The moment of opportunity to trade Jordan Eberle has passed

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The Edmonton Oilers may or may not decide to trade Jordan Eberle this summer in a bid to improve at another position. The question is whether it’s even worthwhile at this point; given Eberle’s contract and modest scoring totals over the last three years he’ll certainly still have some value but his stock has dropped precipitously from when the Oilers should have traded him, in the summer of 2012.

Way Back When

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Oilers fans will recall that the 2011-12 season was an awfully good one for Eberle. He scored a career-high 34 goals, added a career high 42 assists, and in the minds of many was put on even footing with players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Edmonton was so excited that it signed him to a long-term $6.0 million contract a year before his entry-level deal even expired.

The exception to all this adulation was the stats community. Tyler Dellow’s site is now lost to the world, but at the time he predicted significant regression in several categories, projecting Eberle in the 60 point range. My own work was nearly but not quite as bearish; after running two series of comparables and doing some other number-crunching I came out with a prediction of 26 goals and 62 points.

I’m going to reference Justin Bourne for the counterargument, because Bourne’s a bright guy who comes from a more traditional hockey background and he made the mistake of putting together what in my view was the most cogent argument in Eberle’s defence. His full piece mentions age, physical development, development of the team around him and most importantly the fact that hockey is not played by computers. Three quotes provide the gist, though I recommend reading the whole piece because it neatly summarizes the counterargument of the day:

  • “I just cannot believe how little this kid’s age has been referenced in the discussion. Like he’s not going to improve?”
  • “If 2/3rds of these young Oilers turn out to be what we think they can, I don’t think it’d be possible to play 82 games alongside them and put up 50-60 points with his talent level.”
  • “There’s way too much attention being placed on one stat here. The human element matters.”

What’s Happened Since?

Steve Tambellini

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Thanks to the NHL lockout of 2012, we weren’t able to see a full campaign from the Oilers or any other team. Eberle posted 37 points in 48 games, for an 82-game pace of 63 points and a 78-game pace of 60 points (recall that he’d played 78 games the year prior during his 76-point season). We’ve had 120-odd games since; what have the results been?

Season GP G A PTS
2011-12 78 34 42 76
2012-13 48 16 21 37
2013-14 80 28 37 65
2014-15 47 12 17 29
Avg. 78 games, post 11-12 78 25 33 58
Avg. 82 games, post 11-12 82 26 35 61

As it turns out, Eberle looks a heck of a lot like a 60-ish point player. Those projecting massive improvement based on age have not had their projections realized; he’s now 24 years old and in his fifth NHL season and while he’s a long way from being old he’s also settling in at the level he’s probably going to stay at for a long time to come. The human element certainly does matter, but it did not mean that Eberle’s absurdly high shooting percentage, on-ice shooting percentage and individual points percentage were pure manifestations of his true talent; a lot of things went right in 2011-12 which (predictably) have not continued to go right in the two and half seasons since.

There’s nothing wrong with producing the way Eberle has since 2011-12; very few players in the NHL can do it. But then, the point was never that Eberle was a bad player (which is manifestly not the case). The point was always that his 2011-12 campaign dramatically overstated his worth. 

If the Oilers were a team that really believed in statistical analysis, they would have moved Eberle for what almost certainly would have been an overwhelming return in the summer of 2012. Instead they signed him to a deal that would be a bargain if he turned into a superstar but which now looks just okay because that hoped for progression never happened.

Why Are We Talking About This Now?

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Primarily, because it’s assumed that the same people who wanted Eberle moved in 2012 want him traded now, and the fact is the key reason for moving him (because he’d just had an unsustainably brilliant season and consequently was massively overvalued around the NHL) no longer exists. It made great sense to move Eberle at peak value; now that teams have a much better idea of what he is it’s a lot harder to justify the trade.

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Sure, there’s still a case to move Eberle. He’s a winger, and having a high-end winger is less valuable than having a high-end centre or high-end defenceman. The trouble is that the Oilers aren’t the only team that knows that; if they move Eberle for a pivot they’ll doubtless end up paying a positional premium. The other key argument is that Eberle is small; he’s an undersized winger on an undersized team and it would be nice to upgrade size at the position. Once again, the problem is that the rest of the NHL values size too and once again Edmonton will end up paying a premium if it wants to get bigger.

I’m not saying definitely don’t trade the guy; if there’s a deal out there that offers fair value Edmonton has to think about it. But two and a half years ago the Oilers could have landed a massive return if they had been willing to pull the trigger on a deal; now that return is likely to be a lot closer to fair value and there’s not a lot of point in making a lateral move simply for the sake of making a lateral move.

Interestingly, one of the guys who predicted this now works for the team. It was always a little odd to me that the Oilers brought Tyler Dellow in as a consultant to the coaching staff when it seems clear that having his input at the managerial level could have far more value.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS


  • “It was always a little odd to me that the Oilers brought Tyler Dellow in as a consultant to the coaching staff when it seems clear that having his input at the managerial level could have far more value.”

