Did the Oilers make a mistake signing Hall and Eberle to matching cap hits?

Jonathan Willis
September 01 2013 08:51AM

When the Oilers signed young stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle to long-term extensions with matching $6 million/season cap hits, they set a benchmark for their key young players.

Was that an error?

Recent Contracts

The chart above shows long, big-dollar extensions for young forwards with minimal NHL experience signed between 2011 and 2013 and is ordered by points per 82 games at the time of the contract being signed.

Aside from Steven Stamkos – the clear leader of the pack in terms of production – all of the contracts come in at $6.0 million or less, putting Hall and Eberle near the top of the chart in terms of compensation. In fairness, they’re also near the top of the chart in terms of point production – with the caveat that Eberle’s performance came at an older age than most of these players.

The number that stands out is John Tavares’ contract, not just against the Oilers’ stars but also in comparison to the field. Whoever negotiated that contract for the New York Islanders did a nice job knocking that contract down to $5.5 million per season.

The Problem

The trouble for the Oilers is that they aren’t signing one or even two star forwards – they’re signing four of them. And by signing Hall and Eberle to $6.0 million contracts, they’ve made it very difficult to extend Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who is at the same point in his entry-level deal as Hall and Eberle were when they were extended) or Nail Yakupov to a deal at less than that $6.0 million.

Imagining that chart above without Hall and Eberle, what kind of extension would Nugent-Hopkins be looking at? Six years, somewhere between $5.5 and $5.75 million maybe, falling right between Tavares and Skinner? Nugent-Hopkins’ agent might point to Matt Duchene, but Duchene agreed to a two-year bridge contract before he got his big-money extension.

In hindsight, there’s an argument to be made that Hall and Eberle are slightly overpaid relative to their peers. We aren’t talking major dollars, but Hall’s performance is in that same Tavares/Skinner range and Eberle is both older than these other players and was less highly-regarded in his draft year. The word hindsight is used because that’s what this is – it’s worth remembering the labour uncertainty when Hall and Eberle signed their extensions.

But if we imagine Eberle and Hall signing at around Skinner dollars – say Hall at $5.7 million and Eberle at $5.8 million – that’s $500,000 in cap space per year over the next six seasons. If we further imagine that Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov ended up signing extensions south of $6.0 million, we might be looking at $1.0 million in cap space being saved every year for the next six to seven seasons. That kind of space can help a smart general manager a lot, or compensate for overpaying a player like Eric Belanger or Ben Eager.

Ifs And Buts

There is a lot of projection and imagining and 20/20 hindsight in a piece like this, which is one of the reasons the idea has sat on a notepad for a few months rather than being developed. But I eventually chose to write it up because I think the primary point is valid. Establishing a benchmark for the Oilers’ young stars would have been a positive if the benchmark was lower than the league payment for these kinds of players. Instead it now looks like the Oilers are paying more than the standard going rate.

Because there are four (five, if one includes Justin Schultz, though I’ve excluded him because I think he falls into a different category) of these contracts to do, and because they’re all long-term deals, even a small overpay is magnified.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the Oilers do with Nugent-Hopkins. At this point, a new general manager might make the case that he isn’t bound by a benchmark set by his predecessor, and that Nugent-Hopkins deal (particularly given his low totals in 2013) should look more like Landeskog’s, or Tavares’, or Skinner’s than it does Eberle’s or Hall’s.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Canucks Army, Thomas Drance concludes the site's countdown of Vancouver's top prospects with their pick for the team's best - Brendan Gaunce. There's a lot to like about Gaunce, but there are also concerns about his ceiling:

Gaunce is probably the safest bet among Canucks prospects to emerge as an NHL regular. He's also probably the third most likely player on this list to see NHL action this upcoming season (behind only Corrado and perhaps Eddie Lack). The harder question to answer when it comes to Gaunce's development, in my view, is whether or not he has the offensive upside to project as a top-six forward at the NHL level.

