Starting The Clock: Jordan Eberle

The salary cap era has been interesting, to say the least. One of the common themes of it has been that it pays off far more to develop younger players because they generally make less money due to a more restrictive contract.

That’s true, but many people take it to mean that young players should get more of a shot as a result. In point of fact, the opposite is true – at least for junior-aged players.

It’s because of the basic career curve. Will a player be better from the age of 18-20 or from 19-21 or from 20-22? In virtually every case, the player aged 20-22 will outperform the player aged 18-20.

Take Nathan Horton of Florida as an example. He was drafted in 2003, and spent the 2003-04 season in the NHL (55GP – 14G – 8A – 22PTS). Because of that, when the lockout came in 2004-05, he spent the year in the AHL (21GP – 5G – 4A – 9PTS). In the final year of his entry-level contract, Horton broke out offensively (71GP – 28G – 19A – 47PTS). That ended his three year entry-level deal, and burned three of his RFA years too, taking him closer to unrestricted free agency.

Now, let’s say that he had not been added to the NHL roster until 2005-06, when he was really adding some offense and competing in a top-six NHL role. His three seasons on his entry level deal would have looked like this:

  • 2005-06: 71GP – 28G – 19A – 47PTS
  • 2006-07: 82GP – 31G – 31G – 62PTS
  • 2007-08: 82GP – 27G – 35A – 62PTS

That’s a lot more bang for buck. The Panthers pay the same amount of money regardless, but in the first case they paid it for a player who only contributed top-six minutes for one year of three. In the second case, they pay it for a player who could be counted on for 27-31 goals every season. Additionally, it would have kept Horton a Panther longer – adding two more years of restricted free agency before he could test the open market. Meanwhile, if the Panthers really needed a 22-point scorer in 2003-04, they could have signed one cheaply via free agency; Horton simply wasn’t good enough to provide something the Panthers could have gotten for the same (or given that high-end rookies make considerably more than league minimum, less) money.

This is just an example, but it’s one case of many.

An argument against the policy that seems so sensible from a financial perspective is the development angle. Granted, I haven’t done a full-scale study, but from what I’ve seen and read it seems just as likely that a prospect will have his development derailed by injury in the NHL as he is by slow progress in junior. Horton had both his 18- and 19-year old seasons cut short by shoulder surgery; that may have happened in junior but it would have been much less likely. With a little more weight and physical maturity (which he would have had if he’d come into the NHL at 20) the injury trouble might have been avoided entirely. In the worst-case scenario, a player like Gilbert Brule can see his career completely derailed.

Sam Gagner is another example. He was lucky enough to avoid serious injury – a concussion suffered on a Nicklas Grossman hit during his rookie year turned out to be minor. He’s been more prolific offensively than Horton too, scoring 49 and 41 points.

That said, he was overmatched as a rookie. Those 49 points came along with a -21 rating; a rating that improved to -1 just a year later. He becomes a restricted free agent next year, at age 21. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the age of 25.

The Oilers will probably keep him. They got lucky on the injury front, and they’ll find the money from somewhere. But would the team have been better off to delay his entry into the NHL until he was 19? Probably. His 49 points looks impressive, but that -21 rating was both deserved and wasn’t helping the team win any games.

The point here is not to make this mistake again. The organization is making noises that Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson won’t even get a look until 2010-11. That’s a good thing, but it doesn’t get them out of the woods. Jordan Eberle is getting some attention as a roster option next season, and I think that would probably be a mistake. His 74 points isn’t exactly lighting the league on fire; players drafted this past year (Kane and Schenn to name two) posted better numbers than that. He isn’t big, and he probably isn’t going to be a good defensive player right away; he went -5 in just 9 AHL games this past spring.

If he’s ready to contribute – and I mean really contribute, contribute enough offense while not looking totally clueless in his own end – than by all means play him. But don’t bring him up if he’s going to chip in 30 points and be a liability in his own end – like Ales Hemsky was when he was rushed into the league at 19.

It’s stupid to start the clock on these kids ticking before they can actually help the team win games.

  • Hippy

    Other than the kid line the sequel, when was the last time the Oilers gave a 19 year old a shot? If memory serves, Hemsky is the only player of note given substantial icetime in the 2002/03 season. He was on a very bad club at the time and played well. The top line consisted of Mike York, Mike Comrie and Anson Carter. Smyth played with Horcoff and Hemsky on the second unit.

    I think Hemsky was the rotating RW between the top and 2nd line because of the broken ankle Smyth had suffered. Didn't they move Isbister to the number 1 unit on the left side with Carter on the RW and Comrie in the middle?

