• Expensive Fourth Line Spots

    by  • March 14, 2013 • Hockey • 17 Comments

    With Ben Eager having cleared waivers and ready to be sent down to Oklahoma City, the Oilers will now spend something like $850K on the combination of Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager while they’re in the minors, assuming that they end up getting about 75% of their salaries. Plus they paid Hordichuk for 24 days in the NHL, during which time he played about eight minutes of hockey. Oh, and both Eager and Hordichuk were mostly terrible when they did play. Oh, and they ended up trading a fourth round pick in order to get Mike Brown. Who will cost them about $300K during his time in Edmonton this year. It’s as if the Allied buildup in June of 1944 had been aimed not at establishing a beachhead on mainland Europe but at taking St. Pierre and Miquelon.

    There’s a line going around the Edmonton media that Ben Eager has been affected by his concussions. These guys talk to guys who work for the Oilers and if you’re a guy who works for the Oilers who was part of the braintrust that masterminded the Belanger/Eager/Hordichuk swoop of July 1, 2011, you’ve probably got a strong interest in believing that.

    There are a couple of problems though. First, it’s not like concussions are a new problem with Eager. TSN has Eager suffering concussions in February 2008 and December 2007. Eager also suffered from a mysterious bout of dizzyness in October of 2007. In October of 2009, he sustained an “upper body injury” that led to Ma href=”http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-10-13/sports/0910130002_1_eager-concussion-coach-joel-quenneville”>this quote from Joel Quenneville in the Chicago Tribune:

    Quenneville said there wasn’t a particular moment in a game or practice when Eager suffered the concussion.

    “Whether it’s a history of it or the way he was feeling in camp, there was no defining blow,” Quenneville said.

    He missed more time in December of 2009 but denied that it was a concussion:

    Ben Eager has a history of concussions, and one caused him to miss 13 games earlier this season. Eager, after missing two games, returned to the ice at the Blackhawks’ morning skate on Tuesday and denied that concussion issues have surfaced again.

    TSN records a couple of other injuries as being of the lower body variety but who knows. One thing’s certain: Eager had a real history with concussions before coming to Edmonton and that quote from Quenneville about not knowing how he suffered the one at the start of the 2009-10 season seems awfully concerning. It doesn’t seem surprising to me that a guy with a history of concussions from getting punched in the face might get a bit gun shy.

    This, of course, leaves aside the point that signing Ben Eager to that deal was awfully questionable in the first place. Three years is a long time for a UFA fourth liner. One of the neat things about the NHL (I set my bar for “neat” pretty low) is that as dollars reduce, years tend to reduce too. As it turns out, guys getting $1.1MM a year rarely tend to get three year deals as UFA. Presumably, this is because teams prefer not to take on the risk that a guy won’t be worthy of a roster spot in, uh, 18 months and the players tend not to have the leverage to transfer that risk to the team.

    Looking around, I see Jody Shelley got $1.1MM a year in 2010 and Tom Kostopoulos got $916K a year in 2009. Shelley’s played one game for the Flyers this year. The Flyers signed Riley Cote to a three year deal for $550K per in 2008. Tampa Bay signed Adam Hall in 2008 to a three year $600K deal. Phoenix signed Todd Fedoruk in 2008 to a three year deal for about a million per – Fedoruk didn’t play the last year of that deal. That’s about all I can find. If you’re an agent and some silly team offers you a three year deal for a guy who’s bottom of the roster fodder, you grab hold and don’t let go.

    As I see it, the issue isn’t that Eager didn’t work out; the issue is that the Oilers made an expensive bet on a guy who probably didn’t have a ton of leverage and the bet went bad when either a) they discovered that there was a reason that Chicago, Atlanta and San Jose had moved him along or b) his existing and presumably well known issues with concussions continued. Either way, the question of why the Oilers gave him that kind of term in the first place is a bit baffling.

    While we’re on the topic of pro scouting and bottom six players, a stat about Lennart Petrell that people might enjoy. According to Hockey Analysis, the Oilers have played about 1189:09 this year at 5v5. They have 964 shot attempts during that time and have allowed 1222 shot attempts. So that’s -258.

