As we move into another summer of changes and rebuilding for the Arizona Coyotes, once again the team is looking for ways to improve and add to its growing young core. We've talked before about how they need to add players to, if nothing else, be ready for the expansion draft on June 21st and actually have players available to be exposed in the first place.
The obvious way to do this, it would seem, would be by trade. Either by acquiring very useful players that other teams risk losing for nothing or taking advantage of teams strapped for roster or cap space in order to get quality players at a slight discount.
This is where John Chayka and the front office could excel - finding the value in a suddenly crowded trade market as teams desperately look to get the maximum value they can while avoiding losing players who they'd otherwise have to expose and potentially lose for nothing.
There is a basic law in economics - the law of supply and demand. With a lot of teams looking to sell off surplus assets and at least get some return back on them during the buildup to the expansion draft, there will most likely be some very good players available at a potential bargain.
For example, look at Nail Yakupov with the Edmonton Oilers last offseason: he was a former first overall pick who was priced at just a second or third round pick and was eventually dealt for a conditional third-rounder to the St. Louis Blues.
Perhaps, though, the name that will make NHL GM's ears perk up more than most is once again in Edmonton, where Jordan Eberle is suffering the very roughest of rides right now.
He's unpopular with his coach. He has the local and national media ripping him to shreds for being "soft", and we've already reached the state of play where "team insiders" are briefing journalists against him.
Something else happened like this with a Canadian team two summers ago. That team was Toronto. The player was Phil Kessel, to the point where he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a (relatively) discounted price (including Toronto retaining salary) in a deal that many prominent Toronto media said "had to happen" to change team culture and praised as a key move in moving forward.
We're sure you remember what happened next. But in case you forgot, this six minutes is an excellent summary.
All of the same criticisms that were being leveled at Kessel so viciously in Toronto's era of underachieving are now being thrown at the 26-year-old Eberle, and they're depressingly familiar to any watcher of hockey trends.
He's "soft". The "effort isn't there". He's "not physical enough". He's "not a player you can win with". His coach doesn't like him. Team insiders are seemingly actively briefing against him.
And now, the national Canadian media is openly salivating at the prospect of discussing a trade, partially because it allows them to recycle every article they wrote about Kessel between 2013 and 2015, merely with a new cast of characters.
Here's the thing, though. The similarities between Kessel and Eberle in terms of their style of play are striking. Both are speedy wingers who are equally comfortable making plays passing or shooting. Both have a natural touch in front of the net. Both have suffered dry spells.
And both, right or wrong, were being strongly linked to the ills of their team and pinpointed as "must trade" players in a team looking to change its identity.
In such a landscape comes opportunity, if teams are willing to take it.
The Coyotes have everything they could possibly require to make a trade for Eberle work. They have the cap space (and boy, do they have it!). They have a dire need for scoring: as exciting as the young stars are, there is no doubt whatsoever that adding a player who has scored 20 goals in all but one full season (which was his first in the NHL, when he netted a "mere" 18) on a team that has been woeful for most of his tenure in the league would elevate the team considerably. Consider, for example, a top line of Max Domi, Clayton Keller, (or perhaps Dylan Strome, if he ever makes a breakthrough, or Christian Fischer) and Eberle. Admit it: you're smiling a little, aren't you?
There's more, though. Here, depicted in the HERO Charts courtesy of Domenic Galamini's wonderful work at Own The Puck, Eberle is compared to a selection of Arizona wingers - including three of the rest of the top four, in fact.
What those pictures show, essentially, is that Eberle is better than all of the "key" wingers Arizona currently have.
He's also a player who his team seemingly can't wait to get rid of, and while he's on an expensive contract, it's also relatively short-term, running until the end of the 2018-2019 season, so the risk factor is somewhat mitigated.
So then we come to price - a point which could potentially submarine this whole deal - apart from the part where, in a similar situation the price for Phil Kessel was, while seeming pricey at first, essentially two role players and a good prospect (it has to be cautioned at this point that Kasperi Kapanen has so far justified the Leafs' faith in him as a key part of the Kessel deal, mind you).
But this is Edmonton, a team whose GM has a fetish for role-players and who has already avowed that he wants to get "bigger and meaner". Let's consider something here. Would you trade the relatively uncertain future of Dylan Strome for Jordan Eberle, or maybe even, if Chayka can pull his wizardry, a deal of...say, Lawson Crouse and another mid-range prospect?
That's a deal that, given previous deals (like the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade), the Oilers could be persuaded to take - particularly the one involving Crouse, as it gives them a big, mean forward of the mold that they like and won't have to worry about protecting in June. Meanwhile, Edmonton could free up cap room for the pending Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid extensions while also shedding what many in the Oilers camp now seem to view as an expensive distraction.
History tells us in the NHL that one GM's "soft overrated player" is another's superstar. The redemption of Jordan Eberle will likely happen away from Edmonton in the near future.
There's a very strong argument for saying that the desert is the perfect destination for it to happen over the next few years. After all, a few years ago, nobody would've picked Pittsburgh as the place for the redemption of a goalscoring superstar underappreciated by his Canadian home, would they?
Perhaps it's time for the Yotes to add a lone prairie wolf, cast out and looking for a new pack this summer.