    Anyway, my point is that Hemsky got the playing time due to the injury but if Smyth doesn't go down, Hemskys ice time is very limited that season. Eberles shot may only come if the same circumstances present themselves. Either via injury or trade, Eberle won't be donning the silks for extended stretches this year if he makes the club. The Oilers have shown from the past, they don't give 19 year old kids shots at the big time in anything but a supporting role and only on 4th or 3rd line "safe" situations.

  • Hippy

    The way I look at it, some guys are just ready. Look at Tavares, I mean who REgresses during his draft year in junior? He probably could have played in the show last year.

    Gagner started 07 on fire, then was invisible for about 40 games, and then brought it down the stretch. Inconsistent, but 98% of teenagers are, too.

    I think the RFA years is a tool you use to separate 2 players who are close (maybe Eberle gets caught in this situation with a Schremp or Brule). It should not be something on the coaches and management's mind during TC. If a guy is NHL-ready, I believe it impedes their progress and development to send them back to juniors where they are expected to dominate inferior talent.

  • Hippy

    I don't belive in developing prospects at the NHL level. Lets face it the team with the most actual, legitimate, NHL players: usually wins. IMO, both Gagner, and Cogliano were rushed into NHL service too early and have consequently bled chances against, taken roster spots that could have been filled with more experienced players, and have pushed themselves closer to UFA status while the team missed the playoffs, again and again.

  • Hippy

    Andrew W wrote:

    @ West Coast Oil:
    Really? You don’t think he had any positive impact on Horcoff, Pisani, Stoll, or Greene, just to name a few? Even if you’re only talking about last year, only Wanye Gretz is left denying that Grebeshkov took a big step forward, and Gilbert, Smid, and Stortini all did too. This is all without mentioning that Sourey had the most well rounded season of his career, and you don’t think the head coach had any impact on any of this?
    MacTavish made some decisions that didn’t work out well last year. It bothers me when many of the positive things he did for the team during his tenure are overlooked because he played Pisani at centre for a couple of weeks and he lost patience with Penner. In my opinion, while a coaching change was needed, MacT’s lessons to many of the core players will continue to influence their careers for years to come.

    Great post.

    On a semi related note I went through and documented all the players that had their best offensive season under MacT (and at least a couple under other coaches to give a contrast) the list was long.

  • Hippy

    @ West Coast Oil:

    Really? You don't think he had any positive impact on Horcoff, Pisani, Stoll, or Greene, just to name a few? Even if you're only talking about last year, only Wanye Gretz is left denying that Grebeshkov took a big step forward, and Gilbert, Smid, and Stortini all did too. This is all without mentioning that Sourey had the most well rounded season of his career, and you don't think the head coach had any impact on any of this?

    MacTavish made some decisions that didn't work out well last year. It bothers me when many of the positive things he did for the team during his tenure are overlooked because he played Pisani at centre for a couple of weeks and he lost patience with Penner. In my opinion, while a coaching change was needed, MacT's lessons to many of the core players will continue to influence their careers for years to come.

  • Hippy

    Death Metal Nightmare wrote:

    its impossible to project that he would have been AS effective without the previous experiences. he could have been as good, or he could have been worse and put into situations where he didnt produce as much.

    True, but it was only supposed to illustrate the point.

    I certainly could have pushed on the Brule example if I were in the pushing mood, but the fact is I'm not sure exactly how the debate between NHL minutes vs. injury plays out.

    I'd guess that the injury risk means players are better off developing in junior (or college) but I don't know that.

  • Hippy

    Bringing kids up at 20 makes a lot more sense than at 18, 19 at least then you can send them to the AHL still let them develop and bring them up for short periods and control their exposure.
    How many times did we see Gagner struggle yet MacT had no choice but to play him because he couldn't be sent down and just sitting him or moving him to the 4th line may have killed his confidence.
    Regarding Gagner I still think MacT did a great job with his evolution.

  • Hippy

    what if nathan horton wouldnt have produced as he did after the lockout? its impossible to project that he would have been AS effective without the previous experiences. he could have been as good, or he could have been worse and put into situations where he didnt produce as much. i get the argument but the example isnt telling at all and its not empirical in any sense for a model on Eberle.

  • Hippy

    Digger12 wrote:

    If Stoll started the year better, Gagner would’ve likely been back in London.

    Then again, if the team had been put together a little better….

    It's true, but I wish the Oilers had put that team together a little bit better. Or better still, tanked for another season, picked up a draft pick, and brought Gagner in at 19.

