Revisiting Red Flags

 

This past summer, I had some concerns about whether Gilbert Brule was going to be able to sustain the high level of performance he had during the 2009-10 season. I listed five points that I considered to be “red flags,”and given that Brule’s performance this season has regressed, I thought we might review them.

Injury: Whenever a young player is hurt as frequently as Brule, injuries are a concern going forward. They appear to have had minimal impact on Brule’s season to date; he’s missed some time with illness but thankfully has avoided the more serious incidents that impacted his early career.

Shooting Percentage: Here, in part, is what I said on this point back in May:

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.

We still don’t know exactly where Brule’s true level of ability lies, but his shooting percentage has declined precipitously – from 14.0 percent last season down to 8.2 percent this season. That number is remarkably close to what he did as a Blue Jacket and seems low to me (I have trouble believing Brule has a below-NHL average shot) and I’d guess it will improve a bit, but not back up to where Brule has been as an Oiler to date.

The Dustin Penner Effect: From the May article:

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.

I still believe all this to be true; unfortunately timeonice.com hasn’t been updated to give us the same data this season. We do, however, have an alternative, albeit a slightly less efficient one. Dennis King has been logging scoring chances over at mc79hockey.com, and I went through and recorded the chances for Penner and Brule on games where they played on the same line, and games where they played on different lines. Occasionally, Renney has mixed the lines up mid-game, so the “together” data isn’t identical, but the trend is brutally obvious:

EV Scoring Chances For Against Percentage
Brule w/o Penner 32 67 32.32%
Brule with Penner 39 44 46.99%
Penner w/o Brule 84 69 54.90%
Penner with Brule 45 41 52.33%

On nights where Brule played on a different line than Penner, he’s been out-chanced 2:1. On nights where he’s been on the same line, he’s been an even player in terms of scoring chances. Penner, on the other hand, sees a slight dip when put on the same line as Brule.

Brule has clearly suffered from not having Penner as a regular linemate.

AHL results: Another point of concern this summer was the comparatively poor numbers that Brule put up during his time with the Springfield Falcons. This is how put it in May:

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.

Normally, AHL players don’t retain 93% of their offence when they make the jump to the NHL. Gabriel Desjardins has studied how players react when promoted, and found that on average an AHL player only retains 44% of his offence when he is called up to the majors.

Let’s compare Brule’s AHL numbers – multiplied by that 44% – to his NHL numbers this season and last season. For ease of comparison, all totals are projected over an 82-game schedule, rather than being expressed as points per game:

Season GP G A PTS
2008-09 82 12 10 22
2009-10 82 21 25 46
2010-11 82 11 5 16

We see here that Brule’s numbers last season were more than double what we would have expected, based on his play in the AHL, and that this season (while a little low, due to the number of assists) is much closer to the average.

Points relative to ice-time: Last season was far and away the most successful of Brule’s career, and his EV PTS/60 reflected that, nearly tripling in 2009-10 compared to his final season in Columbus. Let’s compare those numbers to his current season:

Season G/60 A/60 PTS/60
2007-08 0.11 0.76 0.87
2009-10 1.11 1.25 2.36
2010-11 0.49 0.33 0.82

After a huge spike in 2009-10, Brule’s back to his Blue Jackets-era levels of even-strength offence.

Conclusion: While this article was controversial when it first came out, I don’t see much controversy now. Brule is performing at levels reminiscent of his early career, he’s been wildly ineffective when separated from Penner, and it seems unlikely that his trade value will again be as high as it was last summer.

  • VMR

    re: I have trouble believing Brule has a below-NHL average

    Is issue is that his shots are from terrible spots on the ice.

    He scored about 6 of his goals last year on shots that shouldn’t have gone in (shots from well outside with no screen or terrible angles). He got his first goal this year on that sort of shot but the rest haven’t gone in.

    Shooting from the boards is low percentage and Brule seems to love that shot. I assume it’s because he’s had some success with it in the past.

