QUALITY WITHOUT QUANTITY

Jordan Eberle’s sophomore season with the Edmonton Oilers is impressive any way you look at it, but the degree to which he’s accomplished more with less in terms of ice time is truly amazing. It’s also puzzling.

Eberle is the Oilers leading scorer in a runaway with 24-30-54, leaving him 13 points up on Taylor Hall and his 19-22-41, and he’s managed that despite not getting any favors from head coach Tom Renney in terms of his overall ice time per game.

Eberle ranks sixth among Oiler forwards at 16:47. That’s right, sixth. You have not fallen down the stairs and hit your head. Renney’s leading scorer isn’t second or third or fourth or even fifth. As of today, Eberle sits sixth in average ice time per game behind Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Hall, Ales Hemsky and rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

At even strength, Eberle ranks even lower, sitting a notch down in seventh at 13:16. That leaves him behind Hemsky, Smyth, Hall, Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins.

In terms of power-play time per game, Eberle has been a go-to guy for Renney as he ranks second at 3:30, trailing only Nugent-Hopkins. On the other side of special teams, Eberle has played only 44 seconds shorthanded this season. Not per game. This season.

Whether Renney is employing a win-now approach or deferring to player development – I’m guessing both are a consideration – I’m having difficulty understanding this less-is-more application of ice time. What about you?

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Simply put, for the most part, Renney’s most productive player, Eberle, is accomplishing what he has without the benefit of the kind of ice time less productive players are getting. That also holds true, to varying degrees, with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, who is out with a sprained shoulder.

OVERALL ICE-TIME PER GAME

Horcoff: 20:29

Smyth: 19:51

Hall: 18:02

Hemsky: 17:26

Nugent-Hopkins: 17:20

Eberle: 16:47

Gagner: 16:41

Belanger: 15:33

EVEN-STRENGTH PER GAME

Hemsky: 14:50

Smyth: 14:45

Hall: 14:28

Horcoff: 14:25

Gagner: 13:50

Nugent-Hopkins: 13:41

Eberle: 13:16

POWER-PLAY PER GAME

Nugent-Hopkins: 3:37

Eberle: 3:30

Hall: 3:29

Horcoff: 3:20

Smyth: 2:58

Gagner: 2:47

SHORTHANDED PER GAME

Horcoff: 2:43

Belanger: 2:29

Jones: 2:26

Smyth: 2:08

Lander: 1:38

Petrell: 1:19

Others: Paajarvi 14 seconds, Hall 3 seconds, Gagner 2 seconds, Hemsky 2 seconds, Nugent-Hopkins 1 second, Eberle 0 seconds (44 seconds through 51 games, as listed by NHL.com).

SO . . .

I’m not sold that it’s necessarily productive for Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins to see the kind of ice time shorthanded that Horcoff, Belanger, Jones and Smyth do, but I can’t imagine it would hurt to get them a shift here and there, particularly if Renney can get them out at the end of a penalty kill.

Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall are also getting their fair share of time on the power-play, so if Renney intends to bump them up in overall ice time closer to Horcoff and Smyth, gains are going to have to be made at even-strength.

Will that happen down the stretch drive? We’ll likely get a good indication of that with six of the next eight games at Rexall Place, where Renney controls the final line change and the match-ups.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • RexLibris

    I’m just guessing, but based on how patient Renney has shown himself to be in the past, I wonder if Renney has a plan to eventually work in some PK time for the kids. From everything I have seen of his coaching, and the comments I have heard espoused from the coaching staff and management, I am led to believe that even signs of success by the young players will not dissuade them from taking a conservative approach with the development plan.

    It could be that Eberle, Hall and perhaps even Paajarvi will get some PK time in March.

    Time will tell.

  • Freezing Weather Fan

    Wait a tic. Eberle’s played more per game than Belanger? I swear it hasn’t felt that way as of late.

    Either that or it’s just because I notice a lot more “Belanger agaaaaaain?” comments on the net these days.