    I also get the sense (based on purely anecdotal evidence) that he probably got a lot of “Okay Tyler, thanks for the suggestion. We’ll definitely think about it” responses from his new bosses….

  • Igor Ulanov 55

    Remember when Spector asked Lowe how we can trust the same people who ran the team into the ground(Lowe, Howson, MacT) to rebuild it? Haha good times! Lowe got all pouty and whiney!! Haha how long ago was that?

  • Jason Gregor

    Eberle had 65 points last season. He was 30th leading scorer in the NHL, and you think his value is dipped drastically.

    He is having a bad 45-game stretch this year, no doubt, but I’m not sure why you think 9 more points in 2012 makes him incredibly more valuable than what he did last year.

    Eberle is a small winger who has been a top-30 scorer in the previous two full NHL seasons. He isn’t physical or an elite two-way player. He is a scoring winger.

    I haven’t read anywhere where people believe he is significantly different from 2014 to what he was in 2012.

    He could easily become a 65-70 point player again, and in today’s game that means he is a top-30 scorer.

    Based on recent trades in the NHL, I don’t see teams downgrading his value that much. He is still the same player, plays the same way and has shown he can be a top-30 scorer. He is in a bad stretch of 45 games, but that doesn’t mean his value is in the dumps. Teams might try and sell that, but teams always try to devalue players when trying to acquire them.

    In the three seasons from 2012 to 2014 Eberle has been the 7th most productive winger with 178 points, behind only Kessel (214), St.Louis (206), Ovechkin (200), P. Kane (190), Hall (183) and Chris Kunitz (181).

    I don’t see his value being that much lower that what it was in 2012, which wasn’t as high as some in Edmonton felt it was.

    • You don’t think there’s a pretty precipitous drop from being a 75-point player down to a 60-65 point player?

      The question isn’t whether Eberle’s good or impressive – he undeniably is.

      The question is whether the 22-year-old who is the 15th most productive forward in the NHL (as Eberle was in 2011-12) is significantly more valuable than the 24-year-old who is the 38th most productive forward in the NHL (that’s Eberle, 2012-present) is.

      The 2.5 years of additional experience and age mean that instead of projecting Eberle to improve by leaps and bound from being No. 15 scorer the consensus wisdom is now projecting modest growth from the No. 38 position.

      He’s had a tough season, yes, but 2012-13 and 2014-14 were both significant steps back from the 34-goal, point-per-game range player he was in 2011-12.

      I’m not saying he isn’t good or that he isn’t useful. He is and was. What I’m saying is you get less for a 60-point 23-year-old than you do for a point-per-game 22-year-old.

      • oilerjed

        It’s not a coincidence that Eberle’s numbers dipped in the same year that the entire team made a drastic uturn in development. Ive heard them called the dark ages by some but can also be called the “Eakins age of suck”.
        I dont think we can underestimate how much damage that guy did to the team as a whole.

      • Jason Gregor

        You are assuming teams overrate players after one great season and overpay for them in a trade.

        Can you show examples of that happening. I’ve seen it in free agents signings, but not often in trades of young players.

        • How often do teams trade away 22-year-olds coming off point-per-game seasons?

          Generally, they instead sign them to massive long-term deals because they value them so highly that a trade is never even considered.

          Besides which: Is there any real reason to believe that teams which overpay for certain qualities in free agency wouldn’t overpay for those same qualities in trade?

          • Deported to Ottawa

            Heatley, aged 23 and coming off a season and half scoring much more than Eberle’s best year, got Hossa and DeVries.

            Kessel, aged 21 and coming off a very similar season to Eberle, got two firsts and a second.

            Seguin, aged 21 and coming off a season and half scoring just a little less than Eberle’s best year got a return of Loui Eriksson, along with Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow.

            All of these guys were top 5 picks, and had pedigree that Eberle did not, so it would be optimistic to say the least to assume that an Eberle trade would have return as good or better than any of these deals.

            I can really absolutely no basis for your assumption that two and a half years ago the Oilers could have landed a massive return if they had been willing to pull the trigger on a deal, but if you have some research, by all means put it forward.

          • Jason Gregor

            Many actually….

            In a trade you have to give up something…In free agency you can add without giving up a player. Most believe it will help their team more.

          • SSB1963

            And you would have been one of the throngs crying bloody murder if they hadn’t signed them and let them get away after said playoff run or good season. Hind sight is always 20/20 where reality is really just a crap shoot.

        • Deported to Ottawa

          “He is the 5th most productive NHL in the last 4 years.” – Jason Gregor.

