UFA of The Day: Ben Eager
The first thing we think of when Ben Eager comes to mind is unpredictability.
In game two against the Vancouver Canucks that idea was on full display-- the first period bore witness to the upside of Eager. He was a one man wrecking crew on the forecheck, took part in a pair of excellent scoring chances, and rang a dangerous wrist shot off the post that nearly put San Jose up 2-0. It looked as if he was on his way to an effective game that would result in his name showing up consistently on the scoresheet.
Which is what happened of course, although not in the way many would have liked it to. After yelling at the Vancouver bench following Patrick Marleau's fight with Kevin Bieksa, Eager proceeded to a) earn a boarding penalty by running Daniel Sedin 90 seconds after yelling at the bench b) trip Mason Raymond in the neutral zone, leading to a Canucks power play goal that put the score to 4-2 c) score a goal with 2:33 left in the game to "cut" the lead to 7-3, which ended with him d) raising his hands in celebration, letting out an audible whoop that was picked up by NBC's microphones, and standing over the prone Roberto Luongo and trash talking him while Joe Pavelski and Ian White tentatively tried to pull him off.
At the end of the game he finished with one goal, twenty penalty minutes, four shots on net, and a game misconduct.
Therein lies the essence of Ben Eager. Drafted in the first round by the Phoenix Coyotes for his imposing raw talent, Eager is a player who elicits no confidence in those predicting what he will bring to the table on any given night. For games (and now that you mention it, shifts) at a time Eager will be an immensely positive force on the ice. His bulldog mentality, strength, size, and excellent hands indicate a road to sustainable success can come at some time throughout in his career. Unfortunately, at the age of 27, that road has led him down the path of sucker punches to Colby Armstrong and trash talking opposing goaltenders with games well out of hand. Moments where he loses his composure-- moments where he probably deserves no such euphemisms.
Ben Eager is a loaded gun on the hockey battlefield, able to begin a revolution and end it with accidental fratricide only moments later. Ben Eager is a banker who promises gold, renegs to silver, and eventually delivers fiat currency to your door. He is a temptress that sings so sweetly at times it nearly makes you forget the long list of scorned lovers left behind, forgotten in the sands of time.
In terms of advanced metrics at 5v5, Eager's results are across the board and tell the story of a player who is deserving of his third/fourth line enforcer role. His quality of competition numbers were 14th on the team at a -0.078, right in line with what you would expect from an enforcer who plays on the fourth line. He was 11th in points per 60 minutes (1.36), but did pot four goals in 34 games with San Jose. He managed to break even and end up with a plus/minus of zero with San Jose, and during the course of the season was a positive at 5v5 with a +/- per 60 minutes of 0.25. He was 11th on the team in shots for versus shots against, finishing in the black at a +2 per 60 minutes. Defensive zone starts were a pleasant surprise, with Eager facing the sixth toughest situations on the team in this regard.
However, the most relevant statistic in my opinion is that of his penalty taken differential. Eager was second worst on the team with 1.5 penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice, trailing only Jamal Mayers and Scott Nichol (both will not return next season). That metric is inexcusable for fourth line players on an NHL roster. Coupled with his non-inclusion on special teams, Eager's body of work this season is not exactly one that screams for a contract offer.
That being said, NHL teams always do find a way to give themselves a safety blanket and ice a tough-guy of Eager's ilk. With the NHL roster devoid of such players, and only Frazer McLaren having experience in San Jose serving such a role, there may be a desire to keep him around in order to serve up a special brand of vigilante justice.
The merits of such an idea should be questioned due to the above statistics however.
Final Words: There is no doubt in my mind that Eager can be an extremely effective player in the NHL. His raw talent combined with his devil may care physical play has a place in this League, and for that reason alone, San Jose will remain interested in his services this offseason. There is a lot here to like, but as we've pointed out in our analysis, there is a lot here that should be a concern for the organization as well.
Eager is a player who would do well to play under a very strict disciplinarian, an old-school fire and brimstone coach like Mike Keenan. A full year under that type of discipline would likely result in a more fortuitous approach to his role of fourth line agitator. With those types of coaches leaving the NHL however, Eager's ability to find a way to curb his needless penalties will have to come from within.
In conjunction with Eager the player, his future with San Jose is unpredictable. Doug Wilson clearly saw a talented forward when he acquired Eager from the Atlanta Thrashers midway through the season, and even though I tend to fall on the "nay" side of the ledger when it comes to re-signing his services, there is an appeal here. Ultimately I think that upside has greater application in theory rather than practice and would not offer him a contract.
If Eager does re-sign however, expect the contract to come in the one-year $0.900 MM range.