Talking about Jordan Eberle seems to be The Thing To Do this week, so I figured I’d chime in with something. Some of you may recall that I’m skeptical of the idea that Jordan Eberle’s point totals last season are a fair representation of his offensive ability at present. High shooting percentage blah blah blah high individual points percentage blah blah blah…if you don’t believe in this stuff by now, I’m not going to suddenly convince you. I’m sick of writing that argument, you’re sick of reading it.
That being said, the numbers form the base of the discussion so let’s have a look at what Eberle did at ES and on the PP last year. So here are the ones I’m going to touch on.
There was a lot of moaning about Eberle’s ice time last year. It was, I think, a little misguided. Eberle was 104th in 5v5 TOI amongst F who played at least 40 games. The difference between 104th and 45th (the middle of the first line guys) was 0.82 minutes a night. In Eberle’s case, that works out to 63.96 extra minutes if he was getting 45th in the league minutes.
His PP TOI put him 72nd in the league. He played about 56.7% of the 5v4 minutes in games in which he was dressed. This is only slightly below the average played by the top 72 forwards, who averaged about 59% of their team’s 5v4 TOI. The Oilers weren’t particularly hard done by in terms of PP opportunities – they were eight out of 15th. Pretty middle of the road. If Eberle bumps up to 60% of the PP TOI, we’re still only talking about him playing an extra 12.95 minutes a night, all other things being equal.
The ice time is probably worth a few points but it’s important to remember that there was a reason that he didn’t get as much ice time as many Oilers fans wanted: the coach was matching lines pretty closely. Any increase in his ice time would likely come at a price.
I don’t want to go down the S% road again but I just want to make a quick point about it. Eberle’s 5v5 on-ice S% last year was 12.9%. If you look at things over a five year window, you find that only one guy (min. 2000 minutes) has managed to top 11% over the past five years (Sidney Crosby) and that 10.8% looks to have been a ceiling for other guys, even notorious on-ice S% guys like Alex Tanguay. Eberle’s not Crosby – this, I assume, will be uncontroversial. We don’t yet know whether or not he’s Tanguay in terms of on-ice S%. Even if he is a Tanguay type – and the smart money would be that he isn’t, for the simple reason that most guys who have one year like that aren’t – you’d still expect his 5v5 on-ice S% to be dramatically lower than what it was last year, by about 20%.
I mentioned this in the post linked above but Eberle was having a hellacious season in terms of individual points percentage (IPP) as well – the percentage of Oiler 5v5 goals he got points on. He ended the year at about 85%. I’ve written before about how this tends to regress strongly. Until Eberle’s consistently put up numbers in that range, I’d be inclined to bet that he gets points on about 72% of goals scored at 5v5 while he’s on the ice going forward.
If you assume a TOI increase to bring him to 45th amongst NHL forwards, that he is a Tanguay when it comes to on-ice S% and average IPP and that he plays all 82 games, you come up with 82 games * 14.82 minutes * 10.8% on-ice S% * 28.23 S/60 * points on 72% of goals = 44.46 5v5 points. He had 56 5v5 points last year. I’m not at all sold that he is a Tanguay – everyone looks like a Tanguay when the pucks are going in – so I sort of suspect that that’s a pretty generous expectation for him at 5v5. It also knocks 12 points off his season from last year.
At 5v4, Eberle was part of a group that was lights out in terms of S% and not so good in terms of generating shots. We’ve been down this road before in Edmonton. This is me on October 30, 2008:
We’re eight games into the season right now and the PP is scoring a respectable 7.0 PPG/60. The same old problems are in place though – they’re getting just 33.9 PPS/60. They’re currently shooting 20.6%. As long as the shooting percentage is through the roof, the good times will roll. When the shooting percentage dries up – and it will – they’re going to be in a world of hurt if they haven’t figured out a way to start getting the shots into at least the high forties.
The shooting percentage dried up, the shots didn’t start to come and Edmonton ended up in the mid-20s in terms of PPG/60. How did the Oilers finish third in GF/60 at 5v4 despite finishing 26th in 5v4 S/60? If you guessed “Because they had a high shooting percentage,” congratulations: you have been paying attention.
The Charlie Browns of Oiler fandom (about 90% of the population) seem to believe that this time is different, Lucy won’t pull the ball away and the Oilers PP will be awesome because RNH, Hall, Eberle, Yakupov and Schultz. Everything I’ve seen says that S% on the PP predicts nothing and that regression will kill you.