Click the link above to read more, or check out some of my recent stuff:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 JSR
September 01 2013, 12:48PM
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The cap will be going up next year, so that will help sign RNH and Yak, but trades are inevitable. I'm guessing three/four years from now, one or two of the big 5 will be gone...

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#52 common sense
September 01 2013, 01:16PM
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JW, I agree with you. This was just another example of Tambo's "Manage a NHL team For Dummies". Tambo loved to do basically nothing except pick concensus overall number one picks, sign overrated UFAs recommended by his top pro scout, and cap..."what cap". There was very little to like about this guy. MacT is lucky to replace such epic managerial incompetence.

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#53 Deke
September 01 2013, 02:44PM
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The key will be ensuring we trade one of the top 5 while they have value. Squeeze another year or two, trade one and save your 6M and hopefully get key strategic pieces back.

unlike our other assets, anyone of the 5 will have trade value.

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#54 pkam
September 01 2013, 03:06PM
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If I am RNH's agent, I would argue that we should use contracts that signed this year instead of contracts that signed years ago as reference.

So comparable contracts would be Landeskog and more so with Seguin because he is a center. RNH is one year younger and has a 25% better stats in pts per 82, and RNH's contract will start one year later, which the salary cap will be higher, so is it unreasonable to get 250K more than Seguin?

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#55 Cowbell_Feva
September 01 2013, 06:32PM
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If the Oilers continue to be a bad team (which this year they will be again seeing as minor tweaks were made rather than bold moves) then this whole young nucleus will have to be changed. As Gregor has stated numerous times, the makeup of this current team isn't good enough to compete with the big boys.

To pay $6+mill to Yak,Nuge,Ebs,and Hall and something comparable with J.Schultz is too much for too little in my opinion. The talent level is world class but the grit/strength/tangibles needed to win in the playoffs isn't there. Another year outta the playoffs should let management know that the DNA needs to be changed.

Also, I really like what Hall brings game in game out, but there is a lot of people jumping over Ebs having a high shooting % and being overpaid....in my mind Hall had a good year last year, but it was a half season. He has been shellacked and encountered major injuries numerous times already. I think Eberle is a better bet to stay healthy,longer while producing as well. If Hall can keep going at the trend he was clipping along at last season AND stay healthy it will be a steal of a deal, but I honestly don't know if he is a) capable or b) able to stay healthy long enough.

I'm sure I will get trashed hard over this, but there is a reason people around the league are talking about the Oilers as the next Islanders and it has a lot to do with some of what was covered here. If you take the Oil goggles off for a second you will see that the current team isn't playoff worthy

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#56 Supernova
September 02 2013, 06:01AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

As Jonathon has ably demonstrated the two contracts are on the high end of average (or is it the mean? - or both?)

It is not these contracts oil fans should be concerned about - nor likely should we worry about RNH and Yak or Shultz - the anticipated growth in cap space should take care of that.

What needs to be understood however is that these contracts have set an end date on the oilers making a run for the cup at six years. For if all of these five stars live up even to modest expectations it will be the contracts after their first ones signed as veterans that will be very problematic indeed. Simply put there likely won't be near enough room for all of them when Hall negotiates his next one.

And as it's likely to be done prior to his RFA year we really only have five years.

As it looks like MacT is not going to make the changes this year to get into the playoffs we are down to four playoff years to hit the jackpot before the team atomizes.

From that perspective it would seem that a historically error-prone management group has very little room for error.

So whatis your critique then?

That management should have went a longer term?

Or shorter?

You make it sound like they have screwed up so much it doesn't matter, whatever they choose is wrong because of their history.

If they aren't winning by then we should atomize the roster. If they are winning that cures a lot of things.

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#57 Serious Gord
September 02 2013, 09:36AM
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Supernova wrote:

So whatis your critique then?

That management should have went a longer term?

Or shorter?

