During an extremely trying season in which the Dallas Stars have been struggling to find their center point, veteran forward Patrick Eaves has been a very pleasant and productive surprise.
However, pro hockey is a business in which the view from 20,000 feet sometimes necessitates the trade of a bright light.
As a result, the 21-goal scorer was shipped to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional second round draft picks in this year’s draft.
(Based on draft position, Dallas will receive a second round pick from Ottawa, San Jose or Toronto per the conditions in which Anaheim acquired the pick from Toronto in a previous trade).
The choice could become a first rounder by late in the playoffs if Eaves plays in at least 50% of the Ducks’ postseason games in the first two rounds and his new team advances to the conference finals.
The Stars’ participation in those post-season games is very much in question, which necessitated this swap.
“My job is to look after the franchise today, tomorrow and in the future, opportunity…we have to do what’s right,” General Manager Jim Nill said when he announced the trade. “This is part of the business, and we’ve put ourselves in this position. It’s going to be an opportunity for somebody else. We are probably going to call some players up as we get going here. It’s an opportunity for other players and players know they have to do their jobs.”
Eaves was producing a career year with the Stars, posting a career-high for goals and 37 points in 59 games. “He’s probably been our MVP of the season (because) he’s played great for us and done a great job,” Nill added. “You can put him anywhere in the lineup. He can kill penalties, be on the power play, he does all the little things right in the offensive zone.”
Eaves acknowledged that he has benefitted from good fortune and some productive teammates with this year’s Stars. “I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities this year, being on the power play and playing a lot of good minutes five-on-five,” he said. “Fortunately, I haven’t been hit by any pucks this year that have done any damage. All those things together have helped me put up (these) number. Hopefully I can continue on the path I am with the Ducks.”
The reaction in the Dallas locker room to the trade of a popular teammate was predictable. “He’s one of the most unselfish guys I’ve ever played with,” insisted Stars captain Jamie Benn. “(He’s) a great teammate and a great guy. (The trade) was tough news to hear.” We put ourselves in this situation. I wish we hadn’t (done that).”
“It’s unfortunate,” said center Jason Spezza. “You almost feel a little bit guilty because it’s the product of the season that we’ve had. “He’s one of the only guys that can say he’s had a great year. When you lose a guy like that because of the situation we are in, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror a little bit. It’s frustrating to lose a guy like that because you want to be adding this time of year, not subtracting.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff added that “Patty has been our most consistent player while fighting through injuries the whole year. We’re going to miss him. He does a lot of real good things inside the game. He just plays the game the right way. We’re going to miss his game, but I’m happy for him and happy he’ll get a good opportunity. For us, it’s a place you don’t want to be, but we know where we’re at. I talked to him for a good period of time afterwards. He’s excited and disappointed. He likes it here, and he’s going to miss not being here.”
Nill began receiving calls about several of his skaters who will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Eaves was in that group and has a low salary cap hit. Nill said the possibility of obtaining a potential first round pick “was the key. We were talking second-round pick and maybe a prospect, and as we got closer to it, there were other teams involved. (When the Ducks) were willing to make it a possible first-round pick, that was kind of the last part of the trade.”
Nill didn’t rule out the possibility of Eaves returning when he hits the free agent market in July. “We’ll wait and see,” Nill said. “He’s been a great Dallas Star. He and I go way back, and he will be (an unrestricted free agent), so that is something we’ll approach down the road. We’ll keep an eye on him and see where it goes.”
The 32-year old Eaves last reached the 20-goal mark as a rookie with the Ottawa Senators in 2005-06. He has also skated for Carolina, Detroit and Nashville before reaching Dallas in 2014-15, where this season he was on his second consecutive one-year pact.
Ducks general manager Bob Murray admitted that he paid a premium to acquire Eaves and his cap friendly contract ($1 million). “Patrick making what he was making was a huge bonus for us,” Murray said. “It’s tough when everything is dollar for dollar. Teams are right up against the cap and we don’t know where it’s going next year.”
Eaves gives Anaheim another tough veteran forward with good hands who is willing to withstand punishment at the front of the opponent’s net, especially on the power play.
“I remember him in Detroit and I know he’s been able to put up offensive numbers with good players,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “He can be a guy that fits in with everybody.”