This is an actual question that got asked of Ralph Krueger on Tuesday morning. Krueger, who can probably make anybody feel good about themselves regardless of what they’ve just said to him, handled it with aplomb with some sort of reference to the Oiler lines in Detroit (when Ben Eager did not get off the fourth line) and then talking about the third and fourth lines as pressure lines.
There’s a segment of the fanbase and the media that has a sort of enduring fascination with Ben Eager, for reasons that I don’t understand. There is literally nothing in his history to suggest he’s a player with any offensive skill. I’ve thrown up his career offensive numbers with those of Georges Laraque through the same stage in his career. I don’t recall anyone other than Georges suggesting he’d make sense with the Oilers best players. It’s a shame that we don’t have Corsi data going back that far because I recall Laraque as being particularly good at that – if he got the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he could spend an entire shift behind the goal line.
What Eager does better than Laraque is skate and, as a result of that, hit people. Eager has pretty decent straight line speed when he gets cranked up, although he’s pretty lousy at turning or changing direction at speed. I don’t get the fascination that people have with hitting people. Some propositions:
a) You can win lots of hockey games without bottom lines that knock the hell out of people. See Detroit.
b) You can win Stanley Cups without bottom lines that knock the hell out of people. See Detroit.
c) Ben Eager is rarely going to see the ice against the other team’s better forwards or defencemen.
d) Ben Eager hitting third/fourth liners and third pairing defencemen doesn’t really do anything to make things easier for the Oilers top two lines to score goals. A hockey team is not a spaceship in a video game where you can damage the whole by inflicting minor damage on some part of it.
e) Nobody is really scared of getting hit by Ben Eager. 97% of hockey hits don’t really hurt, 2% cause some momentary discomfort and like 1%, if that, result in a guy having to leave the game. Unless it’s early in a playoff series, that’s unlikely to benefit the Oilers too much. Also, the odds of it being a guy who is useful are reduced, because he’s Ben Eager and he doesn’t play against good players.
Eager dumps puck in, hits Burrows who was throwing it to nobody up the boards, turnover and a shot:
Eager hits Chris Tanev long after the puck is gone:
Eager hits defenceman on forecheck after the puck is gone:
Eager hits man with the puck as he passes:
Eager hits man with the puck who gets it deep anyway:
Eager his defenceman, ignores puck, manages to get stick on Canucks defenceman coming through to pick it up:
Eager buries Canucks F in defensive corner on the other side of the ice from his wing. Note both Schultzs in front of the net, possibly wondering why their LW has become a right D. Guy who got hit by Eager made a play as he got hit, puck went around the boards and Canucks got a point shot::
Hits Jackets D, loses puck battle:
Forechecks, puck goes behind the net, hits defenceman after puck goes back the other way (note Blue Jacket bum in air near boards in third picture):
The play leading to the mindless Ryan Smyth slash – Eager hammers guy, puck goes the other way:
A defender easily sidesteps Eager, although the puck does slide off his stick as the play continues:
He doesn’t always throw mindless body checks though. I find this one delightful sequence in all of that, the one time Eager could have skated and drilled a defenceman after he passed it off but, inexplicably, just took away his passing lane and closed him down, forcing a turnover that led to a shot:
Hockey games are kind of like the Bible in that you can find something to support pretty much anything you want to say about a player but I tried to be thorough here, combing through his first three games and looking for hits that forced turnovers. I’m not arguing against skating at guys with ill intent and forcing them to move the puck – there’s value in doing that rather than sitting back and getting picked apart – but I am arguing the idea that a hit is valuable because it’s a hit. In my view, fourth lines contribute to hockey games the same way that first and second and third lines do – by helping to outscore the opposition.
If you accept that, the hits are valuable to the extent that they make that happen. I’m not so sure that Eager running around drilling guys is really that much more than a sideshow. He’s not very good with the puck – a forward who was scratched on Tuesday night is undoubtedly better – and historically he takes a ton of penalties. Odds are that, when Ryan Jones is healthy, he’s going to have a hell of a time getting into the lineup. Edmonton will be better for this, I suspect. Even if there are guys in the press box dreaming of seeing Jordan Eberle and RNH spending more time chasing the puck back towards their own end while Ben Eager smacks some defenceman after he’s moved the puck.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org