Eleven months and 13 days after the Islanders heard a player give them a seemingly devastating “No,” they received a surprising and emphatic “Yes.” Jordan Eberle, whom the team once saw as a terrific complement to John Tavares, chose to stay with the organization that Tavares left. In Eberle’s case, the Islanders and the Island made a believer out of him.
Credit that to a whole new view, from the inside and out, on the franchise since last July 1. Eberle was seen by many hockey experts as the free agent most likely to leave and he chose to stay, and not just for a little while. He’s on board for five years, having taken to heart what it means to be a New York Islander and, just as significant, a Long Islander.
Score Eberle’s decision to stay is a sign of faith in general manager Lou Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz and the future at Belmont Park. Don’t undersell the importance of the latter.
Repeatedly on a conference call with reporters Friday, hours after the contract announcement, he spoke of how much he and his wife like Long Island. He said it is not a secret in the tight National Hockey League fraternity that players like playing there. It helps immensely that there is confidence that they actually will play there, and not be forced to endure a nebulous open-ended stay in Brooklyn.
Eberle loved the games at Nassau Coliseum. Who wouldn’t, and who didn’t? He obviously is confident about the planned new arena at Belmont, which he expects to be his hockey home during the course of the deal that he signed on Friday.
“That’s a big factor, too. You want to see the growth of the team and what’s going on,” he said. “I think you get a real sense of where the fan base is, based on talking to people and then the crowds that would show up and how loud they were at the Coliseum and how well we played there. Getting a new arena and being established in Long Island I think is a big part of it. I’m not sure what the schedule looks like for next year but having the option with the Coliseum and obviously the new building, that’s important.”
This was a huge decision for Eberle, who pointed out that at 29, “I’m not a young buck anymore.” He essentially chose this path for the heart of his professional life.
It was not all a matter of location, location, location. He cited the camaraderie, which is about the best he has experienced. He credited the overall direction set by Lamoriello. “He’s a great man. If you show him respect, he’ll show it back to you,” the winger said.
Then there was the way Trotz has transformed the image and performance of the whole team—and of the forward who wears No. 7. “I think he’s helped me grow my game, no so much offense but a two-way game,” Eberle said. “And obviously at the end of the year it started to click. I owe a lot to becoming a better player because of him.”
Eberle is not and never will be a superstar on the level of Tavares. But he is a useful player. More fundamentally, the fact he defied expectations, probably gave up some money and chose to stay all reflect what the Islanders now are and what they might become. Had the current scenario, including the arena situation, been in place last July 1, I bet there would have been a different answer from their now-former captain.
Bottom line: In hockey terms, the Island is a much, much better place than it was a year ago.