My thoughts on this whole Eberle signing business
Jordan Eberle signed a 6 year, $36M contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers yesterday and the reaction among fans has been mixed. Eberle is as much of a folk-hero as a 22 year old hockey player in Edmonton can be in 2012 with some of the most famous goals in World Junior Hockey Championship history (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kghBi1w-c3E), a successful rookie season (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB9K_eG8_3I), and a sophomore effort that placed him tied for 15th in NHL scoring .
These are rare heights for an Edmonton Oiler (since Mark Messier was traded in 1991, who have we had: Doug Weight and Ales Hemsky?) but many writers have shown that Eberle’s 2011/2012 season needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. While Eberle is clearly a bonafide offensive producer at the NHL level, his goal totals last season came riding the wave of an absolutely monstrous shooting percentage (as shown by Mudcrutch here, here and here). Tyler’s look at shooting percentages (and most notably, shooting percentage regression) has led him to the conclusion that Jordan Eberle can be counted on for just 55-60 pts for the duration of his contract.
Tyler generally produces excellent work and I can’t help but agree with him when he says “I’d be a lot more surprised if he broke 70 points without a significant improvement in his Corsi or shot numbers.” It is clear that we can’t expect Eberle to score once for every five of his shots for the next 7 years. Jonathan Willis has chimed in as well of course and his conclusion after writing this is that 13.6% is likely a more reasonable target. To follow through on this suggestion, Willis has predicted we can expect Eberle to be a 26 goal player. Not bad, but is this worth $6M per season?
The one thing I want to do is attempt to quantify the natural improvement of a younger player. I’m not talking about intangible or fluffy “he is young so 34G this year means 40 forever” sort of stuff – all I want to see is someone taking a thorough run at predicting how many more shots Eberle might be able to generate year over year. After all, he is just 22 years old and I think it’s safe to say he hasn’t topped out in terms of driving possession as an NHL player. Coming right up: my (limited) attempt to address exactly this point.
What did I do? I took a look at the 25 forwards born between 1987 and 1989 who:
- Played 3 or more seasons in the NHL
- Scored at 0.5 pts/game or better
- Took shots
(click to enlarge)
One note: I considered a player’s “1st” season to be one in which he played at least half the games. If a player got hurt in year 2 or 3 (Max Pacioretty, for example) I left him on my list.
All I did was count games played and shots taken, then look to see if players were shooting more year over year. Have a look at the data below. Players are sorted in terms of points per game.
- The majority of players on this list generated more shots each season. To be specific, 20/25 improved their shooting rates between seasons 1 and 2 while 17/25 improved their shooting rates between seasons 2 and 3. Great.
- In seasons 1, 2, and 3, the players on this list took an average of 1.98, 2.33, and 2.46 shots per game. Over an 82 game season, this would result in a 28.7 shot improvement in a player’s 2nd season and a 10.7 shot improvement in his 3rd season. That’s not a whole lot, is it? For a 13.6% shooter, that’s just 4 goals from season 1 to 2 and less than 2 goals from season 2 to 3.
- Jordan Eberle took more shots than average when compared to the rest of these players as a rookie and about the same number of shots as average in his sophomore season. What about season 3?
- If he takes this group’s average of 2.46 shots per game over 82 games, he’ll take 202 shots. If he shoots at 13.6%, that’s about 27 goals
- If he increases his shot totals by exactly the same amount from season 2 to 3 as he did from season 1 to 2, that’s only 2.33 shots per game. Over 82 games, that’s 191 shots and shooting at 13.6% that’s almost exactly 26 goals.
I’ll get into the (many) limitations of what I’ve done in a second but I should say that I’m honestly disappointed by what I’ve found. When Tyler and others have harped on about shooting percentage regression, I’ve always been of the mind that increases in shot-taking would make up for some or most of it – IE sure, Eberle would probably hit a few more posts but he’d be shooting so much more that 35G would probably still be a reasonable prediction. Now, I’m obviously quite a bit less convinced. Is $6M per season good value for a 30G / 30A player? I suppose that’s the next question.
Obviously, my quick take has some limitations so I’ll point out the ones I can think of:
- It does not take context into account. I have not sorted for PP/EV goals, icetime, or quality of teammates/competition. Some of these guys may have had changes in role which affected their shot generation.
- 25 players is not a huge list.
- It does not look at improvement or decline over a player’s career. This is the big one: if shot generation improves every year from 22-28, Eberle’s deal looks better and better. If it plateaus early on, then $6M/year for a 30G/30A is kind of a “what you see is what you get” sort of contract. In terms of % cap hit, I’m sure this is a different case but I bet there are a lot of fans who think Eberle’s contract is great for Edmonton that were more than happy to see Smyth go to Long Island way back when.
So: thoughts? What else did I miss? Has anyone else been curious about this same question? How do I get a better answer? (etc.) Anyhow, have a great weekend everybody. It’s beer time here in Winnipeg.