With 24 goals and 30 assists to date and 28 games left in another pointless Oilers’ season, Jordan Eberle is almost certainly going to break the 70 point barrier. This is very good for Jordan Eberle. There’s a pretty good chance it will turn out to be bad for Oilers’ fans. As of July 1, the Oilers can sign Eberle to an extension. I think it’s fair to say that the consensus view amongst fans is basically aligned with that of authority figure fan Godot10, who has been spamming the comments here and at Lowetide’s with what appears to be the management line: Ales Hemsky needs to go. He justifies it by arguing that the Oilers can’t afford to pay him and their burgeoning young stars. He wants Hall and Eberle to wake up on July 1 to seven year offers worth $50MM each. I’m pretty sure, in Eberle’s case at least, that this is insane and, on his performance to date, you’d just be ensuring that you had an albatross contract to replace Shawn Horcoff’s.
As you’re probably aware, Eberle has had an absolutely amazing season. He’s leading the NHL in 5v5 pts/60, at 3.69. He’s sixth in the league in ES points and seventh overall. It is an astonishingly good season. When you dig into it though, it looks like he’s benefited an awful lot from randomness.
Eberle has currently been in on just over 90% of goals that the Oilers have scored at 5v5 with him on the ice. This, in Scott Reynolds’ terminology, is individual points percentage (IPP). If he manages to finish the season at greater than 90%, he’ll end up with the second highest IPP of any forward in the behindthenet.ca era (minimum of being on ice for 30 goals), with only Scottie Upshall managing to put up a bigger number. The thing is, that isn’t something that tends to repeat. I put together a chart laying out all of the guys who’ve managed an 85% IPP or better in the BTN era and then put up what they did the following year.
So, uh, yikes. The average IPP of about 87% plunges to 72% the following season. The astute observer might note that, despite the decrease in IPP, the group actually posted a better GFON/60 the following season. So who cares, right? If Eberle’s numbers dip a bit and the Oilers up their goal production with him on the ice, who cares who gets the credit?
Not exactly. Although I didn’t put it in the table, an awful lot of those guys had sub-8% on-ice shooting percentages, unusually low. The Oilers on-ice 5v5 S% with Eberle on the ice this year? An astonishing 14.5%. I put together a table of the guys who’ve managed to top 13% in the BTN era and what they did the following season.
As you can see, the roof tends to fall in the following year although I found it interesting that the average was 9.6% or so – that’s about what Tom Awad found was the average on-ice S% for first line players. It’s as if they blip and then regress all the way back to regular first liners. What does this mean for Jordan Eberle? Well, taking his 27.7 SF/60 and multiplying it by 9.6%, you come up with 2.66 GFON/60, down from this year’s 3.99. Multiply that by 0.72 and you come up with Eberle scoring about 1.92 5v5 P/60. There’s no shame in that, although it’s not going to be the basis of a 70-80 point season.
(I’ve highlighted the Sedins just because it was interesting to me – I remember Gabe Desjardins taking a beating for saying that they’d regress.)
In short, even making assumptions favourable to Eberle as far as where the regression goes, he’s not really going to be the 70-80 point guy he’s going to look like at the end of the season until he starts playing on a line that’s generating a lot more shots. He’s going to look like it though – an observer unfamiliar with this stuff will look at hockey-reference, see that 70+ point line in his age 21 season and think “Hmm. My assessment has brought clarity and this is for real. The plan works!”
Which leads to the real problem. The Oilers are selling a narrative, complete with slickly manufactured propaganda and Eberle’s part of the marketing plan. The narrative involves a bunch of young kids, who haven’t been jaded by exposure to life outside Edmonton and the loose women of places like St. Louis, coming to Edmonton, turning into hockey players and then committing to the city. I would suspect that there’s an organizational interest in locking up Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall for the long term, as soon as they possibly can.
The problem: how much does Jordan Eberle get paid. Brian Burke has, amongst many, many other things, whined about the disappearance of the second contract under the current CBA. He’s right to an extent. I went back and grabbed the contract data for guys who signed their second contract during this CBA, after having at least one season of at least seventy points during their entry level contract. (I screened out Cheechoo and someone else, for being 25 when they had their seasons.)
As you can see, there were two guys who signed second contracts of less than five years before the 2006-07 season. There’ve only been two deals since of less than five years. The bog standard second contract for a guy who has a seventy point season during his ELC is five years in length and starts at about $6MM a year. It’s kind of interesting to note how cheap Krejci and Semin were – if you say, for the sake of discussion, that the going rate for these guys on a two year deal is around $9MM in total, it implies that teams are paying an extra $21MM+ for the next three years, which doesn’t really seem like a great deal to me, considering how few guys make $7MM. George McPhee and Peter Chiarelli are two guys who seem like they know what they’re on about with business stuff too – interesting that they didn’t do the five year deals.
ANYWAY – Eberle’s represented by Newport Sports, who also represented Steven Stamkos and Mike Richards (and Drew Doughty) when they did their second contracts. Five years plus for those guys. I think it’s sensible to expect that they’ll want the same for Eberle. The argument is going to be pretty simple: Eberle had a 35 goal, 40 assist season (or whatever) and he’s in their class. He deserves to be paid like them. He’s really excited by the work that Edmonton’s management is doing and wants to be part of something special. It’s always easier negotiating when you’re telling the other side what they want to hear and, in this case, the surface numbers are going to say it’s true.
There’s no point getting worked up about stuff that hasn’t happened yet, but I thought that this was worth pointing out. About the only thing I can see something like this not coming off is if the Oilers decide they want to wait for the new CBA before doing these deals, which seems like the sensible thing to do anyway. Even then, assuming the players’ new share is 50%, it’d be pretty easy to do the new version of this deal, which probably has a baseline of five years and ($6MM)*(50/57). Either way, it’ll be paying for a season in which the hockey gods smiled on Eberle and the hope that he’ll somehow become a legitimate 70-80 point guy in the future.
This is actually a sort of delicious test of whether or not management has learned anything from the past six years. It’s as if the hockey gods, having looked on Edmonton with distaste for so long are reconsidering whether we have management worthy of their blessing. Although it’s a bit hidden, Eberle presents them with basically the same situation that Shawn Horcoff did in the summer of 2008. Horcoff was signed coming off a season in which he had 50 points in 53 games, allegedly because he visited a Mexican stick factory, with a year left on his pact. He’d also had big years in on-ice shooting percentage (11.4%) and IPP (82%), although nowhere near what Eberle’s doing. The Oilers wanted to find a guy who’d commit to Edmonton, given the Smyth/Pronger fiascoes.
Has management learned anything from the Horcoff contract? Have the fans? There’s no hubris like thinking that this time is different and the hockey gods have always tended to punish hubris severely.