Jason Gregor made what I think is a very fair point over on OilersNation about Eric Belanger the other day.
He hasn’t dipped the past few years, in fact his point totals increased slightly. No one could have predicted he’d be this bad, so saying he was a bad signing is wrong. He’s been bad, but the signing wasn’t. He hasn’t produced, and for some strange reason Renney continues to play him too many minutes. Rip on how he has been used, rip on Belanger for not performing, but saying it was the wrong signing is cherry-picking in my opinion.
When Cam Barker was signed, some people raised an eyebrow due to his injury history and because his game was trending downwards. For those who questioned it then, it is completely fair and accurate to question it now. Belanger isn’t in the category. He’s flat out played awful. Blame him. He’s been given ample opportunity to produce, but he hasn’t.
Belanger’s shooting something like 1.4%. Some are favoured by the hockey gods at certain times; other’s aren’t. So it goes.
There wasn’t a lot of complaining about Belanger when he was signed – the Oilers needed another centre and people were generally thrilled. I was re-watching Oil Change this weekend though and something caught my eye. There are a couple scenes in the first episode relating to the signing of Eric Belanger.
The first is a discussion as to whether or not Belanger is a guy for the Oilers. There’s a glimpse of computer screen filled with the Oilers’ statistical analysis, which is depressingly basic. Faceoff stats are discussed, with no discussion of whether he’s better or worse than his numbers as a result of his mix of PP/ES/PK faceoffs. Notably, Tambo asks if the scouts would be comfortable with him on a two year deal, which gets a “Yop” that I initially thought was a “No.”
A few minutes later, Tambo struts down the hall while music of victory plays:
Tambo: “OK, you got your centreman.”
Voiceover: “Eric Belanger signs a three year deal and gives his endorsement to the Oilers’ rebuild.”
Tambo: “One of the reasons why he wanted a three year deal is because he sees what’s happening, not next year, in year two and three, and ‘if I’m gonna go there, I wanna be part of that, in year two and three.’”
Other guy in room: “Good day today Tambi!”
Tambo: “Isn’t that incredible, how much…”
It cuts out there but Tambo just looks genuinely moved by the endorsement that Eric Belanger has given his work in rebuilding the Oilers. Imagine that: a guy who wants to be in Edmonton for not one, not two but three years! Watching it, I wondered if the Oilers had any idea what the attrition rate was for guys coming off a 33 year old season. Between 2005-06 and 2007-08, 62 33 year old forwards played 3949 NHL games. Between 2008-09 and 2010-11, 36 year old forwards played 1975 NHL games. So about a 50% decline in games played. Slice it another way. 35 33 year olds played 70+ games in the period in question. 15 of those guys didn’t last to play an age 36 season. So a 57% survival rate of guys who managed 70+ games in a season.
You wonder if the Oilers knew those numbers – they had Morey Gare reading GP numbers off a screen and saying “Looks pretty durable Tambi!” I’ll bet his agent was well aware of the odds – you can’t really advise your client without knowing this. This suggests that teams probably tend not to be interested in 35 year old forwards. If I’m his agent and I can get him that third year guaranteed at $1.75MM, I’m doing everything I can to get it. Or, put another way: “If I’m gonna go there, I wanna be part of that, in year two and three.”
To come back to Gregor’s point at the start, I think Belanger was coming off a good season and made sense to sign. I have much more difficulty with the argument that the third year made the least bit of sense. I’m going to come back to Tambo’s future later this week (spoiler: I’d replace him) but seeing him standing there, smiling as he recites what the helpful agent told him…well, it says it all, doesn’t it?
(One other note: Tambo has an iPad on his desk and at one point, you can see what he’s looking at.)
Only the most sophisticated data analysis for the Oilers, it would appear.