Gilbert Brule And Red Flags

Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

One of the few positive notes for the Oilers this season was the emergence of Gilbert Brule as an NHL player. He scored a career-high 17 goals and 37 points and played with a nasty physical edge as well. Now, he’s a restricted free agent and the Oilers need to decide how much to pay him on his next contract.

This is where I get nervous. I’m glad that Brule’s emerged, and it’s nice to see him finally playing well after injuries derailed his early career in Columbus. But there are a bunch of different things that would make me leery about tossing money at him, despite his success this past season. Here are factors I see that bother me:

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Injuries: At just 23 years of age, Brule’s had a lot of them. Broken leg, broken collarbone, and a sprained ankle that cost him the tail end of the 2009-10 season. It may be that he’s just had bad luck early on, but those injuries have already cost him a lot and with the style he plays it wouldn’t surprise me if injuries continued to shape his NHL career. 

Shooting percentage: Brule was listed as having an “NHL-calibre” shot when he was playing junior, so perhaps he just had a bad run in Columbus, but the goal-scoring increase in Edmonton has largely been a result of shooting percentage. On 183 shots with the Blue Jackets, Brule had a 6.6% shooting percentage, while on 134 shots with the Oilers he’s had a 14.2% shooting percentage. Or put another way: goalies facing Brule as a Blue Jacket put up a 0.934 SV%, while goalies facing him as an Oiler put up a 0.858 SV%. I’d suggest that Brule’s true scoring ability is probably somewhere between those two figures.  Given that we know NHL players generally don’t progress through great increases in shooting percentage, this is worrisome.

The Dustin Penner effect: Gilbert Brule was a different player when he was paired with Dustin Penner. That pairing was plus-5, on the ice for 21 goals for and 16 against, and they outshot the opposition 147-133. Penner apart was a little worse (35 goals for, 32 against, outshooting 364-346), something I’d attribute to the fact that he was likely playing better opposition away from Brule. Brule fell off the rails without Penner around, going minus-10 (17 goals for, 27 against) and getting outshot 203-233. That disparity is not a good sign.

AHL results: Last season on a lousy Springfield team, Gilbert Brule managed 24 points in 39 games (0.615 PTS/GM) in the AHL. In the NHL this year he was just a tiny bit worse (0.569 PTS/GM), and that bothers me a little. Perhaps it means that this year, and this year alone, was a breakout season, but it might also be taken as further evidence that Brule isn’t quite the player we saw this year. Also of interest is even-strength goal scoring: in Springfield, Brule scored 0.15 goals/game at even-strength but this year in Edmonton that total jumped to 0.23 goals per game at even-strength.

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Points relative to ice-time: In Brule’s last full NHL season, he scored 0.87 PTS/60 at five-on-five. He nearly tripled that output this year, to 2.36 PTS/60. Even assuming (as I do) that his results in Columbus represented the bottom end of his potential, is that a sustainable outburst?

I’m not making any sweeping statements about what Brule is here. There are other factors worth considering, including the physical edge mentioned at the outset and the fact that he seemed to have good chemistry with Dustin Penner. There’s also his junior career and draft number, and without those years in Columbus his junior numbers would suggest a guy who might be an impact player.

What I am saying is that I see a bunch of red flags, and if I were thinking of spending $2.0 million dollars or so, those red flags would bother me a lot. If I were Steve Tambellini, they might even bother me enough to ask what kind of trade value I might get for him at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

  • I really liked Brule this year. I’m sure he would welcome a two year deal, even if the salary is lower than he wanted (although he should cost a fortune), because I think that takes him to UFA status. After next season the Oilers can start working on an extension if he plays well enough.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Brule needs to be locked up long term. Just looking at his stats with and without Penner will not be accurate. Remember earlier in the year when he was a 4th-line player and could barely get off the bench? Even though he was productive in his role his ice-time then compared to when he played with Penner was far different. I would also argue, as other have, that it was Penner who was a different player when Brule was on his wing rather than the other way around this season.

    His shooting percentage is awesome! That is a plus, not a minus! His shot is very accurate and if you look at his goals, they are not a collection of bounces or lucky goals that could bump up a shooter’s percentage in the short term. Rather, they are the result of good, hard and accurate shots. If you want to critique that you are looking way too hard for the negative, in my honest opinion.

    I felt he was a very effective player the year before as well, and could have been used more then. But one more year in the minors, and with better teammates up in the bigs, and he is putting it all together now. Let’s lock this guy up for 4 or 5 years, I’d suggest, and roll the dice with that. (I’d sooner take a chance on a player like Brule than many other, big-ticket items who are a lot older!)

    I believe he will become either an effective 2nd-line player, or one of the best 3rd-line players in the league with huge offensive upside in that role. I’m tired of pluggers filling that spot with a snowball’s chance in hell of scoring at any given time. He hits a ton, and can score if given a sliver of an opportunity. I think he is perfect for our rebuilding project going forward!

    • Chris.

