Even prior to Jordan Eberle signing his six-year, 36 million dollar deal with the Edmonton Oilers yesterday, the blogosphere was abuzz discussing his value. He put up mammoth numbers last season, made the all-star team, and the team’s other young star (well, one of them – Taylor Hall) had already signed his long-term deal.

The reason for the buzz was this: Oilers fans blindly love their electric young talent (sign him!), but the advanced stat crowd was pushing back (it’s a bad time after a lucky season!), citing his shooting percentage.

And oh man did that crowd cite his shooting percentage.

Tyler Dellow wrote about it (multiple times, predicting 54-60 points over 82 games, down from 76). Jonathan Willis wrote about it (predicting 26 goals in 82 games, down from 34). Scott Reynolds wrote about it. David Staples wrote about it. Our own Cam Charron wrote about it this morning. Even the Edmonton Journal mentioned it. You get the point.

In most cases, the theory is as follows. Jordan Eberle scored on nearly 19% percent of the shots he took last year, a preposterously high number (fourth highest in the NHL for players with over 100 shots). That is not sustainable. Because of that, the reality is that he’s a 50-60 point guy, and a 25-30 goal scorer, not a 30+, 70+ guy.

With Backhand Shelf being advanced stat heavy (Cam Charron and Daniel Wagner both use them often, Ellen Etchingham and Ryan Lambert both respect them), I feel the need to provide some balance in this debate: Jordan Eberle is not headed for some precipitous fall-off next season if he stays healthy. Also, his extension is pretty damn fair for a guy on an entry level deal after an all-star season. You can dislike it because you think he may fall down the depth chart in the future with all the team’s young talent behind him, but don’t go thinking the dollar amount is unreasonable based on his performance to date (well, under the current cap anyway – we’ll be able to better judge it once the new CBA is signed).

I just cannot believe how little this kid’s age has been referenced in the discussion. Like he’s not going to improve?

The kid's are gonna be alright.

Yes, your average player doesn’t see huge spikes and dips in their shooting percentage (which the advanced stat crowd thinks is luck – it varies from player to player because it isn’t entirely) without seeing results that exceed or fail-to-meet expectations. But there’s more to hockey than that. These aren’t computers playing the game.

Jordan Eberle will play next season in the NHL as a 22 year old, and it’ll be his third NHL season. He is still physically maturing. As with all players who crack the NHL at a young age, it takes awhile to hit their ceiling.

In the WHL, he scored 55 points as a rookie. Then 75. The 74 (less games). Then 105. He got bigger, stronger, faster, and more used to playing at that level. That happens at every level.

If Eberle’s shooting percentage were to fall (it will considerably), does that mean he’s a 50 point player? Of course it doesn’t. He’s going to be a better player next year because of physical and mental development. He’s going to be a better player because the Oilers exceedingly young team is another year older, and undeniably has more talent on the roster. He’s going to create more, and be the benefactor of more chances. Even if that development is incremental, it’s something (he’s also expressed that he’s had the best summer of training of his life).

I could see Jordan Eberle being a 70 point guy over the next six years (again, assuming he’s healthy), and frankly, I think the Oilers would be disappointed if he isn’t. As he showed in junior, he also has the capability to be among the best at his given level, meaning this is a guy who could go off for a 90 point season somewhere along the way. If 2/3rds of these young Oilers turn out to be what we think they can, I don’t think it’d be possible to play 82 games alongside them and put up 50-60 points with his talent level.

Eberle could score 30-plus goals again next season. I think he may need more shots to do it, but I think he’s going to get more. At the very least, I think he’s going to be able to get himself better looks to bury those shots too.

There’s way too much attention being placed on one stat here. The human element matters.

Comments (13)

  1. I’m following your twitter debate with Dellow right now, and I’m going to be the “middle man” here.

    I think Eberle’s numbers will fall off this year. But, he will be a better hockey player. He won’t be the next Petr Prucha. Here’s my theory why:

    A young player’s development is an alternating P year / S year cycle (Physical / Skill). This past year was an S year for Eberle. His skill increased (as evidenced by his point totals). So his training regimen likely focused more on the physical side (strength and conditioning) than the skill side (shooting, focus, control, etc). Training camp is good, but a player really needs a series of full-speed games to get fully in form (as any player returning from injury shows). So this year will be a P year for Eberle – he will spend the year getting used to the new things his body can do (absorb checks better, skate faster, whatever). Because of this, I see his points totals dropping. But his training regimen will then switch focus back to Skill, and next year, his production will increase.

    This P year / S year cycle continues til the player’s prime, when training becomes more about maintenance than overall improvement.

    So yes, I see Eberle’s numbers falling off this year, but I see them rebounding next year, with an overall improvement over the span of this contract.

    Does this make sense?

  2. I can dig that point. Not sure if it’s true or not, but I follow the thinking.

    One thing that gets me flustered when arguing stats w/ fancy-statters is that they can pull up numbers to defend their points (since they use the numbers to create their opinions, for the most part), but if you’re like me, and don’t necessarily believe our current stats tell the whole story (we’re pretty early into the advanced stat revolution), your point is somehow invalid because you don’t have a chart to back it up.

    • I totally understand that point. I respect the fancy stats, though I do not (and will never) rely on them alone. There’s too much human element in the game. Use Matt Cooke’s total style change as a rebuttal. No fancy-stat chart would’ve ever predicted that.

