One of the things I’m convinced of is that one of the biggest differences between the Detroit Red Wings’ Stanley Cup-winning squads and the teams of the past few seasons is the depth and effectiveness of the bottom six forwards. The best Wings’ lineups had clear advantages over most opponents when the third and fourth lines, while some of the guys who played those roles recently… well, they were just guys.
That started to change for the better with last season’s youth-infused third line, but the fourth line remains a work in progress. Patrick Eaves is one of the players who has been a frequent bottom six presence in recent campaigns, but can he be part of the solution going forward? Let’s investigate…
Looking Back At Patrick Eaves’ 2013:
When Detroit players started going down to injury left and right at the beginning of the season, Eaves was no doubt sympathetic. He had just completed his own lengthy return from a nasty concussion that forced him to miss all but 10 games in 2011-12, and just seeing him back in uniform was a bit of a triumph.
Eaves managed to make it through the shortened 2013 season mostly intact, missing a few games with minor ailments (including once going day-to-day after taking a puck to the face, which fortunately broke nothing this time) and other times serving as a healthy scratch. Playing with some combination of Cory Emmerton, Drew Miller and Jordin Tootoo, he was pretty much entrenched on the fourth line.
That effected his scoring, or lack thereof. Though he managed to post double-digit goal totals during his last two relatively healthy campaigns, Eaves scored just twice in 2013. At least one was a big goal: he notched the game-winner against the Nashville Predators on April 25, a game the Red Wings absolutely needed to win to make the playoffs.
The fourth line in general played well down the stretch, yet Eaves’ primary contribution was probably killing penalties. The PK wasn’t quite the same without Darren Helm, but Eaves and Miller formed an effective pairing (when they were both healthy anyway) that managed to ensure the unit held its own.
Looking Ahead To 2013-14:
Though the Wings still could stand to shed some payroll, Eaves would seem to be relatively safe. Only three players currently under contract make less than his $1.2 million, and he’s set to become and unrestricted free agent next season. That means that while he could be dealt to free up money for the likes of Gustav Nyquist or Dan Cleary, he shouldn’t be at the top of the list of trade candidates.
That being said, he’s no lock to play every night when (if?) the whole contingent of forwards is healthy. His penalty killing skills could give him a leg up on the competition, but it will likely be a short leash for playing time in the bottom six since there’s more depth this season, at least on paper.
Eaves and Miller might make nice wings on either side of Joakim Andersson, who could open up more space for Eaves to start finding the net a few more times again. But whether his destiny lies as a regular, a spot player or outside of Detroit altogether, there’s always a spot somewhere for guys who skate fast and play hard, and Eaves certainly does both of those things.