      His shooting percentage is awesome! That is a plus, not a minus! His shot is very accurate and if you look at his goals, they are not a collection of bounces or lucky goals that could bump up a shooter’s percentage in the short term. Rather, they are the result of good, hard and accurate shots. If you want to critique that you are looking way too hard for the negative, in my honest opinion.

      You could have written the exact same thing about Cogliano before last season (or O’Sullivan when he potted over twenty in L.A.) … the high shooting percentage will almost certainly fall. That said Brule has enough dimension to his game that he should be resigned anyway.

  • Phil

    Who was Brule paired with when playing away from Penner? What were the defense pairings? I recall him suffering from a) several injuries/illness which could’ve hampered his performance for stretches (once back in the lineup) and b) I recall him being bounced around through the line up early and often, for a multitude of reasons.

    Red flags… really? JFC Willis…

  • Pajamah

    Maybe I’m just waiting for a positive statistical analysis of someone from the Oilers this season

    Maybe a 30th place team doesn’t have any positives

    Maybe JW is a “negative nelly” as stereotypical grandmas would say

    but this hurts, I, like many, thought Brule was a bright spot on the team this year. Stats be damned, the guy showed some promise

  • Chris.

    I think Gilbert’s come a long way and he’s shown more than i expected this year even though he was sick for a good stretch of the season and had an injury.
    he looks really good when healthy and playing with good line mates. He contributes to the team and makes his line play better…which is a positive thing.
    The oilers were bad this year due to several fACTORS WHICH WOULD WEIGH ON ANY PLAYERS STATS SO IF he has improved this year I would say “BONUS”.
    I would like the Oil to resign him but not long term. I would like a contract which takes him a few years from UFA at a moderate pice. If he proves out thru the next few years then they can make a decision on the $$$$$$$$$ and length of contract.

  • GSC

    Surprise, surprise…Willis doesn’t like Brule because of the math.

    If you want to conduct a proper rebuild, you don’t trade away players like Gilbert Brule. You just don’t.

  • I would sign Brule at 2 years @ 1.5 mil/year. Play him as the 4th line C going into the season with the ability to move into the top 6 if injuries arise. I wouldn’t quite hand him a top 6 role quite yet, if you do, it will likely hurt the depth of the hockey team.

    I think the coaching staff needs to work with Brule a bit, help him round out his game. If he’s the 4th line C, he’s likely going to have to learn how to kill penalties.

  • I don’t think the Oilers trade Brule at least until he has a crack at a full NHL season without injury. His shot and his willingness for physical play is something that is sorely needed on a team full of guys who wouldn’t win a pillow fight with Brownlee.

    His slappers from inside the blue line were a bit surprising but then again some of them went in which tells me that he has accuracy. Accuracy with a shooter is something that you can’t teach and given the fact that he never really had an NHL team give him a chance til now. I say keep him for a year or two at $1.5-2 million dollar range and see what he can come up with.

  • Devon

    I say give Brule a 1-2 year contract between 1-2 mil. And see how it goes at the very least if he has another good year you can dangle him in front of teams at the dealine and see what you get. If not then keep him. Both he and cogliano should be signed for those type of deals while we give Eberle and MPS more time to develope and let them hopefully bring new life into the Oilers farm team before making the jump here. But in the long run I’d Cogs and Brule are the odd men out once those guys plus Hall/Sequin are ready.

  • Devon

    JW – I thought it was a totally valid article. Resign the guy if something reasonable can be worked out. Dangle him out there and if the trade value is good – go for it.

    The whole ‘untouchable’ thing is a silly concept. Nobody is untouchable if the return is high enough.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Exactly, I really don’t see why this is such a hard concept.

      The team is heavy on young forwards/forward prospects and horribly weak on solid youth in net and on the back end.

      If Brule can land you a good young dman or goalie, you trade him for that player.

  • zigster

    For the first time ever, I firmly believe Willis is over-analyzing the numbers. At some point, you just gotta trust what you SEE rather than what you calculate. Hockey isn’t a math test.

  • The Nilsson comparable is that it is contract time and there isn’t any evidence that Brule will be worth $2,000,000 per season.

    All fans of the Horcoff contract [you know who you are] should be worried about Brule’s 09-10 shooting percentage. Nothing screws up a NHL GM like a guy having a good shooting % in his contract year.

    One thing that hasn’t been discussed is roles – specifically wunderkid Jordan Eberle is going to be looking for that soft-minute scoring role enjoyed by Brule this past season.

    • Brule is going to get $2 million a season because Willis estimates that’s what it will be?

      If Brule signs a three-year contract with the Oilers, I expect it to be structured in the range of a $1.4, $1.6, $1.8 breakdown, or $4.8 million over three years.

      How does a good shooting percentage screw up a GM if the percentage isn’t outlandishly high, which Brule’s isn’t, and the GM makes a reasoned assessment about where the player is in his development and looks at 2009-10 in context?