  • Slapshot

    Can it also be that Horcoff and Smyth have been over played to much and are now tired? Which is also another bad coaching move by Renney. Any word if the Oilers are going to be giving Tambellini that contract extension?

  • One of the reasons Eberle has been successful is because of the type of ice time Renney has given him.

    A ton of Ozone starts.

    Avoiding top pairing Dmen and checking lines at all cost.

    The result is that Eberle has, for the most part, played against players who are not the toughest to play against.

    He has taken full advantage of that and is having an amazing season.

    When Hemsky came back from injury, the opposition coaches played their top pairing Dmen against Hemsky. A nice by product of this is easier ice time for Eberle.

    Since Gagner’s 8 point night, teams are now playing their top D against Hall, Gagner, Eberle. Actually, in the DET game right after Hemsky still saw top D, but in the TOR/DET/OTT games, he saw 2nd pairing.

    The result has not been pretty for that line. The best NHLers are tough to play against.

    Once Hemsky is gone, there will be no other players to key on and Hall, Gagner and Eberle will see top pairing D all the time. Their scoring will suffer.

    I think Renney has been trying to get that line some softer minutes on the road, and as a result they get a little less ice time.

    That line will now see the Keiths and Seabrooks of the world a lot more than the Hjalmarsson and Leddys.

    Once Hemsky is gone their ice time will go up, but their production will go down.

    Remember that Duncan Keith was even (+/- wise) the night Gagner got his 8.

    I doubt that line gets 2nd pair Dmen against CHI, or anyone again.

    a

      • I’m well aware of all that.

        Renney has made a concerted effort to put Eberle and the other kids in favourable situations. I think we’re at or past the point in the season, though, where Eberle and the others need to close the gap in overall ice time on less productive players like Horcoff and Smyth. They don’t need to see all the tough minutes but they need to start taking on some of them.

        • Dyckster

          By my eye, playing Eberle, Hall, RNH and (insert 2012 1st round pick here) is one of the biggest determining factors with respect to getting this team off the schnide(sic) on the road. If our best players can’t adapt and raise their game to be productive against the NHL’s best defenders, our road woes will continue. Unless we have last change…..we’re doomed.

          • DieHard

            Time brings maturity and experience. Soon enough, our young studs can be put out against the best and win the day. That is when they get double shifted and play some PK.

  • Slapshot

    Really good article…looks like Brownlee wants Renney gone as bad as some others do! The part I don’t get, is if one of the young stars makes a mistake the ride the pine for awhile, yet some of the veterans make glaring errors all the time and they seem to play more! Also remember when Gretz got shadowed like crazy on the road because of that last line change? Slats double shifted him and Kurri, Hall and Eberle could easily do that, but for some reason the coach feels that benching them makes them learn better… I don’t get it. This season the kids are not the problem… the veterans and the coach are!

  • Captain Obvious

    I find myself wanting to critisize renney’s handling of the ice time he alots to Eberle and the the other kids. But I can’t. Looking at thier numbers,goals and assists,it just seems that Renneyis doing what he is paid to do by the organization. Develop the kids. It seems to be working. Its almost in spite of Renney that it seems to be working. The media commentary has been rife with critisism of the ice time of the kids. Yet the critisism seems to have no affect on the way Renny hands out the minutes.

    Its bizarre. Its like regardless of if were down 2 or goals he will not increase thier ice time. Renny has got a plan with how to deal with the kids and it seems to work to a point. When people,and I am one of those people,get frustrated by the TOI of Smyth and Horcoff and we ask why are not the kids getting more the answer invariably is look at the results the kids are getting. And really you can’t argue the results. Can you? Were the 29th place team. Thats a fact. But Renney wasn’t hired to appease me and joe public. He was hired to develop the kids. He is doing that. Some nights it leaves us shaking our collective heads. More often than not. But damit there are those other night where i watch Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle work there magic and it seems that the future is not as far away as I think it is. I am no dummy. I’ll just sit back and take the good withthe bad. Because man o man when we look back -5 years from now those bad nights will be a distant memory to the good ones Hall Eberle and Hopkins will be putting up game after game.