    • 67 has below-average hockey sense and I think that’s clear to just about anyone outside of that guy who writes here and suggested Brule get a shot playing center:)

      He just doesn’t think the game that well and, yes, the biggest example of that is how he continuously tries to score on that same dumb shot from that same dumb position on the ice.

      If the Oil had every intention of giving major TOI and sufficient quality of linemates to the three kids then there was no bloody need of bringing back 67.

      That was a bad move by Lowe and Tambellini.

      So going forward the top six spots look secure and it looks like in a year or two that kids-laden group will be able to at worse saw off vs top six tough comp.

      So that means the bottom six need to be filled by guys who can kill penalties or win faceoffs or grind and who are cheap; the only exception being that I would pay for a REAL faceoff winning centre to augment the 10-89 duo.

      67 doesn’t fit into either of those slots.

    • magisterrex

      As much as there’s a Penner Effect on the ice, I think there’s a Schremp Effect off of it. Omark and Cogliano were the wild cards this year, and Brule had to be kept as an insurance marker against their potential poor performance.

  • D-Man

    There’s also the opportunity to buy Brule out… From my understanding because he is younger than 26-27, we could also buy out Brule with only 1/3 of the contract hitting our cap… He’s due $1.85 million this year and next, and then he becomes a RFA… I’d hate to see this happen, but I really can’t see Brule bringing back anything better than a 3rd round draft pick or low end AHL prospect…

    If Omark plays as well as he does, perhaps Brule’s roster spot becomes open… Like the prior article about Stortini/JFJ, I’d hate for Tambo to make any rash decisions… There’s no hurry with this rebuild, so let’s see what we have with Brule and then make some sort of decision this summer…

    Perhaps Brule becomes a throw-in to a Penner or Hemsky trade? I’m still not convinced Tambo will be able to sign both at the end of their respective contracts next year…

        • Horcsky

          I don’t like the direction that the league is going, where you can just flush money down the toilet to make your problems go away. I didn’t mind the buyouts this summer, but I don’t think the Oilers (or any team) should make a habit of it. If you know that you’re stuck with a player once you’ve signed him to a one way contract, you’re going to be a lot more careful about who you’re signing.

          It’s completely backwards that there are established veteran players who are easily good enough to play on an NHL team having their last good years wasted in the minors.

          Made a bad signing? Suck it up, live with it, and do extra homework before you sign the next guy.

  • Yep, as an Oiler Brule has 106 GP, 23 G, 23 A, 46 PTS and is -19. PPG avg of .43. What a terrible player… After 65 games last season not of your conclusion the judgement can be safely made now after the last 30 that fit or even exceed your conclusion. Or what most would consider a slump.

    • VMR

      So you consider his play this season a slump even if it’s closer to his career averages rather than the last season being a hot streak that he’s unlikely to repeat? I dont see it but, hey it’s possible.

      • I look at Cogliano, who has been his center most of this season and Penner who has been away from both Cogliano and Brule. Penner has had a less than average season so for, his play has been noted as sub par. Cogliano for a better part of this season has been horrible, but better of late. Brule has been better of late. Really Cogs and Brule have suffered away from Penner, and Penner has been lesser away from Cogs and Brule.

        I think it’s more a symptom of slumps, pairings, and changes in coaching and identity than anything else. Nothing hurts players more than lacking roles and lacking confidence.

  • OttawaOilFan

    Ahhhhhh, a whole article dedicated to my Goat. Things are looking good in Goatville for Mayor Gilbert!! Gilbert the Goat, has a nice ring to it :-)))))

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I was actually just thinking the other day how you were bang on with both Brule and Cogliano the summer before.

    The “I saw him’s” will be upset.

    • Will the “saw hims” be any more upset about Brule and Cogliano than the numbers guys who low-balled Whitney and Eberle will be if they finish this season with, say, 55 and 50 points respectively?

      There’s nothing wrong with I-told-you-so articles — I write them more often than anybody — but I’m thinking they should be balanced by the occasional “what the hell was I thinking” item.

