The Oilers had an unexpectedly busy time of things on July 1. I’ve already considered in detail the excellent signing of Eric Belanger, as well as the reworking of their defensive corps, but I haven’t looked in depth at the signings of Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk to this point. I think it’s time to change that.
Everyone who has spent any length of time reading my posts here knows that I tend to view the acquisition of players whose strongest NHL skills are hitting and fighting as a mistake (aside: there are lots of reasons for this – fighting generally doesn’t swing momentum much, enforcers rarely play in the playoffs, fighters cost their teams goals, fighters don’t seem to prevent injuries, and teams like Detroit have won without them) . Don’t get me wrong: I do like players that can hit and fight, but first and foremost I feel that a player’s primary calling card be some actual hockey skill, either offensive or defensive before we get into how many heads he can knock together. As a result, my point of view when it comes to players like Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager is unenthusiastic.
That said, many NHL teams still feel the need to have ruffians patrolling their bottom lines. Edmonton is one of those teams, and it seems they have transitioned from the trio of Jean-Francois Jacques, Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre over to Hordichuk and Eager. The fact of the matter is that if the Oilers insist on having those kind of players, they’re far better off giving ice-time to Ben Eager than Jean-Francois Jacques, and far better off with Darcy Hordichuk on the roster than Steve MacIntyre.
Eager vs. Jacques
Ben Eager isn’t a very good offensive player. On the other hand, he has recorded at least seven goals over each of the last three seasons; Jacques has nine over the entirety of his NHL career. Jacques was an offensive sinkhole of the rarest kind, and Eager represents a substantial improvement in that category.
Beyond that, while the relative Corsi (Corsi is a measure of shot attempts for and against that corresponds closely to scoring chances; the ‘relative’ designation means it is adjusted for team) and zone start (zone starts measure how often a player is used in the offensive vs. the defensive zone) numbers look like they’re solidly in Jacques’ favour, some of that is team effects: Eager was a fourth liner for one of the best teams in the league, and looks worse by comparison, while we all know who Jacques played for.
Both players took relatively the same amount of minor penalties – twice as many as they managed to draw.
I don’t have big expectations for Eager in terms of scoring and keeping the puck in the right end of the rink, but I do think he’s a fairly major upgrade on Jacques. Plus, he should fight more.
Hordichuk vs. MacIntyre
There’s a world of difference between these two players. Steve MacIntyre is a nuclear option, but he can’t play the game. Tom Renney used him judiciously, starting him in the offensive zone and carefully limiting his ice-time, but the doors still got blown off and worse than that MacIntyre picked up penalties six times as fast as he managed to draw them. He’s taken the toughest route to the NHL imaginable, and I certainly don’t begrudge him his time in the big leagues, but I suspect he’d be hard pressed to skate a regular shift in the AHL on merit.
Hordichuk was also carefully utilized by his coaches, but the difference is that he managed to keep his head above water in that role. He did take a lot of penalties (a little over three times as many as he drew) but that still represents a substantial improvement from MacIntyre and his team didn’t get massacred on the shot clock in the process.
What About Stortini?
If Zack Stortini was a better fighter, I’m betting he never would have been sent down to the minors. Sure, he’s not a particularly good skater, but he could always play hockey as a junior and he’s turned himself into a not-bad fourth-liner at the NHL level. One thing he did this season – drawing penalties more than twice as fast as he took them – will be missed.
Still, “not-bad fourth-liner” is a damning with faint praise statement, and as much as I admire Stortini’s gumption (he took all comers and always came across as a guy who would give everything he had for the team) he isn’t a big loss for the Oilers.