• Don’t trust anyone under 20

    by  • January 6, 2010 • Uncategorized • 26 Comments

    As the World Junior Championships have now drawn to a close, there’s little for an Oilers fan to do other than wait for Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson and (fingers crossed) Taylor Hall to deliver us from the day-to-day drudgery of supporting this team. I mostly followed the WJC through the game threads at Lowetide’s site – I did watch last night’s game – but I understand that Pierre McGuire has taken a shine to Pääjärvi-Svensson and effectively stated that he has to be in the NHL next season.

    The pressure on the Oilers to put Pääjärvi-Svensson and (touch wood) Hall on the team next year will be immense. I assume that Eberle is as close to a lock as one can be – the Oilers are going to be selling hope and Eberle, with the last two WJC’s, basically personifies hope. “Sure we’ve missed the playoffs for four years, have a ton of bad contracts and it seems impossible that we’ll make the playoffs. It seemed impossible for Canada to beat Russia down by one with ten seconds left or to come back against the United States down by two but Eberle did it. He’ll help us achieve the impossible this year.” Eberle’s twenty next year, so I’ve got no issue with him making the team if he’s good enough to do so.

    Pääjärvi-Svensson and (wishing hard) Hall are another question though. If they were to make the team next year, they’ll qualify for salary arbitration and free agency sooner than they otherwise would. Sam Gagner is going to be looking for a new deal at the end of this season after making the team at 18 and his first two years with the Oilers were pretty pointless – he wasn’t a difference maker.

    I was curious about how well run teams do this, so I took a look at the Devils during Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. Since he took over in 1987, only three teens have played with the Devils enough to impact their contractual status: Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer and Petr Sykora. Shanahan and Niedermayer played so long ago that I’m not sure that the rules were even the same – there may well have been no implications with respect to their contracts in starting them in the NHL as teenagers. The Devils, however, have had an amazing array of excellent players who’ve made the team at 20 or 21 and had an impact: Jason Smith, Brian Rolston, Sheldon Souray, Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.

    Could some of those guys have made the team sooner? Undoubtedly. It does, however, seem to me that the Devils have been very careful about who makes their team as a teenager – when two of the three are surefire Hall of Famers, the bar has been set very high. If a team can enjoy as much success as the Devils have without letting the talented youngsters make the team at the age of 18 or 19, I’m not sure that there’s a really compelling argument that the Oilers need to be placing Pääjärvi-Svensson or (whispered prayer) Hall on the team next season. Add Eberle and wait.

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    26 Responses to Don’t trust anyone under 20

    1. David Staples
      January 6, 2010 at

      I’m OK with waiting, and agree it’s the best plan, but want to see MPS signed, so the Oilers don’t somehow lose his rights. . . though I’m not sure when those rights will evaporate. Does anyone know?

      There will be no keeping Taylor Hall out of the NHL next year, not unless you’re the 1976 Montreal Canadiens.

    2. Will
      January 6, 2010 at

      You hit it bang on Tyler – with Katz looking for his new arena and after a couple of years of shitting the bed, the Oilers will definitely be selling hope and Eberle pretty much cemented his legacy last night as Captain Hope. I’m sure they could all use another year of seasoning in the minors, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Oil start next year with Eberle, MPS, and this year’s draft pick on the opening day roster.

      What I was wondering about last night was where would you slot these guys in the lineup? How have other effective teams broken in their young talent on the major league roster?

      Do you put them all on the 4th line and let them slaughter the other team’s 4th? From what I saw of the GlenX/Brodziak/Stortini line and to a degree the Nilsson/Stortini/Stone line, there seems to be some merit to having a talented 4th line in helping you win games. They’d get fewer minutes, but maybe that’s a good thing (though with Quinn rolling lines maybe they’d still get lots of time).

      Do you spread them across the roster to give each of them vet help? I can get behind this idea too, but not sure this Oiler team has the right combo of vets to help out kids. The 05/06 team had Horcoff + Smyth breaking even/outscoring other top lines with a rookie Winchester… WINCHESTER! There was enough depth on that team to shelter a rookie/soft player on any line. This team though? Besides Penner, Hemsky, Horcoff, & Pisani (when they’re healthy) who can we trust to shelter and develop a youngster? I’d say Cogliano’s development has stalled at least in part due to being stuck with Moreau as his linemate.

      Do you build another “kid line” and hope they can produce with the soft minutes? We tried this experiment once already, but I think the success of a line like this would depend greatly on how effective our PVP first line would be. This year’s version of Penner + Hemsky + Horcoff might make it work.

      And then which current roster players do you keep to build around?

    3. January 6, 2010 at

      Eberle’s twenty next year, so I’ve got no issue with him making the team if he’s good enough to do so.

      If the roster is similar next year, Eberle should not be allowed within 100 miles of this team.

    4. January 6, 2010 at

      Yeah, Lou seems to have a pretty set chain of command wrt youngsters. Everybody goes to Lowell, everybody learns the “system”, those who get brought up to the big club get integrated slowly (as far as responsibility/assignment), and big mistakes in the learning curve process don’t seem to be tolerated at the NHL level. Every coach from Lemaire to Sutter to Julien to Robinson/Burns/etc has pretty explicitly made it known if a youngster is “leaving his position”, etc, and often he gets sent back down for a while to work it out.

