Jordan Eberle's contract negotiations didn't heat up until after the season, but the Islanders forward was planning to return to Long Island well before then. Free agency, which loomed two weeks away, was a "last resort" in his mind.
On Friday, his intentions to stay became official, signing a five-year deal with the Islanders, keeping him in blue and orange through the 2023-24 season.
"The whole time my mindset was to try to get a deal done with Long Island," Eberle said via conference call on Friday. "I liked it there, I enjoyed the community, the playoffs were great. I liked the direction of where the team is going. I love the way that we play. I think the biggest aspect of our team is just the camaraderie that we have and how tight knit of a group [we have]. I think that's why we're a good team."
Video: On the Phone: Jordan Eberle
From Eberle's point of view, there was a lot to like in his two-year trial run with the Islanders, many of which he outlined above. Perhaps what mattered most - or at least what came up numerous times in his call - was the team's camaraderie and closeness as a group, something he acknowledged isn't always easy to find and he thinks contributed to the team's 103-point season.
"This is one of the tighter knit groups that I've been with," Eberle said. "Whether you talk about the wives hanging out or the guys or whatever it is, we just seem to get along. We play as a team. We roll four lines. Everyone has a role. Not many teams have that. We learned how to win that way and we've go to continue to do that."
Eberle spoke further about his relationship with Mathew Barzal, the Isles 22-year-old dynamo who's spent parts of the last two years as Eberle's linemate. Eberle has grown close with Barzal, establishing chemistry on the ice over two seasons and an older brother-younger brother dynamic off it. Barzal was quick to post a photo on his Instagram story of him and Eberle hugging on the ice, reading "5 more years for the kid!!"
"That's a reason I also chose to want to be on Long Island," Eberle said of Barzal. "I love playing with him. We build off each other and we feed off each other and we seem to play well. Not just him, but there's obviously some other good talent on the team if you look at [Devon] Toews who had a great year and Ryan Pulock… Those are all reasons why you choose teams. Not to mention, you gain relationships with guys and I'm close with all of them."
But as much as his teammates was an important factor in his decision, so to was the Islanders organizational stability. Eberle has played for seven coaches in his nine NHL seasons and is looking forward to playing under Head Coach Barry Trotz for a second straight year and building off the team's success in 2018-19.
"I haven't gone many years without having the same coach two years in a row," Eberle said. "It's nice coming back with some stability and some familiarity, somewhere where I can pick up where I left off last year."
Like Brock Nelson, who signed a six-year deal back on May 23, Eberle credited Trotz, as another reason to stay. Eberle's offensive numbers may have taken a dip last season, but he feels he's gained a new defensive dimension to his game thanks to Trotz.
"A big reason why we won is the way that he coached," Eberle said. "There's a reason that he's up for the Jack Adams. I think he's helped me grow my game. Not so much offense, but a two-way game. At the end of the year, it started to click. I owe a lot to becoming a better player because of him."
Video: Eberle Re-Signs With Islanders
That's not to say Eberle doesn't plan on being a key offensive contributor for the Islanders. His 37 points (19G, 18A) last season were his lowest totals since 2012-13, but the six-time, 20-goal scorer puts that down to learning a new hockey philosophy. He figures he fully adjusted around February and was one of the hottest Islanders down the stretch drive, scoring five goals in the last seven games. In the playoffs Eberle led the Islanders with nine points (4G, 5A) and tied for the team lead in goals.
"It wasn't until maybe February that I got it going and took my game to another level and into the playoffs," Eberle said. "It was really from that moment on that I really wanted to try and get something done and be a part of the Islanders."
Six weeks later, he made it official and he's excited for his future with the Islanders.
"I liked what we had going. I liked obviously the coaches and the GM, I liked where their mindset were at," Eberle said. "I was really happy with the way that I was playing and wanted to pursue that for a full year. I really found my niche with this team... I really like the team, the guys are great, my wife and I love it there. It just made sense and I was happy to get one done."