  • Krusher

    The bigger question this article raises is why does Horcoff top overall ice time, and play in so many situations? Is it because of his offensive prowess? Sorry, typing that made me laugh, really hard. Is it his defence? Oopsie, -17, worst on the team. Granted, he generally plays against harder opposition, but still interesting the next two closest are Potter at -16 who gets a two year contract extension for those efforts, Hemsky at -14, and the Belanger triangle at -10. Wait, forgot about Horcoff’s faceoff skills. What? He’s not even at 50% for the better doing that? Then WHY?!

    Kids or not, it’s beyond the point of “protecting” them. Let them play, learn, and based on the ones getting more ice time wouldn’t they be better off anyways? Eberle easily should have 2:30 – 3:00 minutes per game. Robin, you genius, if they increase the even strength ice time as you suggested for a certain few there are more positives than negatives. How can it be worse than what #10 is doing?

    Personally I keep coming back to the fact that the brain trust making these decisions just wants another high draft pick. It truly is the only logical reason…..

    • In the simplest terms, Horcoff and Smyth played too much early in the season.

      Any ice time Renney can take from them for the balance of the season, be it even-strength or a shift or two on the penalty kill, should be directed at the kids. I don’t see the need to use RNH, Hall or Eberle as primary penalty killers, but a shift in the final 30 seconds against second-unit PPs here or there seems worth a try.

    • “Personally I keep coming back to the fact that the brain trust making these decisions just wants another high draft pick. It truly is the only logical reason…..”

      I let my mind brush over that idea too. I think a combination of these things: protecting the kids against the top D (props to Woodguy); getting their money’s worth out of Horc (ha ha); trying to keep the injuries down (so much for that) and the fact that Horc and Smytty played a ton when the injury bug hit the forwards so hard a few weeks back. Add to that the feeling that we could easily play our way out of both the lottery and the playoffs and end up with nothing and you have a recipe for the lack of ice time Ebs is getting. I do think they have to balance winning with the lottery, even though nobody is talking tanking at this point. The reality is that our assets are either top end or low end, and we need top end people back on any trade or draft our future. I am one who, apart from the Belanger Triangle Mystery, thinks Renney is doing a pretty good job.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I think Woodguy nailed it pretty much. Eberle is about to be served up a healthy serving of TOI and a gigantic upgrade of qualcomp… right after ST makes management mistake ∞.

    It will be really interesting to watch what Renney does with Eberle as the only top 6 RW and how Eberle handles the role.

    Kid’s got gumption in spades. Should be fun to watch.

    just to round off your reading list kids:

    http://www.mc79hockey.com/?p=4301

  • Semenko and Troy

    I would think that once Hemsky is gone and RNH is back, Renney would bring up Omark and split the kid line (and the tough minutes they would face) up.

    MPS-RNH-Eberle

    Hall-Gagner-Omark

    Smyth-Lander-Harski

    Eager-Horcoff-Jones

    Evaluate Omark and MPS with a long look in the top six. Keep Gagner until you find out what your draft position is. If there is an opportunity to take Grigorenko, decide then if Gagner is your long term 2C. Move Belanger at the trade deadline and bring up Harski.

    If the future is with the kids, give all of them an opportunity to play where they are expected to make contributions going forward. It’s a non-playoff season already.

    • Semenko and Troy

      I love how people seem to think just because Grigorenko is going to be a top pick in the draft that he automatically is going to be at least a 2C for the team that grabs him. You can’t put wieght on a draft pick, no matter how high, until you see how things work out. Maybe he can’t hack the length, pace, and physical play in the NHL. Wouldn’t be the first time its happened just ask the blue jackets.

