Gilbert Brule is in the midst of a resurrection in Edmonton. His development was botched something fierce by Doug MacLean in Columbus, as MacLean rushed him to the NHL as an under-sized center, not physically ready for the game. Brule couldn't handle the NHL game and it showed. He was only able to tally 12 goals and 20 assists in 146 games, for a replacement player scoring rate of .219 PPG. For comparison's sake, Liam Reddox, much-maligned in his time in Edmonton last year, has mustered a .25 PPG rate in his time in the NHL.
Kevin Lowe rescued Brule from his hockey hell on July 1, 2008, sending Raffi Torres to Columbus in exchange for the young center. For Brule, it must have been like taking the red pill in 'The Matrix'. Free of the franchise that gutted his brightest developmental years, he was coming to a club that was willing to trade away a tough-minutes left wing for him. However, after taking a look at him in training camp, Craig MacTavish decided he wasn't NHL material and sent him to Springfield for the year. Brule didn't show much in the AHL, posting 24 points in 39 games against middling competition.
To begin the 2009 season, he had a mediocre training camp under Pat Quinn, but because of his waiver situation, was assured a roster spot from the day camp opened.
As the season began, Brule found chemistry with Dustin Penner, though it seems that everyone finds chemistry with the big winger. Brule ranks second among Oiler forwards in goals and total points behind Dustin Penner, it's this never-before-displayed scoring touch that has won Edmonton over. He's quickly become a fan favorite as evidenced by the consensus of the commentariat from various Oilers sites and blogs. Fans have expressed love for his "big shot", his "physical play", his "gritty play" and his "one-shot scoring". Fans are also ready to lock Brule up for the long-term wishing for a Nilsson-like contract from Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe.
That's where things get scary. Kevin Lowe has shown a propensity to buy high (see: Pisani, Fernando; Moreau, Ethan; Nilsson, Robert) and Steve Tambellini has shown a propensity to go overboard when he finally decides to make a deal (see: Khabibulin, Nikolai; Heatley, Dany). The two are an awful combination when it comes to contract negotiations.
What might Brule's deal look like? What is he actually worth?
Let's take a look at the underlying stats:
|2009 - Gilbert Brule
The underlying numbers aren't as great as the traditional stats would dictate, especially given his qualcomp ranking, but given his Zonestart, perhaps we can look at these numbers in a softer light.
What is more concerning in looking at these statistics is Brule's with and without Penner splits.
|2009 - Gilbert Brule
|2009 - Gilbert Brule w/o Penner
|2009 - Gilbert Brule w/ Penner
Brule is -1 without Penner and +3 with Penner. He has 11 points with Penner and 11 points without. This looks balanced at first glance, but the scoring chance data shows that the bounces are being slightly kind to him. His chance numbers show that he should be something close to -5 without Penner and +2 with him. Thus far in the 15 month history of tracking scoring chances, the predictive chances-to-goals rate is about 7 to 1 - Brule's non-Penner rate is 4.4 to 1, meaning he has scored 4 more points than is sustainable. He's also turned the trick of scoring points on all 10 goals in which he's been on the ice without Penner.
Vic's fantastic Corsi combination tool isn't working this year, so we're not able to drill down and see the Corsi splits, but given that Penner has been even to slightly positive all year, Brule's without Penner Corsi split is likely much, much worse than his number above.
The counter to the above argument is that the Oilers have few other bonafide NHL forwards other than Penner, so eliminating Penner from the argument is unfair. At some point during his upcoming contract, Brule is likely to play with other bonafide NHL forwards, right? The likelihood of playing with other forwards of Dustin Penner's caliber is something that shouldn't enter into the negotiations from the Oilers standpoint, but it's likely they will.
Brule's team would probably start the negotiations in Colby Armstrong territory - Brule is on pace to have similar traditional stats this year. Armstrong is making $2.4 million this year and it was his second contract. Given this management team's predelictions, it wouldn't surprise me to see a three-year agreement in the $2.25 million range.
Loyal fans will likely call these "Pisani's dollars" and talk about what a nice replacement Brule is making for Fernando Pisani. However, a contract like that for an unproven player like Brule can be nothing but trouble for cap-stressed team like Edmonton. Brule is restricted this year and has had one worthwhile stretch in his entire career. The Oilers should stand firm on this one and drive the price down. There is no reason, nor need, to overpay a player with no proven success, currently riding the extremely large coattails of your all-star forward.