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Ryan Jones - When Effort And Luck Collide

What Ryan Jones does during a game isn't the kind of things that will see him named to an all star team anytime soon but it's the kind of stuff fans in Edmonton simply love to see. On the ice Jones plays a simple game. Pucks to the net, throw hits, and skate hard. What he doesn't have in natural skill he makes up for with effort. This year all that effort paid off and Jones was rewarded with 18 goals and as a result quickly became a fan favorite. Things like his twitter account and growing his hair (the self proclaimed best flow in the NHL) for cancer survivors only helped make him more popular.

But popularity aside, all is not rosy when it come to Jones. 

In 2010/11 Jones accomplished a remarkable feat by leading the Oilers in goals - his scoring 18 goals tying him with Jordan Eberle for third on the team* while at the same time ranking last on the entire team in scoring chance percentage. Looking at the goals alone you would assume that Jones was contributing significantly to the limited success the Oilers had last season. But when you see those scoring chances it's pretty clear that Jones more than gave back whatever positives he produced.

Looking further into Dereks post you can see what each Oiler player accomplished with Jones on the ice with them and what happened when they were separated. The results aren't good. With only two exceptions, Eberle and Liam Reddox, every Oilers forward had a better scoring chance percentage without Jones than they did with him. Perhaps most surprising is what he did to fellow fourth liners J.F. Jacques and Colin Fraser. Jones wasn't the victim of tough match ups either. From the stats at Behind the Net you can see competition and teammates place him near the middle of the pack when compared to other Oiler forwards. 

So how is it that a player can lead his team in goals and be loved by the masses while at the same time being a drag on the team as far as scoring chances go. Equal parts effort and luck.

I won't question the effort Jones puts in. Without a lot of natural skill, Jones had to work hard just to make it to the NHL. Every night you can expect that he'll skate hard (albeit not very well), throw hits, and try to get under the skin of his opponent. This is what a traditional fourth line player is supposed to do and in Edmonton it'll endear you to the fans. We're a blue collar town and we've always liked blue collar players.

Effort was only half the equation for Jones this season though, luck played a part as well. Getting out chanced at even strength the way he did and being just -5 is remarkable. What if luck goes the other way and he is -15. Does his season look as good? A bad +/- from a top line player scoring 40 plus points a season is something you can live with. What about a fourth liner? 

In his post today at the Cult of Hockey, Bruce McCurdy referred to Jones as "an oasis of offence in the desert of medicority that was Oilers bottom six", which I can't argue with. But how much of that offense can we attribute to luck? His shooting percentage this season was 14.3%, somewhat higher than the 12% he'd averaged prior to this season. Bruce also pointed out that Jones accounted for 58% of the goals scored while he was on the ice and that he more than double the points of any of the other bottom six players he spent most of his time playing with. Individually those might not seem unlikely but the combination of all these factors leads me to believe there was a lot of luck involved. 

Luck at the right time can be the recipe for an ugly free agent contract. Coming of a season where he exceed the expectations of traditional stats, thanks in no small part to a lot of luck, Jones looks set to cash in when he comes an unrestricted free agent July 1. And here lies the risk for the Oilers. The numbers show that Jones was badly outplayed at even strength this season and got away with it. How long can that last? When his luck breaks, and it will, what will he be worth to this team? With a number of questionable contracts already on the books - Shawn Horcoff, Nikolai Khabibulin, and likely a buyout of Sheldon Souray - the Oilers can ill afford another player, especially one playing on the fourth line, not playing up to his contract. 

Jones should swing for the fences with this contract. NHL careers are short and if there is money being offered you've got to take it. But Oiler fans need to keep in mind that the 18 goals he scored this season are not the sign of a player on the verge of breaking out. They are the sign of a player falling on the right side of luck for an entire season. The Oilers have repeatedly made the mistake of overpaying for character. I don't think they can afford to do that anymore. Any contract the Oilers give him shouldn't be worth much more than the $975k he made this season. Maybe as much as $1.2M on the absolute high end for two years but no more. And to be clear any raise is probably an overpayment.

But that is a number that's workable for the Oilers. Personally I hope Jones gets his payday because he genuinely seems like a good guy. And for the sake of the Oilers I also hope he gets it somewhere else.

Prediction: Whether I like it or not my gut tells me that Tambellini will sign Jones to a three year deal worth an average of $1.50M. 18 goals will serve as the high water mark for Jones who will score between 12 and 15 goals a season over the term of the contract. He won't lead ths team in goals again but he'll be the exact same player he was this season.

* Thanks to Bruce for pointing out that Jones' 18 goals wasn't good for the team lead. It wasn't a great year for the Oilers but they did still have a couple players break the 20 goal mark.