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:

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.

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.

  • Dangle Brule as trade bait?

    If I was to make a list of Oilers players NOT to trade, it would be short, but Brule would be near the top of it.

    You say you’re not making any sweeping statements about Brule, yet you spent six or seven paragraphs on what you see as “red flags.” When I look at the player and not just the numbers, I can’t say I share your vision.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Maybe I’m the only one that sees this, but everyone complains that we gave up on Glencross too early as is the same with Schremp. So this year and the past year Tambo decides to give chances to guys within the organization. He gave alot a guys a chance to prove themselves and what does Tambo get other then crapped on?

    You know if we would’ve went and signed all kinds of depth guys last year, we wouldn’t have seen Brule even be in this situation. He’d be on the blog with Schremp or the one with RFA’s from the AHL.

    Say what you want to say, but if you want Tambo to sign UFA’s then don’t complain when a guy like Potulny, Pouilot or whoever turn out to be decent NHLers elsewhere.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Chris, it’s not like he’s floating in cap space either. It depends what it takes to sign Brule vs what Tambo could get for him on the market. Why spend Katz’s money unnecessarily? As you say, SOMEbody has to play, but that somebody might as well be Steve MacIntyre as Gilbert Brule, if Brule wants the farm.

  • Dangle Brule as trade bait? For what? A draft pick? Perhaps as part of another trade? He may garner some value, but probably not a better player than him. Granted, he does fit into that smaller-ish fwd group that we have a lot of…but as someone mentioned, I’d hate for him to turn into another Glencross. I say sign him for a year (maybe two) and see how things go.

  • Bob Cobb

    @Racki:
    Glencross has had 1 40 point and 1 15 goal season. He’s a good 3rd liner, not a game changer. Everybody acts like he would have been Edmonton’s savior. He’s an Ethan Moreau type player.

    • Not saying he was a game changer. I’m saying we want to hang on to the guys that obviously work within the system well. We had a pretty good 4th line going in Stortini Brodziak Glencross, and I would have liked to have seen them keep that going.

      While “everyone acts like he would have been Edmonton’s savior” others on the other side of the argument seem to think that only top six players make a difference in the league. I also think people tend to overreact and think that anyone arguing the case for keeping Glencross are delusional and think he would have brought us the Stanley Cup. That’s not it at all. He contributed in a small, but effective way, and it was disappointing that they let him walk for nothing.

      It takes 4 lines to build a hockey team, and when you have one line that is working well and comes cheap it makes no sense to dismantle it.

      Keep the guys that show up on a nightly basis.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      The other issue I’d bring up is that there have been many similar players like him over the past couple years that were available and the Oilers decided against signing a player like that.

  • Chris.

    Red flags? Every Oiler player has red flags right now. Can Hemsky come back and still be Hemskyish from major injury? Does he still want to be in Edmonton? Can Horcoff bounce back a little bit? Will Penner be the good Penner of the first and last part of last season, or the somewhat less inspired Penner we’ve also seen over the last three seasons? Will Whitney be the Whitney who has moved through two other organizations… was the last few games an abberation? Khabibulin is one big red flag, IMO. Youth, inexperience, contradictory stats, injury, poor play… these red flags plague the rest of the lineup. Tambellini has to pay somebody to play… he might as well sign Brule. It’s not like he’s floating in quality alternatives.

  • Crackenbury

    Jonathan…

    Good analysis on the Penner connection with Brule. Didn’t realize Brule was that dependant on Penner.

    Not sure if I’m overly worried about the possibility of future injuries with Brule. I mean, yeah, I think his style puts him in harm’s way, but the same thing could be said of a lot of players and I don’t think other teams are shying away from players of that ilk.

    Those three injuries of Brule’s were “clean” injuries – breaks and minor sprains. They weren’t the kind of injuries (like a wonky shoulder or knee) that are likely to rekindle anytime in the future.

    And I’d argue that at least two of those injuries were were “one-off” injuries that were based on circumstance. As memory serves, he broke his collarbone in his first or second NHL game when then-Flame rearguard Roman Hamrlik hit him with a borderline from-behind check.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    As always, it depends what we can get. If Brule brings us back Price I’d trade other wise sign him up.

    As it sits right now he’s a decent 2nd liner with potential to be an average 1st line winger. And even if this years offense was an annomaly, he’d still be a usefull 3rd liner (unlike a guy like Nillson)

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I give him a two or three year deal, but if it means paying him 2+ I don’t know. We’ve seen this same song and dance before only this time it’s with a guy with an injury filled past.

