Perennial All-Star and 30-goal scorer, or a more common first-second line platoon player: Which is more likely?

The Edmonton Oilers are betting against the market when it comes to Jordan Eberle.

It’s not that Eberle is a one-hit wonder or he’s going to bust out of Edmonton, it’s that no player is as good as an outlier season early in their hockey career.

His new contract isn’t horrible. It’s a decent-enough term and you’ll guarantee that Eberle’s costs won’t raise as he goes through his prime years. It’s manageable, and the Oilers don’t already have any anchor contracts. Once 2015 rolls around, they’ve commit just $12M. Half of that to Taylor Hall, half of that to Eberle.

But they team will need to find some creative ways to use their resources. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry, all presumable key players on an Oilers club going forward, need to get paid between then. The NHL will have a lower salary cap next season, but that won’t be the test for the Oilers. It will be the years ahead when the Oilers have to fit those guys under a figure that will be lower than the $70.3M salary cap they face today.

This requires making the right bets.

An outlier season in a player’s first or second season will do wild things to expectation. Marek Svatos and Petr Prucha practically fell off the map after stellar 2006 campaigns fuelled by a ridiculous number of powerplay opportunities.

Svatos scored 32 goals in 61 games, which equals 43 over an 82-game season. In his remaining 283 games, he scored 68 goals, which equals about 20 over an 82-game season.

For Prucha, more of the same: 36 goals per 82 games in his rookie season, followed by a huge shooting percentage drop-off and a 14 goals per 82 average for the remainder of his career.

In fact there are 10 players in the last 10 seasons, average and excellent players alike, who recorded shooting percentages of 17.3% or above and had at least 25 goals during their first two seasons in a vein similar to Eberle (36 goals per 82, 18.9% shooting rate).

G/82 SOG/GP Sh%
Outlier Season 37 2.4 18.8%
Rest of Career 26 2.5 12.7%
Eberle’s 2011-12 36 2.3 18.9%
Rest of Career ? ? ?

(Players on the list: Svatos, Prucha, Thomas Vanek, Jordan Staal, Bryan Little, Mike Comrie, Bobby Ryan, Jonathan Toews, Evgeni Malkin, Nathan Horton)

Is a 26-goal scorer worth $6M? Well, let’s just say that there were also more forwards who scored 26 goals (52) than there were forwards who made $6M or more last season (32). Presumably, if salaries slightly drop, this may make the $6M even more rare than the 26-goal scorer.

Again, Eberle won’t bust out of the NHL, but he won’t be as good of a player as he was in his 21-year old season going ahead. None of those players are. He may have another outlier season down the road, but for the most part, he could be kept to under 30 or 25 goals, and even less if he cedes powerplay or first line time to Edmonton’s newest scoring winger in Yakupov.

There is certainly more to it than goals and shots and shooting percentage, but the Edmonton Oilers haven’t shown in recent years a capacity to make the right bets. The team will end up paying a little more than they expected for Eberle’s intangibles, and the organization doesn’t likely understand how immediate and drastic Eberle’s scoring drop-off will seem when NHL hockey finally gets under way.