Can the Edmonton Oilers keep their young core together?

Jonathan Willis
July 12 2012 09:19AM

What will the Oilers look like once the entry-level deals Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are on expire? What about when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract ends? Is the team going to remain affordable?

To try and answer those questions, I decided to embark on an exercise this morning, projecting the Oilers’ roster and contracts into the future. Naturally, any such exercise involves a series of assumptions and gets less and less accurate the further ahead we project, but it’s still useful for planning purposes. As a result, the details on depth players aren’t that important – as long as the big pieces are in the ball park.

2012-13

The first year is the easiest to project, because we’re making relatively few assumptions. My projected lineup is as follows (with players ordered by cap hit):

The total cap space remaining on this group is $7.7 million.

I’ve made a few assumptions here. I’ve assumed that Nail Yakupov will sign for the rookie maximum, and that Theo Peckham (if he returns) will be on a deal identical to his qualifying offer. I’ve also penciled in Gagner on a longish-term, $3.5 million/season deal. That’s based largely on this group of comparables; it seems reasonable to me that if the Oilers keep him he’s in that ballpark.

I’ve also assumed – based on Hartikainen getting a push in camp and Yakupov making the team – that Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander will start the year in Oklahoma City.

2013-14

This is where things start getting interesting. First, my projected lineup:

The total cap space remaining on this group is $0.08 million, assuming the cap doesn’t rise. We’re also (for the sake of argument) assuming the current CBA continues, or that a new CBA featuring rollbacks and a reduced cap will work with more or less the same numbers (i.e. Horcoff may make X dollars less, but his cap hit against a reduced cap should be comparable to $5.5 million against a $70.2 million cap).

Hall and Eberle’s deals are based in large part on my work here. I can see their deals potentially falling anywhere from $6 - $7.5 million per season, and I’ve projected to the midpoint of that range.

I’ve also assumed that Paajarvi and Hartikainen won’t get huge raises; naturally it’s possible that either breaks out. Smid’s deal is based on the one just signed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose, while I’ve assumed a slight raise for Whitney if he gets back on track. That player doesn’t have to be Whitney, of course, but if he struggles with injury again this season it seems logical that the Oilers will need to find another defender who will command significant dollars.

2014-15

I haven’t projected totals for 2014-15, just highlighted expiring contracts in red. Here’s the lineup:

The logical assumption is that Hemsky is gone, and that his money helps to pay for Nugent-Hopkins’ new contract. Paajarvi may fit the bill as a cheap scoring line option, which would give the Oilers a complete top-six once Nugent-Hopkins deal is taken into account (in our extremely hypothetical scenario).

On the back-end, contracts to Dubnyk, Petry and the Schultzes will have expired at this point. That frees up a little over $12.5 million, but it also means the team is looking for a new starting goaltender and possibly two top-four defensemen. This is the year that the development of Klefbom and Marincin (and the rest of the young defenders) may start paying off if they’re capable of handling top minutes.

Still, everything looks pretty manageable – especially if the salary cap keeps going up. There’s not a lot of room to add extra parts without also shipping out equal salaries, but there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to survive the transition to paying the young stars, particularly if the current stable of defensive prospects produce one or two pieces capable of playing 2-3 years from now.

That’s the primary point, really. Personnel changes will happen – we don’t know what shape they’ll take, but we know trades and free agency will alter the face of the team. A hypothetical exercise like this will always be hopelessly outdated one year down the line. But what it shows us is that as long as the Oilers make prudent contract decisions from here on out, it seems entirely plausible that they will be able to keep the core of the team intact.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Wax Man Riley
July 12 2012, 09:25AM
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When did we sign McBackup? He's that new sensation we drafted fist overall from the Scottish National team, no?

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#2 Shane
July 12 2012, 09:29AM
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Jonathan,

Do you really think Hall and Eberle will sign for that much? Tavares signed for 5.5 no? If Hall is excited to be the leader of this team as much as this whole convincing J.Schultz scenerio seemed, you'd think there would be some sort of "keep the core together discounts" perhaps?

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#3 Action Jackson
July 12 2012, 09:32AM
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Let Dubnyk go in two years, Mcbackup will be ready...

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#4 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
July 12 2012, 11:43AM
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Taveras is a fine parallel. All involved have potential but yet play on a perennial bottom feeder.

