What can you say about Ben Eager? In a season where he completely outperformed any fan’s reasonable expectations, he still left you feeling let down after his meltdown in the final two games of the playoffs.
During the regular season, Eager was one of the many pleasant surprises of the Chicago Blackhawks. After coming over from the Philadelphia Flyers, Eager was already known for his willingness to drop the mitts. Albeit, he didn’t do it very well, but he would do it, nonetheless.
What came as a surprise was his ability to chip in on the offensive end. He spent most of the season on the fourth line but when the time called for it, Joel Quenneville was able to put him on the Top 6. That was key, as when the Hawks were at full strength, it gave the coaching staff the opportunity to roll all four lines for 60 minutes a night. Eager was a huge, if not the main, reason for that.
The former first round pick had a breakout year of sorts by scoring a career high 11 goals. His best performances came on November 20th against the Dallas Stars when he chipped in a goal and assist in a 6-3 win and on February 19th when he scored two goals in a 4-0 win against the Florida Panthers.
In the playoffs, Eager had his best series against the Vancouver Canucks. He scored his only goal of the playoffs in Game 2 and it was a big one in the Hawks come from behind victory.
In the Detroit series, it’s safe to say that Eager may have lost his head. In the final two games, he chalked up a grand total of 30 penalty minutes and looked like a complete asshat in doing so. The performance even led some to speculate it would be the end of Ben Eager in the Indian head.
It wasn’t to be though, as he re-signed with the Blackhawks to a one-year deal this summer.
Eager’s 2009-’10 will be a success if….
His shooting percentage stays impressive. Ben Eager won’t get many offensive chances on a nightly basis but when he does, he definitely makes the other team pay. Last year, Eager posted a 13.8% shooting percentage. That was just slightly above his career average which checks in at 12.1%. If he can stay around those two numbers, then he may just set another career high in goals.
He remains the team’s line rover. Having a player who can skate with the fourth line one night and the second line the next is luxury not many teams can lay claim to. The Hawks are one of them if Eager is up to the task. His ability to either check anything that has a pulse or skate with the best forwards on the team gives the Hawks a ton of roster flexibility. With a key injury and a possible suspension looming, they’ll probably ask him to do it once again.
Eager’s 2009-10 will be a disappointment if…
He decides to play the role of enforcer. If watching Eager play over the last year and a half has taught us anything, it is that he is not a knuckle-dragging meathead out there to only do one thing. It’s fairly well documented that he can’t stand toe-to-toe with any of the NHL’s heavyweights; and that’s not a bad thing, he’s much better when he’s playing the role of annoying menace. However, if Eager decides he’s going to be Derek Boogaard, then there’s a decent chance he won’t stay healthy enough to last more than 65 games.
He racks up more than 200 penalty minutes. In the same vain as the previous point, Eager has to control his emotions. When he’s running around hitting anything that moves, he’s an incredibly effective player. When his effort isn’t there and he just wants to run his mouth, then he’s as useless as the Hawks first line from the 2000-2001 season. If he can walk that fine line, then he’s going to have a pretty solid year. If he’s constantly crossing it and making himself look like a clown, then the act will wear thin fairly quick among the Hawk faithful.
Ben Eager will go into this campaign with some of the lower expectations on the team. If he scores, then everybody will love him. If he doesn’t, no one will care. As long as he keeps his head on straight, then it will be hard to point the blame at him if this season should head south.
If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is.