to improve even more.

The brass has preached building the foundation for the future and they are sticking to it; signing Eberle officially as one of the major pieces.  But there’s no way Lamoriello and the brass are done. This team can still upgrade and show that this past season wasn’t a fluke.

Brock Nelson signed. Jordan Eberle signed. Two down, two to go.

Hopefully, the team announces that Lehner and Lee are re-signing in the coming weeks. How that translates to other free agents, will just have to see where those chips fall.

But right now, Eberle being the latest one to re-sign when he was projected to leave signifies that the Islanders are a destination once again and for the foreseeable future.

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About Rob Taub

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