Now that the Oilers have 4 such players, hopefully they're good enough to get themselves out of this mess they're in. Anything north of 6 per on their second contract is just poor management. If Jordan could finish top 10 in scoring then i can see a case be made for him, but the others haven't reached anywhere near their potential yet.

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#5 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
July 12 2012, 11:57AM
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@ Jonathan Willis.

The Bossys,Messiers,Coffeys of the world weren't paid based on hopeful future performance. They were paid accordingly till they showed they could do it on a consistant basis. A time when the game reached it peak as far as entertainment value goes.

To pay now for potential future performance would have atleast 2/3rds of the teams in the NHL losing money every year.....oh wait, they are! We'd be doomed and probably end up with a league full of Rick Nash's.

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#6 Cowbell_Feva
July 13 2012, 02:49PM
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Laddy Smid @ $4.5 million is rediculous. He is not worth anything, anywhere near that number. There are 6 of him in every team in the NHL.

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#7 speeds
July 12 2012, 09:32AM
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Also, for 13/14, as long as bonus overages are still part of the new CBA, EDM will have more flexibility than you've indicated since they'll have a ton of bonuses which would allow them to go over the cap by a couple of million bucks, with little risk. They would have 6 mil in Schedule B bonuses between RNH, Schultz and Yakupov, pretty unlikely that all 3 would trigger those bonuses.

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#8 Archaeologuy
July 12 2012, 09:40AM
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It's my only hope that by playing these young kids together for as long as possible before they're due their raises that it builds a sense of team to the point where all of the big 4 take a little less money than they could otherwise to keep the team competitive.

Hall and Eberle arent stupid...Eberle isnt stupid, he knows that if he was the only star on the team he could be making Rick Nash money. Hopefully they are smart enough to recognize that nobody can make Rick Nash money without being on a Rick Nash-style team.

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#9 Andrew
July 12 2012, 09:43AM
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Bury Horcoff at first chance.

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#10 speeds
July 12 2012, 09:50AM
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Andrew wrote:

Bury Horcoff at first chance.

I like Horcoff as a player way more than most, so I'm not looking to get rid of him as much as it seems like the average poster might be.

That said, if EDM is looking to move him, his NMC expires after this season. Next summer he'll have two seasons left at 4 mil and 3 mil, still at his 5.5 cap hit, but that cap hit won't be a problem for a number of teams more likely to be concerned with the actual cash.

It will be interesting to see how EDM handles Horcoff's ice time, linemates, PP time, etc this season. It's possible they think that putting him in a situation more conducive to producing offense would help improve his tradeability next summer, although if that were the plan they'd be unlikely to disclose it and I'm sure a number of fans would be unhappy unless he started producing. Ironically, in that case, a number of those fans may not want to see him traded.

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#11 Lofty
July 12 2012, 10:22AM
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Is it illegal in the CBA to negotiate with a group of players? Seems like something the NHLPA would not want to happen.

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#13 The Beaker
July 13 2012, 10:55AM
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I think we totally undervalue Smid in this Market. I havent looked it up extensively but around 4.5 mil for him isnt totally off the charts.

A guy who is sound defensively, likes and is loyal to the city, for all I can tell is a good guy in the dressing room, and actually is somewhat difficult to play against? I wouldnt trade Smid for anything if it was at all avoidable.

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#14 Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!
July 12 2012, 09:26AM
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May this FIST bring (affordable) wealth and fame to the Oilers' young stars.

Edit: these two FISTs.

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#15 geoilersgist
July 12 2012, 09:31AM
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If there ends up being an amnesty clause in the new CBA the Oilers could deal with Horcoffs salary problem. They could probably free up at least 3mil from his contract and that could be added to RNH salary when his deal expires. I don't see how they will have too many problems keeping the kids together.

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#18 KleptoKlown
July 12 2012, 09:45AM
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The contracts Hall and Eberle sign at the end of the year will shine a better light on the Oilers chances to keep this core together. I doubt any of these core guys will have significantly different contracts.

One screwball could be the ever dreaded predatory offer sheet.

Say team X offers Eberle a 3 year deal at 8.4 million per season(2 1st rounders, a 2nd and a 3rd as compensation) The Oilers would have to match, as there is no way they could let Eberle walk.

Now the rest of the core sees that 8.4 million and says "me too"

The best way to fight a dynasty is to prevent it from ever taking shape. If I am a competing GM, I know this.

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#19 Shane
July 12 2012, 09:45AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Yes good article, Hall and Eberle will form the benchmark for how competitive this team can stay for the long-term next summer, Nuge and Yak will follow.

