By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — What exactly is the over/under on the number of “Jordan Eberle to Boston” rumors we’re going to hear between now and the NHL trade deadline?
That number had to be at least four or five figures.
First, the Bruins and Eberle seemed to be connected in trade rumors once a day for the last three-four years of his seven-year stint in Edmonton. Second, the 28-year-old is entering the last year of his current contract with the rebuilding New York Islanders and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
I know it’s the first week in August and it’s a weird time to be thinking of trade-deadline rentals, but what else would you possibly want to read about right now?
Thoughts of Eberle in black and gold first came to me when I read a list of 2019 unrestricted free agents in The Hockey News. Of course, the right wing makes $6 million a season and has scored at least 20 goals in the past six full NHL seasons, averaging 26 goals per season in that span. He’s going to be due a big raise if you want to re-sign him. And as far as a trade package, take what the Bruins gave up for Rick Nash and increase it by at least 50 percent. If you’re going to trade for Eberle, you’re going to have to be ready to part with a chunk of those prospects you’ve been grooming and commending the past several years.
The Islanders, of course, have to be thinking about locking up Eberle for the long term because of his abilities, the pain of already losing John Tavares, and the chemistry Eberle found with Mathew Barzal last season. When they hired Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operations, the Islanders weren’t planning on a total strip down of the organization and you have to think the Islanders look at Eberle as a core piece.
Nonetheless, it’s fun to think about Eberle flanking David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. It’s also just one thing to think about now that several 2019 UFA have been in the news.
Jeff Skinner came to the forefront when he was traded by Carolina to Buffalo for a prospect and two draft picks. As news surrounding the trade trickles out, it’s evident the Hurricanes may not have gotten the best return for Skinner in most experts’ minds, but they got the package they wanted. Another team, including the Bruins, might have been able to knock the Hurricanes’ socks off, but they were also dealing with Skinner’s no-move clause and so far we don’t know (and may never know) what other teams he was willing to go to.
The 26-year-old Skinner had 24 goals last season and 34 the prior season. He’s also just 5-foot-11, 200 pounds and has had concussion issues. If Buffalo goes off the rails this season again, Skinner could be a somewhat cheaper rental in late winter, but he’ll also be due a pretty raise on his $5.75 million contract if his production remains at the level it’s been the past couple seasons. Skinner’s production might keep the Sabres’ turnaround on track for once, but you never know.
And then there are two other forwards who recently signed one-year contracts as restricted free agents in advance of becoming UFAs next summer. Mark Stone avoided arbitration and signed for $7.35 million with Ottawa. Kevin Hayes signed with the New York Rangers for $5.125 million
Stone had 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 58 games last season and he’s been at least a 20-goal scorer four years running. There’s no way to tell what the Senators are thinking as they continue to hang on to Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene, who will also be UFAs in 2019. The dysfunction in Canada’s capital might be ripe for a heist and Stone could be a deadline pickup that a team could add to its core for this season and multiple years after. The way Ottawa has operated lately, however, one wouldn’t be surprised to see them hang on to all their UFAs in an effort to prevent that first-round pick they sent to Colorado in the Duchene trade from soaring to the top of the charts. And then they’d probably lose everyone for nothing. Would you be surprised?
The mention of Hayes’ name makes some Bruins fans hold their nose because it brings back memories of the disaster that was brother Jimmy Hayes’ short stay back home. But Kevin is at least three times the player Jimmy was, and he’s big (6-foot-5, 217 pounds) and versatile – the type of player that could anchor a third line for years if the likes of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic don’t work out, particularly this season.
The Rangers similarly have high-end center prospects they’re hoping will make an impact this season and beyond, and that could make Hayes, who had 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) last season, available. Ideally the Bruins won’t be in the market for a Hayes type, but it could happen and he could be on their trade-deadline shopping list.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled summer activity, but not before starting the countdown on those Eberle rumors, in 3 … 2 … 1.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.