      At 14.0 (down from 15.4 in 11 games the previous season), Brule wasn’t among among the top 40 in the NHL, let alone at some level that’s clearly a gaudy one-off. He’s an emerging young player with a quick release and a great shot. This wasn’t a case of some grunt having everything he shovelled at the net bounce in off something or somebody.
      Brule could slip a couple of percentage points and still be a 20-goal player if he he plays 78-82 games as opposed to 65.

      As for Eberle, who says he’ll play here next season? How do you know what role he’ll be used in before we even know the make-up of the forward lines and he’s even made the team?

  • Exactly, that is a reasonable contract for Brule. At those numbers, if he becomes redundant down the road, he will still be a tradeable asset. Very nice contract numbers for that player, which he could easily outperform. That is what you call smart negotiating. Even if he doesn’t turn into a goal scorer, he is a useful 4th liner at those numbers. Unlike say, POS, who is a 2.7M one dimensional player, Brule seems to have at least 2 dimensions to his game. If the one dimension fails, the contract will be reasonable for his other dimension (checking).

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    We should sign Cogs to those numbers too, as I think he is worth the gamble, I saw some real competition in him, plus that lightning speed, and the fact that he can score a bit, he is a good project.
    Now, Khabby takes some real flack around here, but what happens, if, say, he beats the back problem and is healthy all year next year and maintains his same decent numbers as he brings DD along under his wing? Is he still a bad contract? Admittedly, Tambo took a gamble on his health, but that doesn’t mean that the gamble will lose for sure. There is, imo, a small chance that this signing still pays dividends. Now I expect to be flamed to death. It is nice to have a stanley cup winning goalie in your net in case you do make it to the playoffs one day…(~ducks and runs for cover~)

  • “We should sign Cogs to those numbers too”

    Yes Brule & Gogliano at those numbers would be reasonable.

    That doesn’t solve some other Brule-ish questions
    – smurfitis, a tough smurf is still a…
    – Babbleleenie is gonna make the Oilers bigger

    “who says [Eberle]’ll play here next season?”

    No one says that
    But if he does play here, he’ll be looking for the same roster spot as Brule.
    Omark too.
    I mean, what other roles could they fill?

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      — Brule will come in at close to those numbers. Part of the premise of the article is spending $2 million a season on a player with this many “red flags” might not be wise.
      The Oilers won’t be spending $2 million a season on Brule. Doesn’t mean you want to waste an average of $1.6 million a season, either, but let’s not just skip over the financial part of the premise when it’s faulty from the start.

      — No, a tough smurf is not still a smurf. Brule plays bigger than any of the Oilers other small forwards and some of the big ones. He’s not in the discussion when it comes to having too many diminutive players. Take that to the bank.

      — Omark? You’re buying into the YouTube clips and blog buzz. He’s not taking a job ahead of Brule or Eberle next season. What’s next, is Hartikainen going to make the team, too?

      — Eberle and Brule will not be competing for the same roster spot. Brule is on the team. Eberle, Omark and all the other prospects are competing for other spots.

      — Brule and Eberle are completely different players. Eberle will be groomed for top-six work. Brule projects fine as a reliable third-liner with the ability to move up in a pinch.

  • Apples and Oranges my friends when it comes to Brule vs Nilsson comparison. Taking a $2 million dollar gamble with an emerging player like Brule is something the Oilers can afford to do right now. As it stands a 30th place team can’t be too choosy with who “was” and “wasn’t” on a team like this one. I think with the right grooming Brule can morph into a Michael Peca type player with a little better scoring touch.

    His nose for thunderous hits always excites fans, and his scoring touch is a bonus. $2 million to a guy who never had the chance to succeed and to succeed with a rebuilding team. Guys around him who are learning their place in the league might be what the doctor ordered. At the very worst we might get a guy who we wasted 2 years at $2 million on a team that was rebuilding anyways. Or he could find that touch and niche in the NHL and find a role on this team that suits him, remember Dan Cleary?

  • “Taking a $2 million dollar gamble with an emerging player like Brule is something the Oilers can afford to do right now”

    What was Nillson when he signed that contract?

    “Eberle, Omark and all the other prospects are competing for other spots.”

    Both Eberle & Pääjärvi were selected player of the game for their respective National teams at the world Hockey Championships yesterday.
    I’ll believe that the Oilers turn their backs on that when I see it.

    One final thought
    For an injury prone third-liner, Brule sure has a dedicated fan club.

    • — Get off the $2 million.

      — Players of the game? Give them a roster spot right now! Yes, they are competing for other roster spots, whether you choose to believe it or not.

      — What was Nilsson? Wildly inconsistent, but coming off an end-of-season hot streak that fooled Lowe and a lot of fans — but not you, because you’re smarter than most.

      — Fan club? Yes, anybody who believes Brule to be an emerging player, like a reporter who actually covers the team, is a fanboy. Thank goodness those with so many doubts, like you, provide a critical and more astute assessment.

  • “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

    Oh I was as fooled as the rest
    At first I thought he was a young Nils Ekman,
    but he had me going too after “The Run”.

    I think JW’s post is about not getting fooled again