January 3rd, 2009. That was the day I became a massive Jordan Eberle fan. One of the most memorable play by play calls I remember, I can still hear Gord Miller yelling out “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!!!” If you can’t recall that day let me give you a Youtube link to jog your memory:
In October of 2010, I bought a signed Jordan Eberle World Juniors jersey off of a guy on Kijiji for an extremely respectable price (he asked $350, but since there was no certificate of authenticity and I was planning to wear it anyway, I talked him down to the $200 a regular jersey would cost). Jordan Eberle was going to help bring the Oilers back to respectability, back to being competitive, back to glory. I bought in, I was a fan. Eberle, along with Taylor Hall, Linus Omark, and Magnus Paajarvi were H.O.P.E., and now all H.O.P.E. is gone.
When Edmonton finally clinched a playoff spot in March one of the reasons I was most excited was to see Eberle have a shot at translating that magic into meaningful post-season goals. I guess I just assumed that he would rise to the challenge, and to be honest, I was more than satisfied with his efforts and results in the first round series against the Sharks.
When the challenge of the next round came up though, it seemed like he had simply ran out of gas. Maybe he was playing hurt. Perhaps the novelty of the playoffs wore off. Whatever happened, Eberle had seemingly lost the drive. Now, the Oilers as a team weren’t good enough to advance past the more experienced Anaheim Ducks, so putting the failure to advance to meet the Nashville Predators in the third round squarely on #14 would be both unfair and unproductive.
Any good enterprise needs to be able to survey the landscape and adjust to it on the run; continual improvement if you would like. The idea is that if you can’t see and meet the needs of both your customers, employees, and market, you will get left behind. For years the Oilers were not able to do that. A lot of mediocre NHLers became very rich coming here to play as overpaying for free agents became a necessity and this transpired to their homegrown talent.
So making all of the salaries work while being able to add pieces is the real challenge of building a team in today’s NHL. Players have always been assets, but now the cap space is as well. If you overpay at one position you must offset it by underpaying at another. If your second line right wing gets $6 million, you need to adjust what you can give your top two centres, and I think we can all agree that keeping McDavid and Draisaitl need to be a bigger concern than keeping Jordan Eberle. If Eberle had a cap hit closer to $4 million he would still be here, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation; such is the business of the game.
I usually adhere to getting my stats from the NHL website (www.nhl.com/stats) as they are at least not supposed to show any bias. Goals are goals, wins are wins, and standings are standings. They don’t get into advanced statistics such as Corsi, and my belief is they choose not to because of the differences in interpretation. If I look at that website and see that Connor McDavid has 100 points, then Connor McDavid has 100 points, there’s no reason for them to be inaccurate.
There is, however, one issue with their website.
I believe that it is an indirect result of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement with their players’ association, but the stats make zero mention of salaries and/or cap hits; the information is available to the general public still through sites such as www.nhlnumbers.com. The issue with the stats not correlating with the cap hits is the cap hits are essential in assessing the stats. If two players are identical in every facet of the game, but player A makes $2 million per year while player B makes $3 million per year, then player A is the better asset (as players are shuffled throughout the league in trades, those worth more will bring back the better return).
So, if Jordan Eberle scored 51 points in 82 games, or 0.62 PPG, and Ryan Strome scored 30 points in 69 games, or 0.43 PPG, then Jordan Eberle is the better player right? Yes, absolutely, as long as that’s all you focus on. But Ryan Strome only costs you $2.5 million a year whereas Jordan costs $6 million. So, if you double Strome’s cap hit as well as his PPG, he would have 60 points in 69 games, or 0.87 PPG (that would put him 5th in the league for right wingers in PPG while being tied for 16th in the league for right wingers in cap hit, so it’s obviously not that simple, but stay with me). The point is, with all of these players having different cap hits and cap hits being a big factor, shouldn’t we involve it in deciding which player is better?
I have come up with a formula that might be a simple indicator for evaluating wingers in relation to the salary cap room they take up. I’m not suggesting this is a be all and end all for evaluating all players, I’m not even saying that it is refined enough to use outside of this conversation. But to emphasize why I believe Peter Chiarelli might have felt comfortable with today’s trade I think this can answer some questions. If you divide points by cap hit in millions and add it to PPG, you can double both PPG and cap hit and the answer remains the same.
So, what do the results say? Well, to no one who pays attention’s surprise, the best right winger in the league for that metric is Patrick Eaves. At his minuscule $1 million contract and scoring 51 points in 79 games, I think anyone would take him on their team as their first line right wing, even though he was 20th overall for right wings in points in the NHL. In theory, though, you use the money you save on a player like him to bring in, say, a better defenseman, you have better balance and a better team.
So where do Strome and Eberle place? Well, there were 46 right wingers who scored 30 or more points last season, and 6 of them (Anthony Mantha, Connor Brown, David Pastrnak, Patrik Laine, Sebastian Aho, and Mikko Rantanen) were all under entry level contracts, which would skew their results. So of the 40 players left, here are the results which are relevant to this discussion (note I have Ryan Strome on their twice, the bottom is to show how doubling both the PPG and cap hit keeps my metric the same):
I think it is imperative as Oilers fans that we keep some perspective about moves that are made for the next 10-15 years. After all, we will have a second line centre that fans of many other teams wish they had for their top line. This is going to cost though; at times we may have an optically questionable blue line, or our roster might need tweaking right up until the trade deadline. Sometimes we’ll lose a fan favourite like Jordan Eberle and it’ll seem like they didn’t get nearly enough back. But tell me you’d give up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for those issues to be solved.
And ask any Penguins fan if you can have success with lesser known players on your team’s wing, even on the first line, and an average defense core, as long as you have two really good centres. If things go as planned for Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers, and their fans, H.O.P.E. will be replaced by actual winning.