      Everybody has “called the shot” and everybody misses by a mile, no matter what means we use to draw conclusions.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I think our top six is pretty much set for next year, it just needs to develop.
    Our bottom six is a work in progress.
    Keepers: Jones, Storts, Mac
    Replacement parts: Brule, Cogs, Fraser, Jacques

    Now, if we could trade Cogs and Brule for a decent third/fourth liner or acquire a UFA, we should do that for next year.

    This year I think we give Cogs and Brule one last chance. Give them the year, after that their time is up.

  • OttawaOilFan

    Remember when we had the best fourth line in the entire NHL and we threw it away?
    Glencross, Brodziak, Storts.

    The best fourth line in the NHL. We were chasing top liners back then. How times have changed.

  • John Chambers

    Although the Hall-Gags-Eberle line was moderately successful at doing it last night, it’s amazing how little the Oilers cycle the puck in the o-zone. San Jose had several sequeneces where they owned the puck and moved it effectively to create scoring chances in our end; we had very few.

    Players like Brule and Cogliano have had periods of effectiveness in the NHL when they’ve been able to create opportunities off the rush, or as one post’er alluded to, have had some luck.

    The fact of the matter is that Penner makes his linemates hum because he can control the puck in the offensive zone, pass to the open man, get into a lane, and create chances that keep the opposition moving around and on their toes. Same can be said for Hall and Eberle, and to a lesser extent Sam Gagner.

    Brule, Cogliano, and quite often Shawn Horcoff make poor choices with the puck in the offensive zone, try to force a pass, or shoot from the Ethan Moreau spots. Players like this, along with poor faceoff %, are IMO the reason we’ve been outshot every game for the past 4 years.

    • DoubleTap

      These are my thoughts exactly.

      The only time I have seen Brule or Cogliano generate any chances are when the game pace allows them to use their limited skill sets..speed on the rush. I dont know how a player that has to rely on one specific type of game play can be effective long term.

      This is why players like Eberle and Hall are going to be/already are legitimate top six players.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I was reading through the old comments and it’s amazing how opinions change. 5 months ago many were talking like he’s next to untouchable, now theirs people talking buyouts.

    Crazy.

    • John Chambers

      Everyone is guilty of this. From the General Manager, to the panel on TSN, to the writers from ON, right down to you and I.

      A guy plays well one minute we want to buy his jersey. He goes into the tank for a few days and you want to buy out his contract.

      At what point do you think that people will start to suggest that Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle are overrated? There will have a few years where they can do no wrong (Paajarvi at least right now), but that may change after they sign their next big $$$ contracts, fall behind on our expectations for point production, and we start to slip in the standings.

      Everyone is a hypocrite. The best way around it is to say as little as possible.

    • D-Man

      Good point… Unfortunately, we all are forced to live in the ‘what have you done for me lately’ world… Brule hasn’t done much of anything, and as a glorified armchair GM, I have the luxury of looking into the ‘should have, could have, would have’ scenarios…

      Tambo doesn’t… He also has some guys on the farm (Omark, Omarra, Ginger, Petry) that may have some NHL promise and guys in junior (Pitlick, Hamilton and Roy) who he may have to make room for in the next year to three…

      He needs this team to make the playoffs no later than year three.. The ‘evaluator’ as many refer to him, won’t have this luxury to wait if Brule stinks for the rest of the season..

  • @ dawgbone:

    I agree on that. I looked through all of Brule’s goals when I wrote the initial article, and had similar thoughts, but I felt it was a little too subjective to include in what was, at the time, an article on a rather unpopular point of view.

  • Old Brule could go on a Glencrossian stretch for the last 20 games of the season, and then we’d all be in love with him again.
    You have to remember that Cogs is making 1M and Brule is 1.85M. That’s not huge dollars, for what they bring to the table. Some faceoffs, some pk, speed, and a few points. Not bad for third liners. At least we’re not paying Pisser 2.5M to do those same things, or Moreau at 2M.

  • Columbus isn’t wholly relevant. Different organizations and differing roles. Brule in one full season in Columbus was a 20 point player with a 9.2% shooting percentage. He played less than 11 minutes a night in what looks like more of a 4th line role. The following season he looks lost in the lineup shuffle. He’s the 6th center on the roster, he’s playing under 10 minutes. Playing in the AHL at a 0.625 point a game clip.

