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.

Comments (9)

  1. Editing Issue: “In his remaining 764 games, he scored 283 goals, which equals about 20 over an 82-game season.” ? Marek Svatos did not score 300 goals in the NHL.

    • He also did not play over 764 games. I wonder who Cam was looking at? Weird.
      Also for me the toughest part will be that he effectively makes the same money as Hall who is going to produce more over his contract. Eberle will be compared to and expected to produce as well as Hall for the duration of his deal. Good luck with that.

    • Oh, yikes, I completely misread my spreadsheet. I was looking at two different columns. That’s 283 games not counting his outlier season, and 764 career shots.

      Fixing now. Doesn’t change his goals per 82 rate.

  2. The Oilers are going to have to make some tough decisions in a few years. They are going to pile so much money into Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov (if he pans out, which he should) that they’ll have a tough time fielding more than a mediocre D, netminding, and goaltending. At some point someone is going to have to be moved.

  3. Eberle was a 1st round pick. Svatos and Prucha were 7th and 8th round selections, respectively. So on what basis, other than similar early career goal outputs, are those 2 a conclusive comparable for Eberle?

    “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.” You mean of that woefully minuscule sample size of, uh, 2 players?

    Stamkos started with seasons of 23 and 51 goals. Was that 51 an outlier season for him, never to be duplicated?

  4. Statistics like this belong in baseball, where hitting percentages and pitching are driven for the most part by the individual. I pity those wasting their time on this type of thing. Team situations, is there anyone to play on a line with the player, health, and such all are factors in hockey. I guess itt is interesting filler for pages of hockey blogs and sites for those sick of CBA nonsense.

    • Even if we hold that as being factually true (and I don’t think that’s a wise bet), there are very few players who have shot ~19% consistently.

      Further to that, there are very few players whose on ice shooting % is above 13% (on ice shooting % is the shooting percentage of you and your teammates while you are on the ice), none of whom have managed to do it consistently.

      Unless you believe that Eberle is able to drive these numbers more than a guy like Crosby, you have to expect these percentages to go down.

      Now, on the flip side, even if his percentages do go down he can make that up by shooting the puck more. 35 goals on 185 shots and 35 goals on 225 shots is still a very valuable 35 goals, but getting those extra shots is going to be tough.

      I don’t agree with Cam that this is going to be his best season, but I do think he’s going to slip a bit over the next couple of years and then claw back up to this range.

      It’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves though. The initial reaction when a 21 year old scores ~75 points is to expect him to score more than 80 at 22. I think based on what we know about shooting %, that unless Eberle is an extremely unique player, his % will fall next year.

  5. So, Cam,

    not saying that Eberle is comparable to Malkin or even that he won’t regress next season, but when you use Malkin as a comparable and then say that none of the players on the list were as good as their outlier season you’re wrong. Evgeni Malkin’s outlier season was 47/59/106 (goals per: 0.57). The very next season he put up 35/78/113 (goals per: 0.53) an increase of 7 points all while his shooting percentage dropped 5.2%. Last year he exceeded his outlier with 50/59/109 (goals per: 0.67) and had a shooting percentage 2.6% lower. Again, not saying anything about Eberle, except that you included Malkin in the comparables…

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