Leafs Nation round table – Jordan Eberle

This may be an extended offseason, so to break up the time, some of the writers on TLN are exchanging emails to each other, discussing the Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL hockey as whole. Today’s topic is Jordan Eberle, who has signed a six-year, $36MM extension and has divided the hockey world into camps that believe Eberle is a superstar, and those that believe his high point totals from last season hinged on luck.

From: Cam Charron
To: Gus Katsaros, JP Nikota
Subj: Jordan Eberle 

I wonder how long it will be until boxcar statistics like goals and assists stop being the prime measure for player performance. With so much variation year-to-year, there’s no way that’s indicative of the true talent of a hockey player.

Take a guy like Nik Kulemin from last season. As far as a Leafs player in the top-six goes, he’s big and strong and fast and possesses these remarkable traits, kept the puck out of his own end, was strong in the neutral zone and was virtually everything Toronto expects out of one of their wingers.

Except goal-scoring. Kulemin scored just seven goals and a few media members suggested that the Leafs were crazy for re-signing him.

Goals and points obviously matter to some degree, but are they truly indicative of a player’s talent?

Jordan Eberle’s become a pretty divisive topic. A lot of stats geeks, myself included, believe that Eberle won’t improve on his 34-goal total from last season. As a player, I think Eberle still has a lot of room to grow, but that won’t necessarily be reflected in his point totals. When the game begins to slow for him as he matures as a player, he’ll stop thinking “offence offence offence” and contribute in a more supportive role.

This isn’t a problem, and I think of Eberle as a very good second-line winger, but he’ll be overpaid in about two years for what he really is. If he compensates for the fact that his point totals will drop next season by improving his play in his own end, he could be worth the money. To me, a combination of offence and defence, and neither one alone, is what drives the quality of a hockey player, not just something that anybody can look at on the box score.

From: Gus Katsaros
To: Cam Charron, JP Nikota
Subj: RE: Jordan Eberle

It seems that the main point is what skillset does Eberle have and how does that translate to the game and his production.

Eberle was difficult write up. While 34 goals is likely high-water mark, there’s strong playmaking and distribution ability, coupled with keen hockey sense, positioning and imagination. Sometimes, just being in the right place in anticipation of stray pucks – leading to higher shooting percentages as an offshoot – or becoming a distribution option provides the basic structure on which to build production levels. He added some selfishness in shooting in year 2. He’ll never be a huge sniper by all means, but another string of 30 goal seasons is not impossible shorter term. 

Of course, scoring 30 goals isn’t a prerequisite – unless a you point out someone wants to justify $6 million AAV – it’s only an established threshold due to the previous lack of any other metrics. Players can be broken down by skillsets without invoking these artificial barrier, whether by higher metrics or visualization, or a combination of both. Your point on Kulemin is a perfect example. 

Playing behind Hall – and now Yakupov as a RW – won’t help unless he’s switched to the other side, taking him out his element. However, the ability to really excel scoring goals comes from subtle improvements from his rookie year. As players age, the goal scoring ability first deteriorates, if the skills required are based on a few specific skills (explosive speed – Gaborik, a big shot – McCabe etc) and I feel predictability plays a role too. Once a player’s skills start to show patterns that can be contained or defended against (think Kessel in ’10-11 – skating down the right side, toe-curl quick release) their totals will suffer and teams will key in.

Eberle has shown enough subtle improvements in his second year, and doesn’t exhibit a high rate of predictability.

From: JP Nikota
To: Cam Charron, Gus Katsaros
Subj: RE: RE: Jordan Eberle

the truth is, players need to put up solid point totals for their advanced stats to be worth a big contract in the NHL. Take Jason Blake for instance. The man is well known for firing shots into a goalie’s chest plate and although that often makes his Corsi numbers look good, his point totals don’t tell the story of an NHL hero. The truth is, a great player has great underlying stats and good box stats.

When it comes to Jordan Eberle (and yes, I realize this is something of a cop-out) we’ll just have to wait and see whether he’ll have Jason Blake’s shooting ability, or Alex Tanguay’s. Maybe he’ll regress less than we expect him to.