    What's done is done of course, but a slightly longer rebuilding plan wouldn't have been a bad idea.

  • Hippy

    @ Wyseguy:

    I agree that he's good at what he does, and for the most part I can put up with him. But in this clip in particular he absolute ruins it by stealing the show.

    He already talked about the Russian icing ad nauseum after it happened. He should have just let the crowd going absolutely haywire be the main focus. But he always has to be at the forefront with his encyclopedic knowledge of hockey. Guarantee any other color man would have waited until the replay to say their piece.
    He's also the same guy who constantly tries to scream over top of Gord Miller while he's calling the action.

    Just seems to pushy for my tastes.

  • Hippy

    @ jeanshorts:
    I gotta disagree. As much as Pierre McGuire has a big ego, his passion for hockey, especially the world junior tournament is more than anyone else I've seen. He provides excitement for the games, and he's also the best "between the benches" colour guy out there. He knows the game and brings up things he sees and hears that you wouldn't notice otherwise.

    A buddy of mine had to spend a couple of hours in a car with him, and said he didn't enjoy his ego the whole trip, but as a hockey broadcaster, he's good in my books.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Digger12 wrote:

    If Stoll hadn’t been such a bag of crap the entire year, who knows how different the team would look now.
    Fixed

    True enough, but my point still stands. 😉

    If Stoll started the year better, Gagner would've likely been back in London.

    Stoll and Torres were pretty much joined at the hip, so it's logical to assume that Torres would've done more as well, which would've helped out Nilsson's #'s (IIRC the 2nd line to start that year was Stoll/Torres/Nilsson), so maybe he would've gotten to stay up for the entire year on the 2nd line.

    Who knows what would've happened to Cogliano, since his boxcars would've likely suffered a bit.

    Perhaps Visnovsky would not be an Oiler today?

  • Hippy

    jeanshorts wrote:

    God damn Pierre McGuire has forever ruined that clip for me.
    Still gives me goosebumps though, for .7 seconds until McGuire opens his mouth.

    I hear you… I loathe that guy and if I have a channel option, I'll switch to the non mcdouche channel in a heartbeat! That blabber mouth ruins it for everyone.

  • Hippy

    Digger12 wrote:

    It’s a question that every organization struggles with when they have talented ‘teens…which development path will result in maximizing the potential of your prospects if they show signs that beating up on 16/17/18 yr olds will result in diminishing returns.

    It's true, and it's a tough balance I think. One of the advantages to drafting non-CHL prospects (i.e. European/NCAA) is that they can play at a higher level. The CHL quite simply isn't designed to develop players as much as it is to make money.

    But the injury thing is a real concern.

  • Hippy

    As I recall, when Hemsky made the Oilers at age 19 it was done with more of an eye towards what they thought would be best for his future development, rather than how much he could help them win hockey games in 02/03. They said that they thought having Hemsky go back to the QMJHL would've been a waste because their wunderkind had already showed signs of being bored as an 18 yr old. It's a question that every organization struggles with when they have talented 'teens…which development path will result in maximizing the potential of your prospects if they show signs that beating up on 16/17/18 yr olds will result in diminishing returns? Hell, even when the Oilers sent Hemsky back to Hull after his first training camp, there was MacT in the media scrum publicly musing about whether or not it would be a mistake to send him back to junior.

    As for Gagner, IMO he caught a bit of a lucky break that the Oilers kept him for the entire year, rather than send him back to London as I expect was the initial plan:

    -One of his main competitors during training camp (Schremp) was still recovering from a knee injury

    -Pouliot had a poor camp

    -During Gagner's 10 game audition where he managed 7 points, the guy who was supposed to be the 2nd line center (Stoll) had a ridiculously poor start and was bleeding goals against like a stuck pig. They needed SOMEBODY to center that 2nd line, and Gagner was putting forth a good accounting of himself at the time.

    The Oilers probably would privately admit that Gagner would've been better served by playing in the OHL as an 18 yr old, but what's done is done. If Stoll hadn't been such a bag of crap to start the year, who knows how different the team would look now.

  • Hippy

    You gotta remember Eberle was on a crappy junior team where he was the only legit offensive threat. Teams keying on him certainly had an effect on his point totals. Kane is not a comparison. For one, he is a physical freak which Eberle is not, and secondly he was on the best team in the WHL this year.

    The size issue doesn't bother me when I look at what 5'9" 165 Pat Kane has done in his first two years. I don't think he has even missed a game yet.

    That said, unless there are multiple injuries to our top 9, I don't really want to see him in the show this year.