With Ben Eager having cleared waivers and ready to be sent down to Oklahoma City, the Oilers will now spend something like $850K on the combination of Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager while they’re in the minors, assuming that they end up getting about 75% of their salaries. Plus they paid Hordichuk for 24 days in the NHL, during which time he played about eight minutes of hockey. Oh, and both Eager and Hordichuk were mostly terrible when they did play. Oh, and they ended up trading a fourth round pick in order to get Mike Brown. Who will cost them about $300K during his time in Edmonton this year. It’s as if the Allied buildup in June of 1944 had been aimed not at establishing a beachhead on mainland Europe but at taking St. Pierre and Miquelon.
There’s a line going around the Edmonton media that Ben Eager has been affected by his concussions. These guys talk to guys who work for the Oilers and if you’re a guy who works for the Oilers who was part of the braintrust that masterminded the Belanger/Eager/Hordichuk swoop of July 1, 2011, you’ve probably got a strong interest in believing that.
There are a couple of problems though. First, it’s not like concussions are a new problem with Eager. TSN has Eager suffering concussions in February 2008 and December 2007. Eager also suffered from a mysterious bout of dizzyness in October of 2007. In October of 2009, he sustained an “upper body injury” that led to Ma href=”http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-10-13/sports/0910130002_1_eager-concussion-coach-joel-quenneville”>this quote from Joel Quenneville in the Chicago Tribune:
Quenneville said there wasn’t a particular moment in a game or practice when Eager suffered the concussion.
“Whether it’s a history of it or the way he was feeling in camp, there was no defining blow,” Quenneville said.
He missed more time in December of 2009 but denied that it was a concussion:
Ben Eager has a history of concussions, and one caused him to miss 13 games earlier this season. Eager, after missing two games, returned to the ice at the Blackhawks’ morning skate on Tuesday and denied that concussion issues have surfaced again.
TSN records a couple of other injuries as being of the lower body variety but who knows. One thing’s certain: Eager had a real history with concussions before coming to Edmonton and that quote from Quenneville about not knowing how he suffered the one at the start of the 2009-10 season seems awfully concerning. It doesn’t seem surprising to me that a guy with a history of concussions from getting punched in the face might get a bit gun shy.
This, of course, leaves aside the point that signing Ben Eager to that deal was awfully questionable in the first place. Three years is a long time for a UFA fourth liner. One of the neat things about the NHL (I set my bar for “neat” pretty low) is that as dollars reduce, years tend to reduce too. As it turns out, guys getting $1.1MM a year rarely tend to get three year deals as UFA. Presumably, this is because teams prefer not to take on the risk that a guy won’t be worthy of a roster spot in, uh, 18 months and the players tend not to have the leverage to transfer that risk to the team.
Looking around, I see Jody Shelley got $1.1MM a year in 2010 and Tom Kostopoulos got $916K a year in 2009. Shelley’s played one game for the Flyers this year. The Flyers signed Riley Cote to a three year deal for $550K per in 2008. Tampa Bay signed Adam Hall in 2008 to a three year $600K deal. Phoenix signed Todd Fedoruk in 2008 to a three year deal for about a million per – Fedoruk didn’t play the last year of that deal. That’s about all I can find. If you’re an agent and some silly team offers you a three year deal for a guy who’s bottom of the roster fodder, you grab hold and don’t let go.
As I see it, the issue isn’t that Eager didn’t work out; the issue is that the Oilers made an expensive bet on a guy who probably didn’t have a ton of leverage and the bet went bad when either a) they discovered that there was a reason that Chicago, Atlanta and San Jose had moved him along or b) his existing and presumably well known issues with concussions continued. Either way, the question of why the Oilers gave him that kind of term in the first place is a bit baffling.
While we’re on the topic of pro scouting and bottom six players, a stat about Lennart Petrell that people might enjoy. According to Hockey Analysis, the Oilers have played about 1189:09 this year at 5v5. They have 964 shot attempts during that time and have allowed 1222 shot attempts. So that’s -258.
Petrell has played about 14.8% of the Oilers 5v5 TOI. The Oilers are -110 in that time. So 42.6% of the Oilers big negative number has occurred during the 14.8% of the time when Petrell is on the ice. That’s sort of amazing. I’m picking on Petrell a little bit – there’s a sort of clear separation of the worst six forwards – Smyth is the seventh worst and then there’s four points of Corsi separation between him and Mike Brown, who starts off the rest of the worst.
I’ve talked a bit about Hemsky’s Corsi earlier this year and he’s improved as the year’s gone on. I’d expect him to continue doing so. Smyth’s an interesting case. He’s been hammered when he’s been on the ice with the dregs but has done somewhat better when he’s not. Even the Smyth/Belanger pairing looks a lot better than a lot of the other fourth line options – I’m not really a Mike Brown fan but he’s going to play for the foreseeable future so it’d be nice to see that trio get a bit of a run together.
As far as Petrell goes, I know he’s got a reputation as a penalty killer but this is another example of the Oilers doing something that’s way out of line with the NHL as a whole. Other teams don’t carry penalty killing specialists who’ve been hammered at ES for a year and a half. It’s important, because resolving the fourth liner sinkhole is something that the Oilers need to do. There’s a lot of bathwater to throw out (Eager, Petrell) but maybe the odd baby in there too.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org