    Petrell has played about 14.8% of the Oilers 5v5 TOI. The Oilers are -110 in that time. So 42.6% of the Oilers big negative number has occurred during the 14.8% of the time when Petrell is on the ice. That’s sort of amazing. I’m picking on Petrell a little bit – there’s a sort of clear separation of the worst six forwards – Smyth is the seventh worst and then there’s four points of Corsi separation between him and Mike Brown, who starts off the rest of the worst.

    I’ve talked a bit about Hemsky’s Corsi earlier this year and he’s improved as the year’s gone on. I’d expect him to continue doing so. Smyth’s an interesting case. He’s been hammered when he’s been on the ice with the dregs but has done somewhat better when he’s not. Even the Smyth/Belanger pairing looks a lot better than a lot of the other fourth line options – I’m not really a Mike Brown fan but he’s going to play for the foreseeable future so it’d be nice to see that trio get a bit of a run together.

    As far as Petrell goes, I know he’s got a reputation as a penalty killer but this is another example of the Oilers doing something that’s way out of line with the NHL as a whole. Other teams don’t carry penalty killing specialists who’ve been hammered at ES for a year and a half. It’s important, because resolving the fourth liner sinkhole is something that the Oilers need to do. There’s a lot of bathwater to throw out (Eager, Petrell) but maybe the odd baby in there too.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    17 Responses to Expensive Fourth Line Spots

    1. David Staples
      March 14, 2013 at

      Oilers player procurement is a mess and management is responsible for that mess. Huge problem.

      As for Petrell, he is a good PK guy. He rarely makes a mistake that leads to scoring chance against on the power play. You could look it up.

      • Matt
        March 14, 2013 at

        I don’t think the point was that Petrell wasn’t good at killing penalties, but rather that he’s so bad at even strength that having him there just to kill penalties is a questionable decision.

        This whole thing with Eager is yet another indictment of the Oilers management, and one would have to wonder when these things become one too many. But what does seem weird is how quickly the media narrative changed surrounding Eager. It was only a month ago that they were calling for him to be in the top six and now they’re making excuses for his supposed poor play. What does that say?

      • Woodguy
        March 15, 2013 at

        I like to use Shots Against/60 as a gauge to 4v5 effectiveness.

        If a player is a good PKer then it should show up that there are less shots against when they are on the ice compared to their team mates.

        Oilers 4v5 Shots Against /60 -min 5gp , min .5 min/60 on PK (so I could include by boy Paajarvi)

        ERICBELANGER 55.9 3.37
        LENNARTPETRELL 52 3.22
        RYANSMYTH 47.6 2.26
        SAMGAGNER 41.6 1.73
        MAGNUSPAAJARVI-SVENSSON 35 0.86
        SHAWNHORCOFF 33.7 2.67
        RYANJONES 30.9 2.67
        CHRISVANDEVELDE 11.4 0.96

        First number is shots against/60, 2nd number is 4v5 TOI/60

        By this metric calling Petrell a good PK guy IsMental.

        • Woodguy
          March 15, 2013 at

          There are 121 NHL Fowards who have played at least 10 games and play at least 1.5min/60 4v5.

          Using 4v5 SA/60 Petrell ranks 103/121 and Belanger ranks 113/121

          Not good.

          If DD’s 4v5 SV% wasn’t an unworldly .922 (median among starters usually around .880) the Oilers PK would be ranked as bad as it actually is instead of being ranked 7th in the league with a 83.8% kill rate.

    2. Thiru
      March 14, 2013 at

      Why not give that Rajala a go after the trade deadline in Petrell’s spot?

      • dawgbone
        March 15, 2013 at

        Because the Oilers don’t need to.

        Once you clear the garbage out of the lineup (Hordi, Eager, Petrell & Brown) you have this left:

        Hall – RNH – Eberle
        Yakupov – Gagner – Hemsky
        MPS – Horcoff – Hartikainen
        Smyth – Belanger – Jones

        That there looks like a pretty good F group. If you decide you have to have brown in there then you take out Harski and move Smyth up with Horcoff and MPS.