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#20 Shane
July 12 2012, 09:46AM
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@KleptoKlown

Good point, that's scary to think about.

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#21 madjam
July 12 2012, 09:53AM
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High end talent seems to cancel one another out on most teams . It is the mid to lower acquisitions that seem/tend to have most influence on success - much like a hockey draft .

A perceiveable imbalance with high end talent appearing mainly on wing and offence ? The most important unknown is how our elite talents will transition and fit into a premier team mentality over an individual one .

There probably will be some more additions/upgrades in the mid to lower range that probably will also drive up costs . Maybe our elite talents are too much in one basket ?

Perceive our mid to low talent level has to improve markedly if we are to contend for a playoff spot . That we might basically have internally with Kreuger and emerging propects . Then again maybe we do not , and require outside acquisitions . Which way to go ?

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#22 EHH Team
July 12 2012, 09:58AM
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It's a good analysis Willis.

If the new CBA puts term limits on contracts, teams will no longer be able to artificially lower cap values. Another consideration is that the team salary caps might be frozen or reduced if the 57% of revenues to is reduced.

According to Capgeek, Ryan Whitney's salary this year is $5.5M vs a cap of $4M so your estimate of $4.5 is actually a reduction in pay to him rather than an increase.

Tavares will be paid $6M per year in 2014-15 through 2017-18 and I think it was considered to be a good contract for the Islanders, so your estimates for Hall and Eberle are not out of line IMO.

I very much hope the Oilers are prudent in the short term. They should stay away from dreams of trading/signing Weber or Boumeester until they know the upside of their defensive prospects.

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#23 SumOil
July 12 2012, 10:11AM
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Furthermore, When its tome to sign Yakupov, orcoff contract will be coming off. If the cap goes up by about 5 million in the 3 years we are more than ok

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#24 striatic
July 12 2012, 10:12AM
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once Horcoff's NMC expires he will be traded or buried or bought out or amnesty claused or whatever best option is available.

he's still a fine player but his cap hit will start hurting the team in a way it hasn't for the past three seasons and something has to give.

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#25 SumOil
July 12 2012, 10:12AM
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@EHH Team

Yeah it takes into account that Whitney is having injury troubles, and is no longer as effective as he was.

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#26 Lexi
July 12 2012, 10:13AM
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To me the key is getting Hall and to a lesser degree Eberle to take a "hometown discount" ala Tavares to set the salary tone for the rest of the club. That should be the most important job of management this year, which I believe why it is crucial that they get one more upgrade player to make sure the team is competitive enough so they believe this is their best winning opportunity for their careers.

I think it is fortunate that the new CBA will be signed before they have to do these second contracts. (Personally I don't know how teams can be making franchise altering decisions this summer when it appears no one knows exactly what the rules will be. I mean if say the cap goes down to $65 Mill won't teams like Minny just have to get rid of players for low draft picks?).

My wish is the Oil hire a U of A law grad and Math/Accounting geek whose sole jobs are to know the new CBA inside out as the most important part of this team's future is creating a scenario where the big 4 stay as long as possible with room to acquire a Weber-like guy in the future. That, plus effective drafting and developing of support talent is what will hopefully create a long time contending team.

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#27 geoilersgist
July 12 2012, 10:25AM
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@KleptoKlown

But if they sign him before other teams have a chance to talk to him this point is moot.

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#28 jake
July 12 2012, 10:26AM
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Madjam: "There probably will be some more additions/upgrades in the mid to lower range that probably will also drive up costs . Maybe our elite talents are too much in one basket ?

Perceive our mid to low talent level has to improve markedly if we are to contend for a playoff spot . That we might basically have internally with Kreuger and emerging propects . Then again maybe we do not , and require outside acquisitions . Which way to go ?"

Good point but if these younglings consistently produce some magic in the comming seasons, some of the mid-lower range players may take reasonable discounts to play with them.

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#29 MrCondor
July 12 2012, 10:28AM
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It's being optimistic, but If I were a 21 year old I would totally sign a 6 year deal at a reasonable cap hit to try to get the cup. Then when that deal expires you can cash out huge.

That's hard when your agent is whispering in your ear though.

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#30 Truth
July 12 2012, 10:28AM
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@ Willis

I am confused, I can't see Shea Weber's name on the roster for '12-'13?