      On ice time, there have been many a moments this past season so far where I have to wonder if Renny even knows what the hell he is doing. Some decisions are just mind blowing and make no sense. Look I like belanger’s ability to win faceoffs and kill penalties but seriously they guy should be on the 4th line and Lander needs to get a chance to show more of his offensive upside.

      Renny has consistently over worked the Veterans since he started here. Killed Bulin at the beginning of last season and did it again this season. Yes he was on a hot streak but everyone needs a break now and them not to mention sitting DD doesn’t help him develop in fact it likely stunted him there for a bit. Don’t even get me started on the Horcoff Smyth crap this year.

      Another thing that I’ve noticed. Most of the young guys injuries are just freak accident types that nobody can figure out. Now the Veterans are the opposite, over played and then they wear down and end up injured. Just a thought.

  • Stocc

    It isn’t rocket appliances (as Ricky would say). If you play your best players more often, you tend to do better. I figured that out coaching houseleague peewee, but if i tried it I got a lot of flak from parents who just wanted junior to get his ice time no matter how hard he tried or didn’t try. I’m pretty sure TR is following orders – and I’m pretty sure the outcome is irrelevant to head office, except that they really don’t want this team to do anything crazy right now and blow a lottery pick. And I can’t say I blame them – what’s the point of finishing anything but 30th if you don’t make the playoffs. Ask flames fans how they feel about finishing 17th every year. The good news is this: despite reining in the studs, and overplaying the dogs just enough to not make it too obvious they are tanking the season, this team, when healthy, was 9-3-2 out of the gate and 5-2-1 in the last 8. But this is the last year I expect Oiler fans to tolerate this rebuild.

  • Stocc

    Renney and the GM’s management of the entire organization is in question imo. Is Renney’s style going to have a toxic effect on the young players. Is there a group of vets with their noses out of joint because they are being shown up by 18-20 yr. old players? Is Renney capitulating to sr. management because the vets are whining. How else can you account for unproductive vets getting the lion’s share of the icetime and bringing almost nothing to the effort?

    Apart from the last game where the captain scored once/2 assists and the disgruntled Czech got two assists they have a hard time justifying their icetime and don’t even get me started on Belanger’s icetime.

    Paajarvi did look more involved with Hemsky and that is the danger of letting a top six forward go for little or nothing. A concundrum for sure.

  • Stocc

    R.B. –

    Does the unofficial announcement tonight of Sutton’s re-upping for 1 yr. remove him from the trade deadline market or does it possibly increase his trade value since he is now a signed player for the remainder of this year and next season?

    It sure seems to be a pre-emptive move to take the pressure off the Oil to trade him possibly below market value at the deadline.

  • Semenko and Troy

    I really think the ice time thing is pretty transparent – why would the Oilers go to the whip right now and try to pass the half dozen or so teams that are potentially within reach? Yes, it sucks, especially when you are paying full pop to watch a team that isn’t maxing out every night. But what is the alternative? Put the hammer down on the studs and risk burnout/injury/loss of confidence?For what? A lower draft pick? I’m content to cut them exactly 27 more games of slack. Then – full bore or out the door.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    I read that we are 6-20-3? on the road.

    Maybe the fact that we don’t get last change actually hurts the kids right now and the team as a result.

    So they are getting some time against the teams best.

    And usually the best players play 20-23ish minutes a game so maybe that’s why their ice time is so low.

  • Stack Pad Save

    The most frustrating for thing for me about the ice time for the young guns on the team is how Renny uses them after they have a quality shift. I have been at more than one game where the kids have had a shift and just dominated, generated multiple scoring chances and failed to get a goal or got a goal and then they don’t see the ice for another 5 minutes and 2 shifts for horcoff. It is shocking to me how Renny doesn’t reward in game guys for having a great game or shift by giving them another one quicker than usual, instead he a lots to follow the plan!