        What’s hurting the Oilers right now is not having a decent utility option who can play C/W in case someone gets hurt. If they had that, the forward group is solid.

      • Anonymous
        March 15, 2013 at

        Rajala is the last thing our 4th line needs. I don’t like Petrell and don’t think he is an NHL player. Rajala may be, but he will likely only make it if he can crack someone’s top 6. On the 4th line I would only look at gritty, hard hitting, energy guys that are sound defensively and hopefully can chip in on the PK.

        If Petrell did not try to play ES like we were still short handed he may not be that bad of an option.

    3. Anonymous
      March 14, 2013 at

      Eager is a better option than Petrell but neither really worked.

    4. March 14, 2013 at

      Eager is a better option than Petrell but neither really worked.

    5. Triumph
      March 15, 2013 at

      Are you just counting UFA deals in this 3 year deal calculus? I know the Devils and the Flyers have been handing these out since the last lockout – the Devils gave 3 year deals to Cam Janssen, Rod Pelley, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (all of them were traded before their deal expired, none are older than 30, none are on NHL rosters at present). The Flyers gave a 3 year deal to Oskars Bartulis then bought him out after year 2. This isn’t the worst idea for players in their mid 20s who have no real NHL upside – the worry is that they die on the vine or get passed over on the depth chart like Bartulis. It’s obviously a bad idea for fringe players on the downside of their careers.

      • Triumph
        March 15, 2013 at

        Whoops – correction on Pelley, he signed 2 2 year deals.

    6. Pingback: Spectors Hockey | NHL Blog Beat – Friday, March 15, 2013.

    7. Lee
      March 15, 2013 at

      Possibly the only thing worse than signing a fringe player with a concussion history to a 3 year deal, is letting an even more fringe prospect (Tulupov) run your new acquisition through the boards in an intra squad game.

      It’s stuff like that that makes one think Souray may have had a point.

    8. Walter Foddis
      March 16, 2013 at

      Using this season’s team data, I did some multiple regression analysis looking at the contributions of 5-on-5, PP, PK, and shoot-out wins toward team points. Turns out PK is irrelevant. At most (if my sample size was too small for statistical significance) PK contributes 1-2% toward the typical NHL team’s points. Note: I did not compare team’s to each other. This analysis shows an overall pattern for the typical NHL team. This analysis does not shed any light as to what makes one team better than another.

      http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/3/14/4102002/using-multiple-regression-in-assessing-power-play-importance

    9. Walter Foddis
      March 16, 2013 at

      Using this season’s team data, I did some multiple regression analysis looking at the contributions of 5-on-5, PP, PK, and shoot-out wins toward team points. Turns out PK is irrelevant. At most (if my sample size was too small for statistical significance) PK contributes 1-2% toward the typical NHL team’s points. Note: I did not compare team’s to each other. This analysis shows an overall pattern for the typical NHL team. This analysis does not shed any light as to what makes one team better than another.

      http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/3/14/4102002/using-multiple-regression-in-assessing-power-play-importance

    10. Walter Foddis
      March 16, 2013 at

      Using this season’s team data, I did some multiple regression analysis looking at the contributions of 5-on-5, PP, PK, and shoot-out wins toward team points. Turns out PK is irrelevant. At most (if my sample size was too small for statistical significance) PK contributes 1-2% toward the typical NHL team’s points. Note: I did not compare team’s to each other. This analysis shows an overall pattern for the typical NHL team. This analysis does not shed any light as to what makes one team better than another.

      (It’s a Fan Post at Copper and Blue entitled, “Using Multiple Regression in Assessing Power Play Importance.”)

    11. Bank Shot
      March 17, 2013 at

      Petrell starts 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone. 30%…..

      He also never gets to play up in the lineup, so he does it with guys like Hordichuck, Eager, Brown, and Vande Velde.

      Is he bad, or is his situation bad? Its difficult to sort out the root cause.

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