In all seriousness, it is very interesting to see how a bad contract (cough Horcoff)could screw up a team. Hard to blame Tambellini for not biting on signing a couple free agents to ridiculous contracts.

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#31 BurkeTheTurd
July 12 2012, 10:30AM
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Great article, I have been wondering about the senerios for awhile now. Hopefully with a little bit of winning, most of the young players will take a little bit of a home town discount.

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#32 TeddyTurnbuckle
July 12 2012, 10:32AM
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Good article Willis, I live out in B.C. and all I hear people say about the Oilers out here is that they will never be able to afford all the kids once their entry deals are done. I'v'e never believed this to be true but Tambo will have to be prudent.

First of all forget about high priced free agents in the future, they will only come back to haunt us later. Second of all will be the long term contracts of the fab four. Hall , Nuge, Eberle and Yakupov. I don't believe we will have problems keeping them with their first big contracts but trying to keep all four six years from now when they approach UFA status may be impossible. That is why I'm of the opinion that the oilers should look at signing each one of these guys when the time is right to 8 year deals. I haven't put in all of this suffering for the last six years just to see a couple of these guys become UFAs when they are 27 and get offers from other teams they can't refuse. If Horcoff can get a six year deal these kids should get 8 years minimum.

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#33 admiraimark
July 12 2012, 10:41AM
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So the conclusion is as long as Oilers management makes prudent contract decisions from here on out we should be just fine? .....Well there should be no problem then! right?!

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#35 PaperDesigner
July 12 2012, 10:47AM
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They need to get out of the Horcoff contract by the 2013-2014 season. Although I like him as a player, they need the cap space he is taking up. They either need the amnesty buyouts that there have been whispers of, or to trade him to a team that needs to get to the cap floor. His salary will dip bellow his cap hit by that season, no? Wouldn't that make him a prime target for teams trying to get up to the floor?

Of course, I have heard talk of widening the gap between the cap and the floor. If that happens without an amnesty buyout, I believe that would be worst case scenario.

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#36 TigerUnderGlass
July 12 2012, 10:48AM
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I wrote a post outlining the cap hits of the top 6 players on most teams considered to be contenders.

I don't remember which thread it was on or anything, but the general point was this:

The typical combined cap hit of the top 6 salaries on a contending team was between 32 and 34 million. A couple good teams were outside that by a million or two, and a couple teams with some really good deals were well under (STL) but this was the typical range.

What this means is that all four could get 6.5 a year and there would still be 8 million for the top two defensemen. Keep their cap hits to Tavares type deals and you could still have a Weber on the team without breaking up the four.

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#37 Next Year Country
July 12 2012, 10:48AM
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Good article Jonathon. I think $6.75 is a reasonable assumption for Hall and Eberle, and probably what the Big 4 would all get. As some of the other posters have said, going after a big contract D like Weber would be a mistake. When you look at the long term 10+ year contracts, the teams usually end up in a bind (Lecavalier, Luongo, Di Pietro, even Ovechkin). It would also throw the whole plan and pay structure out of whack. Looking forward, Hemsky will likely be gone before his contract expires, Khabbi is gone, Whitney will be gone if his injury problems continue (only one year left anyway), Sutton is gone after this year, Jones (although I really like him) probably won't be back next year and will probably be traded at the deadline, Nick Shultz could be traded sometime in the 2013-14 season if some of the young D can come up and perform well, Peckham could be gone, and (hopefully) Belanger will be traded. Horc (the favourite whipping boy) is a good player and team guy, despite a contract that is twice what it should be. He will probably finish the last three years here, unless, next year, somebody needs the cap hit to meet the cap floor. The actual salary in last two years at $4 and $3 would be be attractive to some teams. Smid deserves a good contract ($3.5 to $4 for 4 years) I see him a a solid core player that successful teams need. Stauffer made a good point yesterday: top six forwards and 3rd line centre, top four D and #1 G should make up 80% of your salary structure. So, who we sign or trade for from here on in, should be done with future cap and salary structure in mind, with a bit of an overpayment for one or two physical players who can play.

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#38 PaperDesigner
July 12 2012, 10:51AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Six years for $33-$36 million would be a major steal for the Oilers; if that's the ballpark Hall/Eberle/RNH/Yakupov end up in I'll be using the phrase "huge win" a lot.

Well, you have to think that whatever the value of the first contract signed is going to be, it will set the standard for all the others. I have been hoping for a 6.5 million per deal over seven years myself. That would be extremely comparable to the Hemsky deal once you adjust for the salary cap difference. Considering that deal worked for the Oilers despite the player not quite meeting the projections on the contract, I would be willing to do it four times over.