    5. mc79hockey
      January 6, 2010 at

      @Coach: Yeah, but from a contractual point of view, I’m ok if they decide to sell hope. If they can’t move a bunch of contracts, next year is probably a tenth place finish anyway.

    6. January 6, 2010 at

      I’d be fine with the Oilers running Gagner, Eberle, and Nilsson as a soft minutes line, and trading everybody else on the team under six feet or named “Andrew Cogliano”.

      This would mean that, aside from a hopefully healthy Horpensky, everybody else on the team would be getting killed. Good. Fine. We’re not going to make the playoffs next year so let’s have Gagner and Eberle come along in the best possible environment and see whether Nilsson is fish or fowl.

      Hell, if I could swing it I’d intercept Eberle on the way to Regina and put him on that line now. He’s a goal-per-game player in the WHL. Not much left to prove there.

    7. January 6, 2010 at

      it seems like you conflated two posts there, mc79, because you’ve also listed red wings’ teenagers. anyway.

      i don’t think it’s exactly fair to compare the nhl of 1995-2005 to that of today, because very few teams were bringing up teenagers during that time. those teams that tended to (philadelphia and carolina are two that come to mind) didn’t exactly have great success with the idea. i think players are more prepared for the pro game now, so we’re seeing more and more guys come up at an earlier age, with less professional experience needed; 16 players out of the 2008 1st round have already played in the NHL.

      that said, having eberle, paajarvi-svenson, and a player out of the 2010 draft all starting at the same time is just begging to create salary cap problems down the line.

    8. January 6, 2010 at

      Caveat to my previous comment: that all assumes that somebody restrains Pat Quinn A Clockwork Orange style and makes him watch videos of Zack Stortini and Ryan Potulny being torn a new asshole by Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley until he comes around on line matching.

    9. January 6, 2010 at

      With the exception of incredible talents, teams are best served by keeping young players out of the NHL. They’re rewarded by keeping good players cheap longer, by winning more games, and by better-performing farm teams.

      It’s a no-brainer.

    10. OilW30
      January 6, 2010 at

      What about the development of the players? Is Gagner better now having played these past few years in the NHL, or would he have been better if this were his rookie season and he had played another year of junior and a year in the AHL?

    11. January 6, 2010 at

      OilW30:

      Development’s a difficult one. How many times have we heard that Brule’s was destroyed because he was rushed?

    12. January 6, 2010 at

      Brule’s career wasn’t destroyed because he was rushed, it was destroyed because he was a Columbus Blue Jacket, because he was injured, and because he wasn’t all that good to begin with.

    13. January 6, 2010 at

      Lord Bob, I’d say that injury is the chief concern of being rushed. Heck, Gagner just narrowly avoided it in his rookie year.

    14. Hawerchuk
      January 6, 2010 at

      Here are the 18 year-olds who played 41+ games in the NHL since 1996-97:

      Zubrus, Thornton, Marleau, Malhotra, Lecavalier, Tim Connolly, Gaborik, Hartnell, Kovalchuk, P-M Bouchard, Nash, Horton, Bergeron, Crosby, Staal, Gagner, Bogosian, Stamkos

      Admittedly, some guys might have a birthday just before January 1 (like Patrick Kane) and should make this list, but oh well.

      That’s a list of guys who were mostly that good and found their way to desperate teams – all of the ones for whom we have data got 13+ minutes per game other than Malhotra and Hartnell. It’s hard to say anecdotally that anyone who could play regularly at age 18 had his career ruined by doing so.

    15. Hawerchuk
      January 6, 2010 at

      I should also point out that Lemaire loves to play 18-year-olds – Burns, Bouchard, Gaborik. Maybe he had no better options, but it’s amazing that a defensively-minded coach would give them 13-15 minutes at that age.

    16. January 6, 2010 at

      Jonathan: so do you think it’s a question of physical maturity (the ol’ “boys against men” angle) as opposed to learning how to play the game properly?

      Hawerchuk: I think the best lists are for ‘draft year’ and ‘draft year+1′ players. Got access to those?

    17. Hawerchuk
      January 6, 2010 at

      Bob –

      Here are the guys who played 41+ GP in Yr0 (draft year)

      Zubrus, Thornton, Marleau, Samsonov, Malhotra, Lecavalier, Stefan, Connolly, Williams, Gaborik, Hartnell, Kovalchuk, Bouchard, Nash, Bouwmeester, Horton, Zherdev, Bergeron, E. Staal, Crosby, Kessel, J. Staal, Perron, Gagner, Kane, Bogosian, Tikhonov, Bailey, Schenn, Boedkker, Stamkos, Doughty

    18. January 7, 2010 at

      Great post. Clearly the Devils know how to put together a winning operation. For some year, every year I’m surprised by their success, and this season is no different.