Assume, for the sake of discussion, that the Oilers shoot 14% with Eberle on the ice at 5v4 this year. That’s still a really good figure – only three teams topped that last year. Only 39/149 forwards who played at least 40 games and two minutes a night of PP time managed to hit that. If we assume that Eberle plays 82 games, the Oilers get the same amount of 5v4 TOI, Eberle plays 60% of it, that they shoot 14% with him on-ice and that he’s in on the same amount of goals, you come up with the following: 4.18 PP hours * points on 58% of goals * 6.57 5v4 G/60 = 15.93 5v4 points. Last year he had 18 5v4 points. A loss of two.
You add that all up and you come up with Eberle losing 14 points off his total last year. I think I’ve made a lot of favourable assumptions here – I’ve said elsewhere that I expect Eberle to get somewhere between 55 and 60 points and that still seems like a pretty decent projection to me. I wouldn’t be stunned if played a full year or close to it, and didn’t break 50 points though. I’d be a lot more surprised if he broke 70 points without a significant improvement in his Corsi or shot numbers. That seems kind of unlikely to me though, given Eberle’s excellent ZoneStart – life’s going to get harder for him, I would think. Assuming he’s a better player next year, the context will make it more difficult to see.
Speaking of shot numbers…the best argument I’ve heard in favour of Eberle being able to sustain his points numbers is that he’ll shoot more at EV. Young player, getting stronger…the idea is that he’ll get better, shoot more and that this will help cover for the percentages. I hadn’t seen anyone actually dig into that yet, so I put together a table with all of the forwards in the BTN era who played at least 40 games at age 21 and how their shooting numbers changed going forward. The list is sorted by the percentage of age 21 shooting rate that they posted at age 22.
The growth is actually less than I expected. There’s average growth of shooting rate at age 22 of about 7.9%, although the median is considerably lower at about 5.7%. Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be any growth on average, although the sample is awfully small. I’m not sure that I expect Eberle to really dramatically increase his shot numbers though, unless he continues to get wildly favourable ZoneStarts. If you think about this, your shooting numbers are kind of a function of your proclivity for shooting the puck when you get a chance to do so and the number of opportunities you get to do so. A high ZoneStart number is going to inflate your numbers by inflating the number of opportunities you get to shoot the puck on net.
Given the way in which Eberle was used, it wouldn’t surprise me if his shooting was flat or decreased next year, even if he personally improves. Say, for the sake of discussion, he gets a 50% ZoneStart. He (and the other players on the ice with him) are going to have to improve just to stand still when it comes to the share of shots that they get on the ice and the number of shots that he gets. Any improvement may well be hidden by a change in the context.
If someone can explain to me how my rationale/thinking is wrong here, I’m all ears. There’s certainly a possibility that Eberle turns into a possession beast – I think it’s a small one but it’s a possibility. I’ve read the comments of the people who are more bullish on Eberle for next year though and I’m just not sold by their arguments.
I know you can’t chart determination, drive, heart, desire or leadership, but Eberle has all of that. I know some stats guys mock the “I saw argument,” but downplaying it is just as idiotic as those who suggest stats have no value. Both have value, and neither is completely accurate.
When ATB chose Eberle as their spokesperson they did it after lots of research on his character. You’d be surprised how many people they spoke with to try and determine if Eberle was the right guy to use as their frontman. Of course his on -ice ability was a factor, but so was his character.
Robin Brownlee (comment 22):
Building and sustaining a real hockey team requires more than running numbers and making moves because those moves can be shown to be statistically reasonable.
Like Jason, I don’t know Eberle well outside the confines of the ongoing interview process as part of the job, but I know he has elite skill, is competitive as hell and has the respect of everybody I’ve talked to in the Oilers dressing room.
A drop-off in shooting percentage? I’ll live with that.
I don’t think even the numbers guys would disagree with the first sentence. I don’t. At the same time, the issue is “What will Eberle do next year?” not “How do you build and sustain a hockey team?”
As for the other bit, that doesn’t sound entirely dissimilar from this!
As most of you know, I’ve long been in JDD’s corner, largely because I’ve known him since draft day and seen him battle some pretty long odds to make it this far. I like his jam. I like how stubborn he is. I like that he doesn’t quit. Down the list just a bit, I like his talent.
So, on the one side, you’ve got “ATB did a lot of work in picking him as their spokesman” and “This guy has the same qualities I saw in JDD.” On the other, what I think is a pretty compelling argument in favour of some regression. If the season happens, it’ll be an interesting one.