    The issue I have is if you don’t sign him what trade value does he really hold?

  • Bucknuck wrote:

    … the stats don’t make an argument for anything other than not overestimating his value.

    Thanks for writing this. I wasn’t trying to advocate tossing Brule out of town, but just that caution is a good idea here.

  • Bob Cob wrote:

    Once again your opinion is way out in left field, in fact thats being generous, its sitting in the bleachers in the nose bleed section.

    And I can’t help adding that consensus doesn’t always reflect reality. This summer, something like 70% of voters here at ON were thrilled with the Khabibulin signing.

  • @ David Staples:

    Two points.

    First, I think the Oilers should spend a little less time worrying about culture and a little more time checking medical history and ensuring guys they sign are actual difference makers.

    Second, Brule only creates more goals than he gives up when he’s on the ice with Penner. That bothers me, because Penner had a great year and Brule sank when playing with anybody else.

  • Bob Cob wrote:

    You can’t trade a guy like Brule based on stats…

    Quick, a) where did I say Brule should be traded and b) what does his broken leg and broken collarbone have to do with stats>

    I bet you could make up stats to say the Oilers should trade Hemsky.

    Have I ever made that argument? If not, what makes you think I would make that argument?

    As far as injury prone, that would be grounds for trading all the Oilers.

    Hmmm… that says something about this team, doesn’t it?

    The fact is, Brule played with grit and showed he could score, and on this past seasons Oilers thats no small feat.

    That’s true. And in Columbus he showed he could play with grit but couldn’t score. So is Brule the guy we saw this year or the guy they had in Columbus? And before you answer, are you 100% convinced of that answer?

    Keep him around in a 2nd or 3rd line penalty killing role, much like Pisani used to be in.

    I know you don’t like stats, but even watching games you should have realized that Brule wasn’t used on the penalty kill. In 65 games, he played less than six minutes short-handed.

    • Bob Cobb

      In the last paragraph you suggest Tambellini should see what the value is for Brule, that alone I thought implied that you would trade him or think about it.

      Yes the Brule we saw this year is the Brule I think we will see going forward with the potential to score 15 to 20 goals and 40-50 points and yes I am 100% convinced of that. He was too young and not physical mature enough in Columbus, its a known fact that he was rushed. He needed time to develop and the time in the minors with the Oilers helped.

      I didn’t say Brule played the pk, I meant to say I think he could play the same role as Pisani did before all the injuries and medical issues hit Pisani.

      As far as the Oilers and injuries, easy that says the team needs a tough guy that can play who is not a goon. They got pushed around too easily and lots of cheapshots occured because no one was there to act as a deterrent.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        Honestly with the results of last year there is no reason why Tambo isn’t getting a feel for what he’d get for just about everyone. You never know what another GM wants and maybe there is a team out there that suprises you and gives you more then a certain player is worth.

  • I think you make some very valid points JW. I also think that Brule is somewhat indebted to the Oil for resurrecting his career and that should be taken into account when negotiating his deal.

    I’d say sign him to a one year deal and see what the new season brings.

  • Bob Cobb

    Once again your opinion is way out in left field, in fact thats being generous, its sitting in the bleachers in the nose bleed section. You can’t trade a guy like Brule based on stats, I bet you could make up stats to say the Oilers should trade Hemsky. As far as injury prone, that would be grounds for trading all the Oilers. The fact is, Brule played with grit and showed he could score, and on this past seasons Oilers thats no small feat. Keep him around in a 2nd or 3rd line penalty killing role, much like Pisani used to be in.

    • Bucknuck

      Your opinion is in left field if you think that any player on the 30th place Oilers roster is off limits.

      Asking whether Brule had a breakout season or a “blip” is a perfectly reasonable topic of conversation, and the stats don’t make an argument for anything other than not overestimating his value.

      I like Brule, but he is another small player on a team full of them. Players that can be considered injury prone on this roster should be evaluated very carefully before being signed to new deals.

      EDIT – I see that Jonathan already replied. I must type too slow.

  • I was interested in the kinds of players he would have played with in Columbus, as I think that could play a factor as well. I had a look at HockeyAnalysis.com to help with that information.

    Looks like in 06/07 he played mostly with Malhotra (200 mins TOI, 0.398 GF/20, 0.995 GA/20) and Chimera (188 mins TOI, 0.532 GF/20, 0.958 GA/20). On occassion though, he did have the benefit of some better linemates in Modin (149 mins 0.401 GF/20), Fedorov (100mins TOI, 0.396 GF/20, 1.387 GA/20) and Nash (97 mins, 0.205 GF/20, 1.026 GA/20), so I wouldn’t say so much that that year he wasn’t given enough opportunity (which isn’t what you were saying, but something I was wondering, myself).