      Reading this post makes me want to have another drink. Luke Schenn should not have been in the NHL last year. He certainly doesn’t look like he belongs this year.

    19. PDO
      January 7, 2010 at

      If the Oilers took Hall 1st OV and didn’t play him in the NHL, he would be the first forward to go 1st OV and not play in the NHL the next season since Eric Lindros…

    20. January 7, 2010 at

      PDO:

      I think 1st overall picks (hell, let’s call them top-5 picks) are exceptions to the rule.

    21. Quain
      January 7, 2010 at

      Should they be though? Seems like your first overall is getting something very close to $4MM a year… is John Tavares really kicking out the jams to the tune of $4MM a year? Ovechkin/Crosby are easy talents to decide, yeah, it’s worth it, but what about the guys a notch below that level?

      Obviously, the economics and optics (selling hope to ticket buyers) of the situation mean there’s no way that Stamkos or Tavares are going to sit a year in junior, but is that the right call to the eye of those of us who don’t have a stake in ticket sales?

      Similarly, does anyone know how the bonuses in those top pick contracts are structured? Are they ‘congratulations on being first overall’ bonuses or performance bonuses that maybe aren’t being met? And if they aren’t met, is there cap relief?

    22. Robert Cleave
      January 7, 2010 at

      Similarly, does anyone know how the bonuses in those top pick contracts are structured? Are they ‘congratulations on being first overall’ bonuses or performance bonuses that maybe aren’t being met? And if they aren’t met, is there cap relief?

      There’s three basic parts to entry level bonuses. The first is a signing bonus/games played bonus that can’t be more than 10% of the base salary, which is 900k for an ’09 draftee. That’s in Article 9 of the CBA.

      The second and third sets of bonuses are referred to as “Exhibit 5″ bonuses, from their location in the CBA. The second set are for individual totals, like goals, assists, ice time, with certain minimum standards enforced. As an example, the minimum amount for a goals scored bonus is 20. The absolute maximum amount for the cumulative total of these bonuses is 850,000.

      The final set of bonuses are for performance relative to the rest of the league, including trophy bonuses. The maximum for those is a cumulative total of 2 million. If a player doesn’t get them, you don’t count what you don’t pay. If they do achieve the terms of the bonus, they can be deferred to the next year, because you can’t really go back on a retroactive basis to recalculate the cap.

    23. DD
      January 8, 2010 at

      Should they be though? Seems like your first overall is getting something very close to $4MM a year… is John Tavares really kicking out the jams to the tune of $4MM a year? Ovechkin/Crosby are easy talents to decide, yeah, it’s worth it, but what about the guys a notch below that level?

      Maybe in terms of cap hit, but cap room usually isn’t an issue for teams picking that high. The top 4 picks in the ’09 draft that made their teams play for teams that range from 23rd to 29th in salary cap hit. Philly’s the only team in the last 3 years that would have run into trouble fitting their high draft choice under the cap (and vanRiemsdyk was fortunately too raw for that to be a worry).

      Patrick Kane’s 70 point rookie season only cost the Hawks about 1.9 million in salary. I would guess Stamkos probably barely broke a million in salary with his rookie year.

      Teams with as many underperforming contracts and injuries like Edmonton and Carolina will probably be incompetent exceptions, and not the norm, in having to consider the immediate cap benefit of leaving a player like Hall in junior to tread water.

    24. January 8, 2010 at

      as long as the bonus cushion is in place, none of this salary cap paranoia will be relevant.

    25. January 8, 2010 at

      Shanahan and Niedermayer played so long ago that I’m not sure that the rules were even the same – there may well have been no implications with respect to their contracts in starting them in the NHL as teenagers.

      I’m sure there were no such implications. The first significant player freedom occurred after the first lockout in 1995, and was at the fairly advanced age of 31.

      Petr Sykora is the only one of the three NJD teenagers you listed to whom even that applied. He was drafted that summer of 1995, falling from the 8th-ranked prospect (as I recall) into the bottom half of the first round due to some uncertainty as to his status, so Sour Lou snapped him up at #18. At the time Bob MacKenzie et al were terming him a steal for the Stanley Cup champs.

      Sykora was one of those few Euro guys who came over and turned pro in the IHL (Sergei Samsonov was another), and played parts of his 17- and 18-year-old seasons with Cleveland Lumberjacks and Detroit Vipers, so his circumstances were different on a number of levels. That didn’t stop Lamoriello from sending him on the Albany Express for 43 games in his second, 20-year-old season with the Devils. Which more or less put him on the path of the many other guys you mentioned, and some you didn’t (Brodeur, Guerin, Parise) who broke into the team at 21.

    26. January 8, 2010 at

      Oops, that was me, fucked up my sign-in.

      One add: under the current CBA which offers UFA status after 7 years and/or at 27, there should be a compelling reason to start a player at 18 or 19. Once they’re 20, though, there is no contractual reason to hold them back cuz the UFA clock is ticking at that point. Competitive and developmental reasons, maybe. But as of next fall, the Oilers have 7 years of Eberle whether he makes the big club or not, so it’s kind of a no-brainer.

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