          You’re bang on with that stat. But you’re clinging to the idea that he will consistently stay there. As Willis has described, his production has dropped and his contract is no longer the bargain it was when the hope of him being a perennial 30 goal scorer existed. He’s scored 30+ once. He’s settled into his nook. Yes he’s a decent 25 goal scorer but he is also a complimentary player who needs support. He is not the driver management had hoped for.

          Imo, he should have been traded for a couple of useful pieces to provide more depth but the ability to trade him now is a little more difficult due to his declined production. If any of the “core” we’re to leave, sadly it’s him. He’s replacable in production in terms of depth and dimension and he’s one of the only players which might actually bring a reasonable return.

    • toprightcorner

      I agree Gregor, sometimes instead of points you have to look at scoring rank. Top 30 in previous 2 seasons is huge. This year it doesn’t look like any player with hit the 100 pt mark, does that mean everyone that scores 58 pts instead of 68 pts had a horrible year or is that just the scoring trend for that season?

    • Pretty much agree here. I’m at work so in theory should be “working”, but can you Jason or someone else tell us approximately what a 65-70 point player is getting these days contract-wise?

  • Zarny

    The age for peak point production for the average NHLer is 25 – followed by 26, 24, 27, 23, 28 and 29. Essentially Eberle is in the 1st or 2nd year of his prime production years.

    So it’s rather silly to suggest he’s hit his ceiling. Will he hit 76 pts again? Maybe not. That season was undoubtedly aided by an 18.9 shooting %.

    Virtually all players fluctuate from year to year though. Corey Perry had more productive years at 22 & 23 than 26 & 27. 98 pts at 25 y/o remains his high-water mark and he’s bounced back to pt/gm over the last two seasons (28 & 29).

    Eberle will likely be no different. He might be a 60-65 pt player most seasons, hit 70 or 80 pts in a couple and perhaps struggle with 55 pts ish in an off year similar to Getzlaf only putting up 57 pts in 2011-12. That’s hockey.

    Of Edmonton’s “core” group of players Eberle is the player I’d be inclined to trade. As mentioned, he’s an undersized winger on an undersized team, and goal scorers tend to drop off sooner than more well-rounded players and play-makers.

    • The article stated that he’s settling in at the level where he’s probably going to stay. He’s 24, and the typical production curve for an NHL forward shows a very slight increase from age 24 to age 25, and age 25 as the peak of a a curve followed by a long, slow decline which in practice is often barely noticeable.

      I didn’t say he’s peaked, and I don’t think he has. But based on typical aging curves the time for massive increases has passed; the player we’ve seen over the last couple of years is probably going to be very similar to the player we’ll see over the next couple of years.

      • Zarny

        Fair enough, after a closer read I misinterpreted that you meant Eberle had peaked.

        I certainly agree the time for massive increases has passed and no doubt that to date the Oilers would have gotten the biggest return for Eberle after his 76 pt season. If he matches or beats that total in the next few years though his trade value would once again go up.

        Of all the Oilers’ “core” players Eberle does seem to be the logical one to trade. And given the current roster needs I don’t think Edm should wait for a possible increase in Eberle’s value.

    • camdog

      If the Oilers forwards followed this developmental model Cogliano, Gagner and MPS would still be Oilers. Edmonton has a history of having many smallish or soft forwards decrease their production as they enter their prime years.

      • Zarny

        Not really. With all 3 examples the Oilers traded them before they entered their prime years.

        Cogliano had his most productive goal scoring year at 26 y/o. Gagner will likely have his most productive season over the next few years too.

        We’ll see about MPS. He may be an exception only because the Oilers were so terrible he made the team as a rookie.

        • camdog

          Coglino is supposedly in his “prime years” and is on pace for 8 goals, Gagner is on pace for like 11 goals and MPS just got waived. Your formula may work for the average NHL team, it doesn’t work for the majority of the players that have come up through the Oilers system.

  • Corsi Cowboy

    Willis I’m shocked that you’re not an NHL GM. You seem to know exactly what to do in every situation.

    Also, why don’t you just man up and ask Dellow on a date? The constant praise and flirting on the internet is getting old.

  • Corsi Cowboy

    If the management would have brought in good players instead of the Nikitins, Purcells and Scrivins of the world, all this talk about trading the eberles and Halls wouldn’t even be a topic. How could we possibly trade anyone of the “core” players before getting a whole new management regime? It boggles the mind

  • BobbyCanuck

    Perhaps trading Eberle for whatever we can get would send a message to the remaining core that soft floating play will get you a ticket out of town.

    Perhaps it would break up the preceived cliqy-ness, and sense of entitlement amongs our core players (Hall, Eberle, Schultz, Hopkins, is this what is reffered to as our core?).

    MacT has pretty well changed out all the other players, and we are still in last place, with not much positives as to if and when we will be competitive.

    Perhaps with trading some of our core, uFA’s will think that Oilers are finally doing things to trend up, and may be worth playing for, or maybe not