Subscriber Suggestion: What's the deal with Cody Eakin?
Thanks to reader Matt C. for asking to hear more about the guy Sabres fans love to dislike immensely
If the title wasn’t enough to make you wonder what the hell is going on here, let me elaborate. I’ll take requests (and review them and think if it’s a good idea to write about) and if it tickles my fancy enough, by golly, I’ll do it. My mind and my virtual mailbag is always open.
Today’s email comes from Matt C.
What’s the deal with Cody Eakin? He’s been here 2 seasons. He’s and enigma. He kinda sucks and/or is overpaid. His charts are bad. For the fans, there’s been no articles about him. For example, why does he look like that? What did Botterill see in him? Why is he here?
Thanks for writing, Matt and thanks for allowing me to shoot off the cuff a little bit.
First off, it’s funny to see you call him “an enigma” and it made me double-check to see if Eakin is a Russian.
Nope, he’s from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada which is definitely not Russia but can feel and look a lot like Siberia in winter. That’s fun I guess. As for why he looks that way… Whatever do you mean, Matt? He’s a ginger (a rare breed in the NHL), he’s sort of got a mullet, and he definitely has a Joe Dirt mustache. I also learned from Capitals teammate Karl Alzner on an appearance on the Alz Caps Podcast his nickname as a rookie in Washington was, “Squeak.” You gotta love a guy like that, right?
Alas, things don’t always work out the way you want them to do.
Eakin signed with the Sabres during Kevyn Adams’ first free agent class as general manager of the team. Piecing together a Sabres team that had serious (?) ideas about competing for the postseason with the signing of Eakin and Taylor Hall. Eakin’s addition was viewed as one that would improve Buffalo’s play in its bottom six forward group, particularly after they decided not to bring back Johan Larsson.
What the Sabres saw in Eakin (particularly in comparison to Larsson) is a head-scratcher, especially after the 2019-2020 season. Eakin split his time that year between Vegas and Winnipeg and he had his lowest point output (15 points in 49 games) since 2016-2017 in Dallas (12 points in 60 games). Eakin’s shot and possession numbers at 5-on-5 (580 minutes) were very average (50 CF%; 49.4 SF%; 47.1 xGF%) while Larsson’s numbers (18 points in 62 games; 50.7 CF%; 48.3 SF%; 51.1 xGF%) were a little bit better with more time on ice (774 minutes) and Larsson played 50 more minutes than Eakin on the penalty kill.
The raw numbers don’t make it as clear as the charts from HockeyViz.com (subscription needed) do. Eakin affected both the offense and defense negatively while Larsson was a boon to suppressing chances in his end and contributed positively on offense. With all these things in mind, why would the Sabres not even discuss a contract with Larsson and give a multi-year deal to Eakin? This is where hindsight comes in really handy.
We learned after the Jack Eichel trade that he told Buffalo management after the 19-20 season he didn’t want to stick around for a rebuild which led the Sabres to try and take one big swing at the playoffs. After all, they were a win away from being part of the NHL COVID-19 Bubble Postseason which gave the false sense that things were going in an upward direction. Never mind that the Sabres were 25th in the NHL and they just cleaned house of everyone responsible for that apart from Ralph Krueger.
They had no interest in moving ahead with Larsson who went from stats darling, to pariah, to cult hero throughout his Sabres tenure. They committed multiple year extensions to Zemgus Girgensons and Tage Thompson and brought in Eakin and Hall. Hall was the superstar to (perhaps) twist Eichel’s arm into wanting to stay and show they were serious and Eakin came in two seasons removed from being part of the Golden Knights’ inaugural season Stanley Cup Final team which he was a positive offensive influence in his two seasons in Vegas. Star power and a Playoff Performer are the sorts of things that could be seen as showing they’re trying really hard to win and mean it, too! Throw in a pile of one-year signings coming out of an extended break because of the pandemic and the thinking was that in a shortened season maybe you can catch lightning in a bottle.
Instead the Sabres caught farts in a jar.
They lost 18-straight games, Eichel injured his neck, and got Krueger (rightfully) fired as they wound up the worst team in the NHL and it was Eakin who was (unfortunately legitimately) the worst player on the team.
Of Sabres players with 300 or more minutes played at 5-on-5, he had the lowest CF% (39.3), third lowest shots-for percentage (40.9; ahead of only Jacob Bryson and Rasmus Ristolainen), lowest expected goal percentage (36.2), and lowest scoring chances for percentage (35.4). Being the worst player on the worst team is rough, to say the least, and by any measure it would’ve been difficult for him to be any worse this season. Thankfully, he’s not.
Eakin’s fancy stats are much improved. He’s basically broken even on CorsiFor and scoring chances for percentage (50 CF%; 50.7 SCF%), he’s third on the Sabres in shots for percentage (52.6), and his expected goal percentage is 53.5. Playing most of his minutes with Girgensons and Kyle Okposo and make us think back to the old LOG line when it was Larsson instead of Eakin.
It’s not yet a feel-good story for Eakin, but it’s getting there. Don Granato’s system seems to be allowing everyone the opportunity to play to their strengths and his faith in players is giving them a boost as well. As for Eakin, it’ll be hard for him to be a full-on fan favorite, especially since fans are harder to come by at home these days, but he’s not a pariah and he’s not being forced into situations where he’ll fail. A little victory is still a victory.
Statistics in this post courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com
Cody Eakin sparkling unicorn art from Joanna Eberts — Check out Joanna’s work at her website and hire her for crying out loud — she rules