In order for the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights team to have the historic season that they did, they required a full team effort with contributions up and down their lineup. Offensive performances from William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron, and Reilly Smith, backed by future Hall-of-Famer Marc-Andre Fleury in net, highlighted the team’s success, but secondary performances were able to vault a solid team into one that came just a few wins shy of a Stanley Cup title in just it’s first try. One of those performances was from veteran forward Cody Eakin, who Vegas selected from the Dallas Stars in the 2017 Expansion Draft.
Originally a third-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2009, Eakin established himself as a complete player and dangerous scorer, breaking out the year after he was drafted with a 47-goal campaign for the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL in 2009-10. After another strong WHL season in 2010-11, Eakin made his NHL debut in his first full professional campaign in 2011-12, putting up 27 points in 43 games for the Hershey Bears of the AHL and another eight points in 30 NHL games for the Capitals. Following that season, he was dealt to the Dallas Stars, where he spent the majority of his career to-date. Eakin would play parts of four seasons in Dallas, having one of the best seasons of his career when he recorded 40 points in 78 games in 2014-15. Ahead of the 2016-17 season, he signed a four-year, $15.4MM deal to stay with the Stars, but wound up with Vegas for most of the final three years.
With Vegas, Eakin became a crucial depth piece for the organization as it chased an ultimately elusive Stanley Cup. Perhaps the best season of his career thus far came in 2018-19, setting career-highs in goals, with 22, and points, with 41, in 78 games. In the final year of his deal, Vegas dealt Eakin to his hometown Winnipeg Jets before he hit free agency in the 2020 offseason. The veteran would sign a two-year, $4.5MM contract with the Buffalo Sabres, but his production dropped off sharply, recording a mere 19 points in 115 games over the two seasons, a far cry from the 22 goals and 41 points he was just two seasons removed from when he signed in Buffalo.
Now a free agent more than a month after the market opened, the versatile forward appears to be paying for his struggles in upstate New York. As effective as Eakin is in his own end, on the penalty kill, and in the faceoff circle, it’s hard for almost any team to justify giving Eakin the roster spot and time-on-ice necessary to be effective with such little offensive production. The ability to score is there for Eakin, however he hasn’t produced 30 points since that career-best 2018-19 and that regression came with him still in his prime.
2021-22: 69 GP, 4-8-12, -15 rating, 22 PIMs, 74 shots, 56,0 FO%, 13:35 ATOI
Career: 701 GP, 110-146-256, -25 rating, 278 PIMs, 1,016 shots, 50.7 FO%, 15:16 ATOI
As discussed, given the complete lack of offensive production the past couple of seasons, it would be tough to find a team that could justify giving regular minutes to Eakin. His game is primarily focused on defense and playing in his own zone, so not having a stellar track record on the other side of the puck is understandable, but there is a clear difference between the 0.41 points-per-game Eakin averaged from 2013-14 through 2018-19, and the 0.21 points-per-game he’s averaged since.
All of that said, there are still several extremely valuable things Eakin brings to the table. For one, his ability to play in his own zone and kill penalties, something he’s been doing his entire career. Experience doing this and the ability to work with a team’s younger players on this can be extremely valuable. Speaking of experience, Eakin has been to a Stanley Cup Final and has 50 playoff games of experience under his belt. Not only that, given his play style, he’s been trusted in some of the most crucial moments of those playoff games before. Having been there, and done it, a team bringing in Eakin as a situational player can expect him not to be phased when the time comes.
The usual suspects for forwards in these Free Agent Profile articles tends to be the Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders, who could both use some help up front. However, Eakin doesn’t seem to make sense for either, who have a few options already that play a similar role. An option that could make sense is a reunion in Vegas. With Robin Lehner headed to LTIR, Vegas will have a little more space with which to work, and though it won’t allow for any groundbreaking moves, bringing in a familiar face to do the little things might be preferable to a veteran-heavy team like Vegas as opposed to a younger player with little NHL experience or some sort of a shuffle of taxi-squad players.
This late in free agency with many organizations set on their rosters, and especially now with his regression, it’s hard to imagine Eakin will see the sort of money he earned when he signed with Dallas in 2016 or Buffalo in 2020. Still, at 31 years of age, Eakin’s career is far from over, even if he’s approaching the tail-end of his prime years. Instead of hoping to extend his career just a bit longer, he is more likely still in a position to try to rebound and get back to the player he was in Dallas and Vegas not too long ago.
This might require him to take a league-minimum $750K contract, or even a two-way deal. It could also come on the heels of a successful PTO stint, which may be the most likely scenario at this point in the offseason. A PTO might actually be a favorable opportunity, with the signing team wanting to evaluate Eakin, they would put him in positions to succeed and show he’s capable of the rebound, which could ultimately lead to be more consistent opportunities out of the gate.