  • 24% body fat

    Terrible ice time. He does not need to be out penalty killing. But if this line is not tired than they should be on the ice. If this is a development year like the coach has said, than they should learn to carry the puck out of there own zone and down to the other to score. that is how you build complete players like toews (and not on dimensional like sedins)

  • Captain Obvious

    i have also questioned the ice time Eberle gets. Horcoff and Smyth get too much. It’s time to let the kids see what they can do against other teams top lines and top d pairing. Need the experience. Also a little pk too. Like most people responding to this article, the kids are not the problem with this team. It is the veterans who have fallen
    short of what was expected of them.

    • Yes, I know, but not nearly fast enough. And I’d feel more confident in Renney’s bench management if that trend was by design rather than because Horcoff and Smyth, in particular, have had too many awful games in the last six weeks.

  • I, too, think Woodguy’s comment is pretty much bang-on.

    Is is also possible that there has been a conscious effort to keep the kids to around 13-15 minuts per game at EV as a strategy to avoid burning them out?

    I don’t have the hockey knowledge that many of the other posters here have, but I have always believed (accurately or not) that young guys have a greater tendency to get a little burned out down the stretch. It’s a big jump from CHL to NHL in terms of game frequency and game pace. Maybe the limited minutes is an effort at player preservation as much as anything. Granted, Hall and Eberle are in their 2nd seasons, not fresh out of the gate, but that may be a consideration.

    • The burn-out factor sometimes comes into play with rookies, but it really doesn’t apply to Nugent-Hopkins because he’s already missed time because of injuries. Rust and getting healthy is more of a factor than burn out.

      As for Hall and Eberle, they’re in their second seasons as you mentioned and both of them have missed extended periods of time with injuries, so, again, being worried about burn out doesn’t really fly as a reason to keep minutes down. My take is Renney went too hard and too often with Smyth and Horcoff early in the season.

  • Helmethead

    I love how the Oilers Propaganda Machine throws out words like “rebuild, development, teach, growth, opportunity to succeed” etc. and yet they have the old horses eating up ice time as the kids fend off mold growth while sitting and watching from the bench.

    I can accept some growing pains as most fans will during a transitional phase to becoming a consistent playoff hockey club, but this perpetual lack of young player management is growing tiresome.

    Throw out the systems every now and then, toss the pucks on the ice and see what happens. The Oilers are never going to fully know what they have from a potential standpoint if the kids are constantly being held back.

    If they’re going to try and sell me on “rebuild, development and growth” then do so by using what you have and let the chips fall where they may. If they end up with 5 consecutive 1st overall picks so be it, but stop coddling the veterans with more ice time and drop the “playing not to lose” philosophy and DEVELOP THE KIDS.

    *wow I almost burst a blood vessel in my fingers getting that out*

    Just my nickles worth…

    • Helmethead

      Someone should write managment a note. If your playing not to lose then your failing consistently.

      Failing in most jobs would lead to termination, but with the Oilers, its required.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I do completely see what people are saying, your best players should be getting a pile of ice time.

    It’s hard to argue with Eberle’s handling though, I mean did anyone really see this guy in the top 10 PPG his sophmore year?

    Renney must be doing something right with him.

    • O.C.

      Always been that way. When here, Sather said the most dangerous score is a two goal lead.

      Hard to step on the gas when you are up, and momentum means mountains in this game.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The Oilers #10 is as responsible for the last two lottery picks as much as injuries and certain players having off years have been. How else can you explain playing the offensively nuetral center 20+ minutes a night.

    In my perfect world Horcoff would be playing 30 mins a night for the rest of the season. One more lotto finish, no more. The bleeding should stop at yrs end.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Yes, but that was just an isolated incident. He could’ve single handily ruined this muff it for Murray season we’re on. If Horcoff could do this on a much more regular basis, he would be earning a mega contract, oh wait…

        To borrow a line from Wes Mantooth….your 110% effort statement, a washing machine will give you this same effort everytime you turn it on as well.