You make it sound like they have screwed up so much it doesn't matter, whatever they choose is wrong because of their history.

If they aren't winning by then we should atomize the roster. If they are winning that cures a lot of things.

Neither regarding term.

We have a poverty of riches regarding young offensive talent. And it is likely going to cause problems and heartache in the future.

Those problems could be greatly mitigated in the short term if some of the lesser offensive talent had been dealt in the past couple of years - hemsky a couple of years ago; gagner before the work stoppage for example. Had that been done the team today would be more balanced and on a strong playoff footing much sooner.

But those moves were not made and three very bad coaching hires - Quinn, Rennie and Krueger means we have virginal coaching as well.

MacT has largely continued in tambellini's lack of boldness - hemsky is still here (!) making predictable and 3/4 line and backup moves. The team is still a long way from being playoff ready.

Edmonton is still in anguish over the sale of Gretzky. Angst and sorrow likely await again. Except it could be much more bitter if there are no cup rings as consolation.

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#58 Bill
September 03 2013, 12:39PM
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@Serious Gord

"We have a poverty of riches regarding young offensive talent. And it is likely going to cause problems and heartache in the future."

I think you meant 'embarrassment of riches', and assets are never a problem if they're managed properly. I don't think these core contracts are going to be an issue cap-wise. The debate in the future may ensue when one of these young forwards is moved in favor of a big piece on the back end or in the crease, in an attempt to even the talent level on the team, which is currently weighted to the top 6 forwards.

Finally, regarding the Gretzky deal....I'm not in Edmonton, but know a lot of rabid fans there and elsewhere....and I don't know of ANYONE who's spending a moment of concern over something that happened 25 years ago.....yeesh! Maybe you do, Gord, but the rest of the world has moved on.

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#59 beloch
September 01 2013, 03:21PM
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You should probably compare more than just counting stats. For example, Tavares has significantly better possession stats than Hall or Eberle, although he's a bit more sheltered than either of them.

What the Oilers desperately need are some players who drive play into the offensive zone against top competition. Hall and Eberle are great once they're there, but they're equally horrible in their own end! If the Oilers had a second line that could drive play forward they could deploy Hall and Eberle in a similar manner to how Vancouver uses the Sedins. i.e. Lots of shelter!

I know this is a tall order to fill. The Oilers may have to trade an offensive weapon to get a quality two-way forward. One thing is for sure though. The Oilers are not going to be contenders with possession like they had last season! The only team as bad as the Oilers that made the playoffs was the Leafs, and it took a PDO miracle for them to sneak in!

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#60 uks ya
September 01 2013, 05:36PM
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beloch wrote:

You should probably compare more than just counting stats. For example, Tavares has significantly better possession stats than Hall or Eberle, although he's a bit more sheltered than either of them.

What the Oilers desperately need are some players who drive play into the offensive zone against top competition. Hall and Eberle are great once they're there, but they're equally horrible in their own end! If the Oilers had a second line that could drive play forward they could deploy Hall and Eberle in a similar manner to how Vancouver uses the Sedins. i.e. Lots of shelter!

I know this is a tall order to fill. The Oilers may have to trade an offensive weapon to get a quality two-way forward. One thing is for sure though. The Oilers are not going to be contenders with possession like they had last season! The only team as bad as the Oilers that made the playoffs was the Leafs, and it took a PDO miracle for them to sneak in!

Hemsky and 2nd or 3rd rounder to NSH for Legwand?

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#61 Supernova
September 02 2013, 10:02AM
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@Serious Gord

I honestly don't know what any of what you wrote has to do with Hall and Eberle's contract.

Sure there has been plenty of mistakes, but I disagree the city is in Anguish over Gretzky. probably half the Oilers fan base has never even seen him play in a Oiler Jersey.

Give MacT a full season for change, he has already turned over a fairly large chunk of the 50 man contract list. Sounds like your angst is about Lowe and Tambo.

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