There are storylines abound as the Islanders begin their season tomorrow night, and one of them isn’t on many’s radars as the others. For forward Jordan Eberle, he has reached a pivotal point in his Isles tenure.
It’s makes or break time for the 30-year-old from Regina, Saskatchewan.
2021 marks the fourth season for Eberle with the Islanders and the second year of a five-year, $27.5M contract he signed during the 2019 offseason. He hasn’t lived up to his side of the deal to this point, having disappointed in the regular season and the postseason despite his dramatic double-overtime winner in game five against the Lightning in the Conference Finals. He also hasn’t become that consistent scoring presence the Isles believed they were getting when they dealt for him back in 2017.
In Eberle’s last two seasons he’s yet to reach the 20-goal plateau after five consecutive years of accomplishing the feat. That despite playing mostly on franchise center Mathew Barzal’s wing on the first line. Because of those struggles, his roster spot — and more importantly his role in the top-six — is not guaranteed.
With the Seattle Kraken joining the league next year and the expansion draft taking place this summer, Eberle is a prime candidate to be unprotected due to his cap hit and how hamstrung the Isles are and might still be. Another dynamic is the Islanders have some offensive prospects who are cheaper and could be Eberle’s replacement, them being Kieffer Bellows, Oliver Wahlstrom and Simon Holmstrom. So there’s a lot at stake for Eberle.
The challenge will be even greater with the prospectus of a 56-game regular season as opposed to a full 82-game slate. And the Isles will need Eberle to be at his best more than any point during his time with the organization.
The expectations have been raised not only for him but the club as a whole after they came within two games of playing for the Stanley Cup earlier this summer in the bubble playoffs.
Sllllliding on in to Game 6.
Massive 2OT goal from Jordan Eberle (@jeberle_7)! #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/hV7IOPSiFC
— NHL (@NHL) September 16, 2020
Eberle needs to be a difference-maker.
He’s being paid to be a top-line winger and head coach Barry Trotz has given him a long enough leash to keep his spot, even though it can be argued he should have lost it by now. The Islanders have struggled the last two seasons to score goals and still don’t have a true sniper. General manager Lou Lamoriello was unsuccessful this past offseason trying to add another offensive piece to the top-six because of the team’s cap situation. Reports came out that Lamoriello kept tabs for a while on UFA Mike Hoffman before he eventually ended up signing with St. Louis.
If they ended up with Hoffman or another forward, it might have taken some of the pressure of Eberle. But that’s not the case. Thus, it’s on him to step up.
Asking the kids — who are already facing enough pressure to not just crack the lineup but produce consistently once they’re inserted — to become that goal scorer in year one is a tall task. That’s Eberle’s role and he must embrace it.
Beyond 5-on-5, Eberle must become more effective on the power play. He had the third-most power play minutes on the team a year ago according to the website Naturalstattrick.com.
It’s evident that Trotz does trust him, but there’s room for improvement. There’s a possibility that can happen and Trotz told reporters yesterday he is hoping for it too.
“We can get better around our special teams,” the Isles head coach said. “You’re going to get a whole laundry list of things we can get better. But if everybody gets 1% better, we’re going to be better as a team.”
This season has all the makings of being a special one for the Isles. Jordan Eberle has a chance to be a big part of it.
2021 is his year to show he’s a key part of this franchise moving forward. If not, he could be writing his next chapter somewhere else.
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