    He is a player suffering from transition between the NHL and AHL, as a lot of players do. He’s also a player lacking a role or changing roles.

    Players need confidence and roles. Brule finds himself lacking both right now. Cogliano’s numbers are awful as well, is that because of Brule or are Brule’s numbers down because of Cogliano? I’d point the burden on the center.

  • m3sh

    I was hoping Brule would spend more of the year with Penner and continue with elevated PPG numbers, but it’s painfully obvious how non-star and all-goat this kid is without a Penner to shelter him.

    Needs to remake his game and stop trying to be a sniper that he isn’t. So tired of the Ethan Moreau style far-wing top of the hash-marks wrist shot. That’s got to be one of the lowest percentage shots in the game, yet he continues to do it, leading to faceoffs (which we invariably lose) or at the very least a loss of possession of the puck.

    Brule has been disappointing so far to say the least. Between him and Fraser I’m unsure who’s more useless.

    Still hoping he can turn it around. I’d say we’re stuck with him for 2 years as it stands.

  • I liked the trade for Torres, only because Torres was streaky. It appears Gilbert is equally streaky. Columbus got a 2nd for Torres, we should have got that at the same time, I’m afraid. Good move Howson, bad move us. Past the expiry date. I guess we needed Brule to fill a hole whilst the kids developed in the AHL incubator.

    • John Chambers

      Yeah, but we weren’t saying that last year. It appeared for a while that Brule was going to be a useful member of the re-build.

      In any event, championship teams have 4-6 really important pieces and a complement of players around them. So far we have Hemsky, Hall, Eberle … and maybe Gagner, Penner, and Whitney. Half of those guys still have to grow body hair, a couple will be traded by the time we’re competitive, and a couple others will be added, including a goalie.

      Everybody else is just putting in minutes and will be the subject of future trivia.

  • Horcsky

    @ Robin Brownlee:

    I’ve actually got one of those on tap, and I think it’s going to go over pretty well. One of those rare cases where there’s almost no negative side to the story.

    • Horcsky

      Good.
      Guesses, no matter how we arrive at them, can be way, way off for a lot of reasons. The most obvious is injury. Everybody is going to be way off on Horcoff and Hemsky because of it this season.

      A best estimate, be it a hunch or a projection based on advanced stats, can go off the rails in a hurry. The team as a whole is far better or worse then expected. Linemates change. Linemates get traded. An undisclosed injury or illness that is bad enough to impact performance but not so serious it forces a player out of the line-up. Off-ice issues. A change in system focus. A new coach.

      No set or sets of numbers makes what is yet to happen a certainty. No amount of experience or instinct allows us to predict the future.

      And I’m still waiting for a reply from QB1

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Reply about what? If the numbers guys are upset about Whitney/Eberle’s strong start? You’d have to ask them.

        I was taking a jab at handful of posters that come after the “math bloggers” with great venom, because they were certain their eyes knew best.

    • Horcsky

      Jonathan, I must admit that I skipped a majority of the article as the Stats ones are a bit much for me. Put me down as a saw him guy. But I read enough to get the jist of it. And I must say I thought you were crazy this summer with your article on Brule, I had him as almost an untouchable. But you were right.

      Just wanted to take the time to give you props as I have also taken the time to be critical in the past.

  • Jodes

    Hmm.. sorry to get off topic (although I agree that Brule needs some time in the AHL to try and get his confidence back) but that pic you have on the front, one has to wonder if the boys from Billy Talent are “Deathlands” fans.. the artwork and font are amazingly close to the series book covers.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled hockey discussion..

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I don’t see Brule as a tremendous skater. He’s a small guy who has to play a gritty game to be successful but he’s up against bigger players in the NHL/AHL than juniors. I’d give him some more time in the AHL. Cogliano probably belongs in the AHL right now to season his game. Two guys that were brought to the big show before their time.