    In 07/08, his linemates were Micahel Peca (119 mins, 0.168 GF/20), Dan Fritsche (116mins, 1.027 GF/20, 1.882 GA/20), Fedorov (116 mins, 1.030 GF/20, 0.343 GA/20) and Chimera (90 mins, 0.221 GF/20, 0.221 GA/20). Looks like he faired pretty well with Fedorov that year, but didn’t really have all that high a quality of linemates, beyond Fedorov.

    But I’m not drawing any conclusion from any of this. I was just wondering if he showed signs of clicking with a certain caliber of player, and I’d have to say that there really isn’t any evidence of that at all (consider this my own experiment).

    I’d say that if the Oilers can’t sign him long term to a cheap contract, they should give him a 1-year deal and let him prove himself to not be a fluke. Like David Staples, I’d say that trading him wouldn’t be a wise idea though. He brings a lot of those “intangibles” people in the hockey world love to talk about. It’s just a matter of the numbers of his contract that they need to think about here, IMHO.

    I hate to bring him up again, but we don’t want to get Glencrossed again. For the next couple of years, salary shouldn’t be TOO big of a problem, as we’re about to lose the majority of our big contracts (once Souray is gone, that could help a lot if we don’t take much back). So I’d sooner see them give him a year or two at $2M than have us give up on him a bit too early.

  • David, there’s a difference between floating trading Brule, and actually trying to trade Penner/Smid/Cogliano. The latter move would have gutted the roster of kids-with-talent; moving Brule for a reasonable price wouldn’t. If Tambellini can get a second rounder this year for Brule, I think he has to think about it at least. I like Brule, but if he’s a 20-20-40 guy, even if he does hit guys for the 60 games he plays a year, he’s definitely tradeable.

  • Crash

    Vaclav, I think Jonathan’s point is he’s unsure just how much skill Brule represents, and his injury record shows that the ‘grit’, while it may be there, can’t be counted on day in and day out.

    Put another way, for a team finishing 30th this year and hard up against the cap until malcontents can be moved (and even then, are they likely to drop salary), does giving a big pay rise to a big question mark make sense, or do you trade him to somebody who values potential over past results and cut your losses?

  • Crash

    Jonathan. I think the Oilers GM should be worried about getting rid of truly bad players and building a stable, winning culture.

    Just like trading away Smid, Penner and Cogliano last summer was a bad idea, in that it would have robbed the club of young, promising players, so is the notion of trading away Brule this year a bad idea.

    One way or another, the kid creates far more goals than he gives up, so I put little weight on this shooting percentage issue.

    Cogliano struggled shooting percentage-wise this year, but he played better defence, went to the net harder, and made up for that fall-off with his overall play. Brule is likely to do the same.

  • @ David Staples:

    It depends. And I’m not actually advocating trading Brule – just dangling the hook and seeing what happens.

    The thing is that if there’s an NHL G.M. out there willing to bet that Brule’s 2009-10 season reflects his true talent level, and willing to pay accordingly, than you have to think long and hard about making that move – particularly if, like me, you’re expecting some regression in the coming seasons.

    So, as Oilers G.M., I’d dangle him and see what kind of interest I got. If I didn’t like what I heard, I’d re-sign him.

  • Bucknuck

    How many good organizations trade young players with real promise?

    I’m with you that the jury is still somewhat out on Brule, but the notion of trading him strikes me as odd.

    Yes, he’s been injured and sick a lot and, yes, his shoot percentage was out-of-kilter.

    But the guy is tough, he can win faceoffs, he’s young, he wins battles, he can skate and handle the puck, he goes to the net, he’s OK on defence.

    A well-run team wouldn’t move such a player, even if that team had a rock solid belief in hockeymetrics.

    The GM would think, “Yeah, he got lucky shooting the puck, so let’s not break the bank here, but the kid is coming on. Let’s see what we can do with this guy over the next five years.”

  • Vaclav

    On a team filled with either skill and no grit or grit with no skill I would be leary trading the one player who fits both molds. Unless of course the trade involved bringing in a player who can also score and agitate.

    I might be inclined to offer Brule a one-year contract to see if last season was an aberration. If he continues to develop in a positive manner then pony up the dough on a longer term deal.