I’ve been writing about Eberle’s contract off and on over the past few months and I kind of feel that I’ve already made my points with it. That’s one way to separate this from the Khabibulin deal, which was a stupid bolt from the blue: we saw this coming. I don’t think he’s anything close to an established 70+ point guy and I’m pretty sure that the Oilers just spent $6MM a year on a guy who, to date, has shown a true offensive talent somewhere in the 50-60 point range.
In effect, by focusing on just the time in the NHL and discarding the information gathered prior to the player making the NHL, you’re discarding a lot of information. Eberle went 22nd overall for a reason. Hall went first overall for a reason. If you accept that Eberle’s had a season in which he hit at the far right end of his own personal bell curve – and I think this is inarguable, barring significant improvement in his possession numbers – it doesn’t really make sense to pay him along the same lines as you pay Hall. You’re paying for variance.
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.
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.
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.
As of 2013-14, Eberle’s going to be getting paid like he’s one of the best players in the league by a team that’s shown no ability to identify when guys are having outlier seasons. If you listen to Bob Stauffer, who’s obviously plugged in to Oilers’ management, he’s talking about Eberle as a 70-90 point guy over the next five years and maybe scoring 80 points next year. Tambo said as much today when he was asked if he was confident Eberle could repeat his numbers: “I think he’s just beginning, I really do. I think he’s such an intelligent player, he’s so poised (ed. Drink!), he takes care of himself physically…I think we’re just starting to see what Jordan Eberle is going to become.”
What option did the Oilers have to paying Eberle now? Well, there was nothing preventing them from letting him play out his contract and see what he does next year. It’s unfathomable to me that they were likely to end up with Eberle in a position to ask for more money than he’s getting. For one thing, if you’re paying attention to the CBA negotiations (good for you if you aren’t), the salary cap is coming down, at least in the short term. For another, for the reasons set out previously, it seems exceedingly unlikely to me that Eberle’s going to match his numbers from last year. The Oilers, for whatever reason, eschew sensible risks and prefer the comfort that comes from paying top of the market prices for things that probably aren’t worth that.
For the record, I think that they’ve probably overpaid him by at least $2MM per year. Here are the guys who earned at least $4,000,001 last year and were playing in the RFA years of their contract.
There are two columns of points. The first is totals under the current contract the player is playing under and the second is per/82 to put things on a common footing. I’ve done it this way because when you’re signing a player to a contract, you should be thinking “What will you do for me?” as opposed to “What have you done?”
I’ve seen it suggested that $6MM is ballpark for an RFA aged player who scores 60-70 points. That is insane. Of the 13 RFA aged guys with cap hits above $5.33MM last year, only three of them have averaged fewer than 70 points during their current contract. Parise missed by a single point. Richards sold a lot of UFA years, which bumped his paycheque, and does a lot of things that Eberle doesn’t do. Stastny is probably a disappointment for a guy with a big contract – he was about a 75 point guy before he signed.
There are only two other cap hits above $4.33MM for RFA aged players – Bobby Ryan and Jeff Carter. Carter has played one year of his current deal, which also involved selling a ton of UFA years. Ryan is averaging 33 goals/82 games. Below that, both in terms of cap hit and scoring, you’ve got a bunch of guys who sold a lot of UFA years and/or only made north of $4MM last year because they signed long term deals that started out beneath $4MM. You’ve also got Jordan Staal, who’s probably a bit of a special case, given that he played behind the two best offensive centres in the game and does a lot of things that Jordan Eberle doesn’t do.
When you factor in that it’s likely to be hard times for the next few years for NHL players in need of salaries as a bunch of money is pulled out of the system by the new CBA, it becomes very, very difficult to see Eberle doing any better than he’s done. If he averages 70+ points or 30+ goals per 82 games over the life of his new deal, the Oilers have probably paid market value. If he’s a 25 goal/55 point per 82 game man, this deal is a disaster.
How much would you bet that the guys who proved themselves incapable of identifying outliers between 2007 and 2010, at which point they started with a marketing plan that included Jordan Eberle becoming a star have go it right? Doesn’t it seem more likely that they’re the same guys who couldn’t pick out outlier seasons then, just implementing the next step of the marketing plan?