    • But is shooting % really a fancy stat? While many have pointed out that he saw pretty soft minutes last year most people are looking at sh% because it’s been pretty well demonstrated that most players shoot in a given range. I also think that the other part is that most people see Hall as the player with more potential and paying Eberle the same doesn’t fit with that.

    • There’s a “witches are made of wood because they float” element in the advanced stat crowd when it comes to shooting percentages.

      Nowhere is this more obvious than in the blind, blanket assertion that “no such thing as shot quality” exists, despite teams like the New York Rangers winning their conference using a strategy based almost entirely on manipulating shot quality to their advantage.

  3. Thank you sir for expressing my thoughts exactly on both Eberle and advanced stats. While I do see the merit of advanced stats and I’m sure they do help to evaluate a player, every time I hear or read someone start up about them, my eyes tend to roll up into my head, and I go into a comatose state. They are so bleeding boring. And they don’t tell the whole story. Like you said. The human element. Actually playing the dang game. I’m not saying they are garbage and shouldn’t exist. But I for one will never pay much interest in them.

    And on Eberle. The kid has sick mitts. A frickin lazer beam. And is the definition of clutch (See: Junior career highlights).

  4. Justin, I don’t necessarily disagree with your take, but I want to put your comment into context.

    You stated that you “could see Eberle being a 70-point guy over the next six years”.

    I did some digging on Hockey Reference. Over the duration of the CBA which just expired (so 2005-06 to 2012-13), this is the list of people who scored at a rate of 0.9 ppg per season more than 5 times (minimum 60 games played in a season).

    7 times – Henrik Sedin
    6 times – Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin, Jason Spezza, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton, Henrik Zetterberg
    5 times – Dainel Alfredsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal

    (Sidney Crosby has met the criteria 4 times, and the 3 other seasons of his career he exceed 0.9 ppg he didn’t play enough games).

    That’s a list of 14 forwards that I think is a pretty fair representation of the very best offensive forwards in the NHL over the last decade (There are probably a few younger names, such as Stamkos and Toews, who simply haven’t been around long enough to have this kind of longevity and consistency yet).

    I agree with the notion that Jordan Eberle won’t simply forget how to play hockey next season, but also respect the idea that regression is very real and that Oilers fans should prepare for stagnation or a decline in Eberle’s counting numbers this year.

    But while I sense that the “70-point” comment about Eberle was more of a possible ceiling than a bonafide projection, looking at the comparables I can’t help but feel that you’ve set him up to fail here.

    • I don’t see why it’s so hard to see Eberle as on that level. He put up over 70 points in his second year. To think that he won’t do it again, especially when you look at his teammates and the fact they are all only going to get better, seems quite pessimistic. Yeah maybe he’s not going to do it every year, but who’s to say he won’t do it a couple more times.

      IMO Eberle is the most underrated young star in the league. Hall drives the play better than anyof them, but Eberle has an insane ability to be in the right spot and make the right play

      • Krusty

        I never said I didn’t think he’d do it again. I simply don’t think he’ll do it 4 or 5 more times over the next 7 years. Big difference.

        I could see him being a step below those guys. Nothing wrong with that; not every young forward can be a perennial top 20 forward in the league.

        That’s not pessimism, it’s pragmatism.

  5. I appreciate this very much and agree wholeheartedly. Sure, his numbers were inflated by some shooting luck, and so in theory he would be paid when valued more than he was actually worth, but that didnt happen here as he fell in lockstep with hall and took a team friendly deal.
    I have seen cited by some that this is the equivalent of over 8m per year as UFA, but I think that is more than reasonable. If choosing between him or parise over the next 10 years I take Eberle in a heartbeat. Over the next 6 years the same. Sure, just the fact that he was paid at highest value irks some, but I entirely agree that this is getting too caught up in one number. I think the team around him improving will also be very big in countering the high on ice shooting percentage, as the team should get more shots when he is on the ice. And flat out he will be a better player. going from his 21 year season to his 22 is a pretty big step up.

  6. Only only really needs to look at Corey Perry to see what happens when the percentages fall your way for a single season.

    Over the last 4 years Perry has taken 283, 270, 290 & 277 shots and has scored 32,27,50 & 37 goals.

    There’s a big difference between a 30G-70P season and a 50G-100P season. Had Perry’s contract been up for renewal at the end of his Hart trophy season, what kind of contract could he have been in line for? $9mil? $10mil?

    This is the danger in paying Eberle now for what he did last year. Is he a true 18+% shooter or was last year just an outlier year for him? It’s a tough thing to gamble on.

    FTR, I’m an Oilers fan and I think Eberle will be a fantastic player. I also think this contract will work out in the end, but I certainly understand the reservations a lot of people have about it.

  7. I have to side with Bourne on this one mainly just for the fact I have a hard time wrapping my head around the notion that shooting % ever dictates how lucky or unlucky a player has been. Luck has nothing to do with it. Some players just have more accurate shots and get into better shooting positions.

    I think back to a goal Eberle scored against the Leafs last year in Edmonton. He fired a wrister from just inside the faceoff dot over Reimers shrugging shoulder to go bar down. It was a great shot. Not every player has the ability to get scoring chances from those areas and not every player can shoot with that accuracy. The best scorers take advantage of their opportunities. If he does regress it will because he’s facing tougher competition who make it more difficult for him to get those high quality chances not because his shooting luck has run out.

    • Sure… but not many players do it to a tune of shooting ~19% in a season.

      The guys who can do that year in and year out consist of Alex Tanguay (who is a notoriously selective shoooter) and Steven Stamkos.

      The list of guys who have done it over the course of a single year is numerous though.

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