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Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and the Second Contract Question

"I'm telling ya, we're gonna be rich."
"I'm telling ya, we're gonna be rich."

As of July 1 Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle officially entered the final year of their entry level contracts meaning that the Oilers, if they choose to, can negotiate contract extensions with both. Having players who are potentially on the verge of stardom in the NHL is something unfamiliar to most Oilers fans and so there is no end to the opinions from fans about what the Oilers should do in regards to the second contracts for these two, or when they should do it. Add in the uncertainty of a new collective bargaining agreement and that we all just watched two home grown stars - Zach Parise and Ryan Suter - jump ship upon reaching free agency and the situation gets even more confusing.

This may be brand new to Oilers fans but it's hardly a new situation for other teams around the NHL. After the jump I'll take a look at what some other teams have done when they found themselves in a similar situation.

To find a list of comparable players for Hall and Eberle I started first with all the forwards who began their NHL careers before the age of 21 (as of February 1 of their rookie season) in the post lockout NHL and played at least 100 games over the course of those two seasons. Sorted by points per game Eberle ranks ninth on that list with 0.81 points/game and Hall lands two spots back with an average of 0.75 points/game. I then restricted the list to those who averaged more than 0.60 points/game and removed Logan Couture whose ELC started with a year split between the AHL and the NHL and Alexander Radulov who left for the KHL after his second season, leaving a list of 12 NHL players who have found themselves in a similar situation.

Sidney Crosby 160 75 147 222 1.39 5 $8,700,000 Before year 3
Alex Ovechkin 163 98 100 198 1.21 13 $9,538,462 During year 3
Evgeni Malkin 160 80 111 191 1.19 5 $8,700,000 Before year 3
Nicklas Backstrom 164 36 121 157 0.96 10 $6,700,000 After year 3
Anze Kopitar 154 52 86 138 0.9 7 $6,800,000 Before year 3
Patrick Kane 162 46 96 142 0.88 5 $6,300,000 During year 3
Steven Stamkos 161 74 67 141 0.88 5 $8,000,000 After year 3
Jonathan Toews 146 58 65 123 0.84 5 $6,300,000 During year 3
Jordan Eberle 147 52 67 119 0.81
Matt Duchene 161 51 71 122 0.76 2 $3,500,000 After year 3
Taylor Hall 126 49 46 95 0.75
John Tavares 161 53 68 121 0.75 6 $5,500,000 Before year 3
Jeff Skinner 146 51 56 107 0.73
Ryan Getzlaf 139 39 58 97 0.7 5 $5,325,000 During year 3
Jamie Benn 151 44 53 97 0.64 RFA After year 3

Perhaps the best thing I see when looking at this list is the length of the second contracts that were signed by this group. With the exception of the two deals handed out by the Capitals, none are longer than seven years and more than half are for five years or less. I understand why a General Manager or owner would want a decade long contract, the potential short term benefit by reducing the cap hit and acquiring a star at the same time is significant, but they have never deals that I've been a big fan of. It's possible that these types of deals will be eliminated in the next CBA (I have my doubts) but if the Oilers follow the examples set by those who came before them, getting extensions done for Hall and Eberle now or later likely won't be affected by any changes to the CBA that might be coming down the pipe.

I also find it interesting that one-third of the extensions were signed before, during, and after the players third season. Other teams in a similar situation clearly haven't been in a rush to sign these players to new deals and I think it would be best for the Oilers if they took their time as well. At this point I'm fairly confident that I know what Hall is and what he will be in the future, and as such I'd be willing to get his name on a new contract right now; something similar to the Kane, Toews, and Tavares deals.

But I doubt the Oilers would sign Hall this summer without also getting a new deal done for Eberle and there are a lot more questions than answers around him right now. In February Tyler Dellow did some great work looking at Eberle and his potential to regress this season, from that story I keep coming back to this one thought:

Eberle presents them with basically the same situation that Shawn Horcoff did in the summer of 2008. Horcoff was signed coming off a season in which he had 50 points in 53 games, allegedly because he visited a Mexican stick factory, with a year left on his pact. He’d also had big years in on-ice shooting percentage (11.4%) and IPP (82%), although nowhere near what Eberle’s doing. ... Has management learned anything from the Horcoff contract?

Nobody should (or could) confuse Horcoff and Eberle on the ice but awarding long terms deals based on a career year poses the exact same risk regardless of the skill level. The CBA gives the OIlers the right to watch Eberle play another season of hockey before deciding on what they feel his future holds. Not utilizing the CBA to their advantage in a situation like this make no sense for the Oilers, it can only help them. Even if you don't agree that Eberle is a prime candidate to regress, only the most optimistic fan would argue that if he and the rest of the Chosen Line is given tougher minutes the result will be numbers stabilize instead of continuing to climb towards super stardom. And if his number flatline or happen to fall back a little the Oilers could find themselves in a position to pay a less at the end of next season.

The contracts that Hall and likely Eberle sign will almost certainly be repeated with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov in the years that follow, much in the same way that Malkin signed the same contract Crosby did, and if the Oilers overpay now it could have very negative and long lasting effects. It is imperative that these deals get done properly. I'm rarely a fan of the work of NHL GMs but when it comes to these types of contracts I think they've done some reasonable work. Hopefully Steve Tambellini will follow their lead.