    • KHR

      Totally agree and don’t understand the handwringing over the duds getting an extra few minutes of ice times over the studs. After the injuries of Nov-Jan, there was no chance of making the playoffs. Why would we want a full court press to finish 22? And I really don’t get the “Renney doesn’t know what he’s doing” line. Of course he knows what is going on. So do the brass. They are all in for the lottery pick and all about next year. If we are having this discussion in Feb 2013 then TR, ST, and KL better be mailing out resumes.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Just wondering if anyone can answer this question. What do the Islanders do?

    I would hope that Renney and management is developing our core differently than the Islander/ Atlanta / CBJ model.

    • Helmethead

      There hasn’t been a model for NYI in years. If anything they’re been “re-active”

      Case in point:
      NYI – Throw a wack of money at an unproven goaltender (Rick DiPietro 4.5 million/year signed until 2021) then appoint Garth Snow their GM immediately following his retirement from the NHL in 2006. They’re almost “capped out” as we speak sitting at 62.8million.

      CBJ – under Scott Howson has faired no better. They have 5 players signed into the 2016/2017 season accounting for over 40% of their entire teams payroll.

      Two teams in big trouble long term for sure.

      Atlanta (now Winnipeg) has done better of the 3 with some good moves getting Byfuglien and Antropov. Draft picks when they were in Atlanta (Kane and Bogosian) are playing well. They have plenty of Salary Cap space and are well aligned in their farm system.

      Probably could use a solid net-minder for a playoff run (Return to the ‘Peg Khabby perhaps?)and some skill upfront. (Hemsky maybe?)

      • Helmethead

        I know the GM’s of those teams have done questionable things but the question really is what has thier coaching done to develop the players they drafted. Do they throw them to the wolves or do they let the vets take the hard minutes.

        What development system is Renney following?

        • Helmethead

          From what I’ve seen in looking at the drafts since 1999, all 3 teams have combined for 40 first round picks.

          From those, 13 players have remained with the clubs who drafted them and 17 stayed minimum 1 season and have either been traded or resigned elsewhere to have better than average NHL careers.

          Collectively, that speaks volumes from a developmental stand point.

          Over the last 2 seasons sure the Oilers have drafted well but only Hemsky,Dubynk and Gagner have been here more than 2 seasons as first round picks.

          There’s still a debate on Dubnyks play and future as a top goalie here and Gagner at age 22 is constantly under scrutiny.

          Where’s the development model in Edmonton? I’ve yet to see it….

  • I didn’t break it down like this, but this stat from Ryan Rishaug at TSN on Twitter today:

    “TSNRyanRishaug Ryan Rishaug
    Eberle 11th in league in scoring.. Avg 16:47 per game. Of top 30 scorers in league, he averages fewest minutes.”

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Ebs has been by far the most productive player per minute this year.

      Unsustainable or not, it really has been a fantastic season for him.

  • KHR

    I read lots but hardly post, but here are my two cents on a couple of points.

    1) I agree that the “Kids” should be getting PK time. But it needs to be the last 20 to 30 seconds of the PK. That way when the penalty is over you have your offensive threats on the ice to try and take advantage of the man coming out of the box, and the fact that the opposition “should” have just spent their energy trying to score and “should” be winded. Improves the chance of catching the other team off balance.

    2) I have no time to dig up stats, nor the inclination to do so, but the statements that Eberle is going to be in for a rude awakening when/if Hemmer gets trades puzzles me. How do you explain his success when Hemmer has been hurt? Or when Hall has been hurt? Or when Nuge has been hurt? Each one of these injuries means that there is one less offensive threat for the opposition to worry about and they should be able to concentrate on him more (or any of the other “Kids” for that matter). I’m thinking that “Kids” have done just fine when Hemmer hasn’t been playing, or when there has been an injury to one of them. I actually think that they will do just fine if and when Hemmer is traded.

    Later!

    • Helmethead

      Totally agree, how can anyone suggest that teams are concentrating on a 4 goal score rather than a point per game scorer?

      Eberle has the ability to score with virtually anyone he has played with and makes his line mates better. This seems a sharp contrast to the long time lament by some the Hemsky would be better if only he had better line mates.