The Calgary Flames made a little bit of noise on Sunday evening, as they announced veteran centre Cody Eakin would be joining the club on a professional tryout contract (PTO). For those unware of what a PTO entails, it is an opportunity for a team to bring in a player without any financial or contractual commitment.
The player gets the opportunity to tryout with the team in training camp and preseason games, and could earn a contract with the club if he performs to an acceptable standard. The player could also sign with another club, like Kris Versteeg choosing to sign with the Flames over the Oilers a few seasons ago.
Recently, the use of PTOs have become a way to preserve cap space, as you can sign the player at the end of training camp. Having the option to sign a player after camp opposed to before gives the GM a few more weeks of flexibility to make other things work. With the cap being so tight around the league and a number of free agents still available, we should see a large amount of PTOs as the days of summer dwindle.
The Flames have a lengthy use of PTO’s
The Flames have a long history with the use of PTOs, leading the league in the total number given out since 2015–16. Most PTOs are given out to fill spots in camp, but the Flames have signed a number to NHL contracts. This list includes Matt Bartkowski, Tanner Glass, Tobias Rieder, Zac Rinaldo, Brett Ritchie, and Michael Stone. That list includes quite a few depth forwards for the Flames over the years, who carved out roles by becoming a presence in training camp.
Eakin is the second PTO for the Flames in 2022–23 so far, joining defenceman Josh Brook, who signed an AHL contract with the Calgary Wranglers earlier this summer. One can assume the Flames will bring a few more players into camp, given their past history and the contract space they currently have.
Who is Cody Eakin?
Eakin has carved out a path as a defensive centre throughout his NHL career, slowly falling down the lineup as the years have passed. Previously a 35–40 point player in the prime of his career, the 31-year-old Eakin has only scored 24 points in 164 games (0.146 P/GP) over the past three seasons.
It’s safe to say that Eakin isn’t the same player he once was, but his hair definitely grades out among the league’s best. A quick glance at photos of him at the most recent Heritage Classic will have you pondering getting a ginger mullet yourself.
The one stat which Eakin still does particularly well in is faceoffs, being among the league leaders in this category for many seasons. But, faceoffs don’t have the same merits that they used to, so it’s a good he’s a positive faceoff performer, but it shouldn’t be the primary source of evaluation.
A deeper look into Eakin’s game
A deep dive into Eakin’s isolated 5v5 impact below, courtesy of HockeyViz.com, shows us the offensive black hole that Eakin has experienced over the past couple seasons. Eakin is among the league’s worst in terms of offensive creation, as chances seem to evaporate when they reach his stick.
Eakin also had a good defensive season last year in Buffalo, but that was the only season in which he graded out as a decent defensive player since 2016–17. In between, Eakin has struggled defensively, with a flurry of chances against presenting themselves when Eakin is on the ice compared to when he isn’t.
Eakin’s RAPM chart over the last three seasons below, courtesy of EvolvingHockey.com, tells a very similar story. Eakin is only above-average in terms of xGA/60, and well below the league average in every other category. In fact, Eakin grades out as one of the worst in the league in terms of xGF/60 and CF/60, meaning there is little to no offensive creation when he sets foot on the ice.
Microstat profiles show Eakin as an above-average dump and chase player, and a slightly below-average defensive player. Those are the only two categories which Eakin even grades out remotely well, which… isn’t great. Could Eakin perform adequately in a limited role with the Flames? It’s possible, especially since Darryl Sutter does perform magic with players. Taking a shot on Eakin over other players with better recent track records is where the conflict arises.
As a PTO, there is little risk in bringing Eakin into camp to fill a spot in camp, but I would not recommend the Flames sign him. Eakin brings certain characteristics, like being good at faceoffs and good defensively at times, but is a complete black hole in the offensive end.
As the NHL continues to trend towards skill and speed—demonstrated by the Stanley Cup winning Colorado Avalanche—players like Eakin no longer have the toolkit to be effective NHLers.
If the Flames are looking for a defensive-minded centre, options such as Riley Nash, Carter Rowney, Victor Rask, or Derick Brassard should be considered over Eakin. Eakin does possess a great set of hockey hair, and that is one thing no one can take away from him.
Image from Reddit user u/_Mad_Desperado.