Ben Eager has served his four-game suspension. Now his season resumes with San Jose.
The Thrashers traded the forward to the Sharks on Tuesday for a fifth-round draft pick in this year’s draft.
On Monday Eager completed an NHL suspension for the match penalty he received when he punched Toronto’s Colby Armstrong on Jan. 7. The 2002 first-round pick (23rd overall) will play for his fourth team when he joins San Jose in time for Thursday’s game in Vancouver. He said he was excited for the new opportunity.
“It’s always a big surprise when you get traded,” Eager told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Whenever you get traded to a new team you expect you are going to be there for a long time. It didn’t work out here. It’s part of the business. They have a great bunch of guys here. It’s tough leaving the guys. I got pretty close to some of the guys. Now I’ll go to the next team and make similar relationships.”
The trade may not be the last for the Thrashers. The team broke a four-game losing streak with a shootout win over Florida on Monday. It was just their fourth win in the past 13 games. According to general manager Rick Dudley, the next few games will determine if he needs to further change the roster.
“We went through a tough stretch on the schedule,” Dudley told the AJC. “We have to get back to the way we were playing. Personally, I want to see how we play the next few games. After that, if there is a move that makes sense, we will consider it. We have to get back to that tempo we were playing with [earlier in the season]. We did it for such a period of time that you can’t say it was a fluke.”
Eager played 34 games for the Thrashers with 10 points (three goals, seven assists). He admitted he has struggled of late. His last goal came Nov. 19. He appeared in just five of the team’s past 19 games, missing time as a healthy scratch, with a lower-body injury and the suspension. He did not dress in six of seven games from Dec. 11-21.
“I think the season started off pretty well for me personally,” Eager said. “The last month or so it hasn’t been the best for myself. Sometimes change is a good thing. I’m excited for a new opportunity.”
The Thrashers acquired Eager in June, fresh off his Stanley Cup winning season with Chicago. He came to the Thrashers with Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu.
Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said that Eager got limited playing time at left wing with the performances of Evander Kane, Fredrik Modin, Eric Boulton and Patrice Cormier.
“He had a pretty good opportunity early in the season for a bit of ice time,” Ramsay said. “Perhaps we didn’t communicate as well with him. I think he was maybe used to a different system and he was having some trouble adapting. We had some other people step up which took away some of that ice time. Once that happens, you get pushed down and it’s not as easy to perform at your best.”
Ramsay pointed especially to the play of Boulton as a reason for Eager’s diminished role. Dudley said it was also a priority to get Cormier’s career started.
“I think Eric Boulton did a really good job on that left side in the grinding, checking role, but he also scored,” Ramsay said. “It just became a bit of a hard thing to get the kind of ice time [Eager] hoped he would get.”
Ramsay has often been frustrated with the number of penalties his team has taken this season. Eager led the team with 77 penalty minutes. Following the match penalty against Toronto, the Maple Leafs scored four goals on the five-minute major power play.
“Benny is an unbelievable guy,” Boulton said. “It’s always sad when you see a friend and a good teammate like him leave. I’m sure he’ll take full advantage of his opportunity in San Jose and we are happy for him that he’s going to get a good start out there.”