2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 14 RW Jordan Eberle
Despite what you may hear elsewhere (or read in the comments below), Jordan Eberle is a good hockey player and has been a productive member of the Edmonton Oilers. Having said that, 2016-17 was a miserable season followed by a miserable postseason, and that combined with a $6.0 million cap leaves him in a precarious position with the club.
At his best, Eberle is a somewhat one-dimensional player. He isn’t big or physical. He’s evolved into a better defensive player than he generally gets credit for – there’s a reason why he spent the first round of the playoffs hard-matched against Joe Pavelski’s unit as part of Edmonton’s shutdown line – but he still gets in trouble with the puck on his stick in the Oilers’ end of the rink, something which has been a problem going back to his rookie year.
Eberle gets away with these failings because he’s an excellent offensive player.
There are a lot of different ways to show Eberle’s offensive value. The simplest are goals and points per game.
In the four seasons preceding this one, Eberle has ranked between 30th and 60th among NHL forwards by goals per game. There are 30 NHL teams, and three first-line forwards per team, for a grand total of 90 first-line forwards. Eberle, for four consecutive seasons, has scored at the rate of an average first-liner.
In the four seasons preceding this one, Eberle has ranked between 40th and 75th among NHL forwards by points per game. Again, there are 90 first-line forwards. In three of the last four years, he’s been an average first-liner by points and in one a below-average first-liner.
Both of those numbers are really good, and we didn’t even touch on the high point of Eberle’s career, his 2011-12 performance in which he put up 34 goals and 76 points.
This year, Eberle ranked 108th in goals-per-game and 105th in points-per-game, both of which correspond to being a very good second-line player offensively. Even in what was, without question, Eberle’s worst season since his rookie year, he’s still easily a top-six scorer.
Even in a bad year, Eberle is a useful NHL player. And given that he’s healthy and only just 27, it’s entirely reasonable to expect him to rebound from that bad year.
Having said all that: Edmonton may want to trade him anyway.
The Oilers have some expenses coming up this summer. Leon Draisaitl’s new contract is probably going to be a long-term deal, and if so it’s probably going to come with an average cap hit in the $7.0 million range. Kris Russell is bound for free agency; Edmonton will either need to pay to keep him or pay for a replacement.
All that money has to come from somewhere, and Eberle’s deal is an obvious target, particularly since it’s going to overlap with Connor McDavid’s new contract next summer.
That doesn’t mean that Eberle should simply be thrown away in the expansion draft. A lot of NHL teams need scoring help, and even at a $6.0 million cap hit there are bound to be some that could be induced to find room for a guy who puts the puck in the opposition net at a first-line rate.
Consider it this way: If Edmonton were to go out and sign a right-shooting right wing to a two-year deal with a $6.0 million cap hit in free agency, Oilers Nation would overflow with comments praising the team’s management. We’re only a year removed from Vancouver giving a much older Loui Eriksson a six-year contract at that price point; Eberle has outscored Eriksson in five of the last six seasons.
Right now, it’s easy for Oilers fans to be down on Eberle. Not only did he have a bad season and a worse playoffs, but he’s been around through the lean years and those players have all fallen out of favour. Edmonton’s management, though, must know how few players have scored at Eberle’s level over the last five years, and appreciate the way his offence must look to a team like the Kings or Panthers or even Islanders.
Bottom line: Jordan Eberle is a good player coming off a bad year, and even at $6.0 million brings something hard to find in the NHL: the skill to score 20 goals year after year after year. He’ll be useful in 2017-18, whether or not he’s playing for the Oilers.
Previous year-end reviews:
- David Desharnais failed to adequately address the Oilers’ needs at centre
- Griffin Reinhart’s time in Edmonton may be finished before it even really begins
- Adam Larsson is a long-term solution to a longstanding Oilers weakness
- Edmonton may just be stuck paying Mark Fayne for another year
- Should the Oilers give Kris Russell a long contract extension?
- Andrej Sekera brings much-needed versatility and experience to a young Edmonton blue line
- Laurent Brossoit could be the perfect backup for the Oilers, if he survives expansion