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#39 TigerUnderGlass
July 12 2012, 10:51AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Six years for $33-$36 million would be a major steal for the Oilers; if that's the ballpark Hall/Eberle/RNH/Yakupov end up in I'll be using the phrase "huge win" a lot.

I'm not convinced. Why will any of them automatically get so much more than Tavares on a second contract?

If Eberle regresses they can probably keep him to 5. Barring a breakout why should Hall get more than 5.5? We have no idea what the other two will look like entering contract years.

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#40 TigerUnderGlass
July 12 2012, 10:54AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Six years for $33-$36 million would be a major steal for the Oilers; if that's the ballpark Hall/Eberle/RNH/Yakupov end up in I'll be using the phrase "huge win" a lot.

edit: double post

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#41 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
July 12 2012, 11:02AM
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Wow, 6.75 for Hall. When did the NHL start paying for possible future perfomances? 6.75 for a kid who hasn't seen one second of playoff action, or resembled a PPG player.... 5.5 is closer to where he should be, and only if he can put in a much stronger campaign this coming season.

Won't be as much of a cash crunch as we think, the cap could be closer to 75 million in 2 yrs. We can wipe Horcoff,Gagner and Hemsky off those books for that 13-14 season, In time they'll all be enjoying our state of the art Airport in the near future. Fairly certain this is Horcoffs last season/partial season with the Oilers.

The Horcoff and Hemsky deals have literally put the finacial order on this hockey club upside down in the ditch. Order needs to be restored by turfing these two. They've got Gagner where he should be, why aren't the rest held in check? We would've been better off just letting them walk when UFA eligible. This kind of money for support players is redonkulous.

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#42 nuge2nail
July 12 2012, 11:12AM
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Oilers Domination to Follow

Hall 10 Years - 60 Million

Eberle 10 Years 60 Million

Hopkins 10 Years 60 Million

Yakupov 10 Years 60 Million

Hall +2.2, Eberle +4.4, RNH +2.2, Yak +2.2 | Horcoff -5.5, Khabibulan -3.75, Souray -1.5

FOUR Franchise players locked up for 10 years, while keeping the same cap hit = PRICELESS

The CHOSEN LINE and EBs are RFAs not UFAs so they have to take a small discount - I can see 60 Million reasons for them to stay together. They also have to realize that their numbers are all inflated by playing with the Nuuuuge - Ebs may only be a 25 goal scorer instead of 35 without the Nuge feeding him one timers on the PP.

(PS. Where does JBO and his -21 and $235,000 a point fit into this equation. If they acquire him I could see all these deals jumping up at least 1 Million Each)

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#43 Prudham's
July 12 2012, 11:20AM
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I've been wondering about this for some time.

My only question is if you think that personnel changes in the bottom six forwards can be done in a way that upgrades the play at these positions and also keeps the same salary profile.

As I see it, the bottom six is, and will continue to be a weak point on the team until some trades are made or new players are brought in at the expense of current ones.

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#44 KleptoKlown
July 12 2012, 11:23AM
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@nuge2nail

lol...

...oh wait, you were serious?

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#45 Tayranchula
July 12 2012, 11:26AM
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Awesome atricle, I have always wondered without doing any math how the Oil are going to keep 3 first overall draft picks plus Ebs and Shultz together. I could see alot of salary dumping done by the Oil once there top end prospects become developed and ready to play. Dont forget Tuebert he is still very young and very much in the conversation for this team moving forward. I would put him ahead of Marincin at this point and who knows what Smid's new deal will look like. Might sign Smid and then have to dump him off once the cap becomes a problem. I see Tuebert as a Smid replacment in all honesty.

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#46 curious
July 12 2012, 11:28AM
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Hopefully we dont get another 1st overall pick that is ready to play in 2013-14 - then we will be in trouble. The first rounders from here on out need to go back to Junior for a year or two before we start paying for them

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#47 TigerUnderGlass
July 12 2012, 11:34AM
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@Tayranchula

Schultz? What has happened to make you think he is going to be a top dollar type of player?

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#50 TigerUnderGlass
July 12 2012, 11:43AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

1. Both Eberle and Hall outperformed Tavares in terms of points-per-game this year compared to his contract year (Eberle by a lot).

2. The salary cap has gone up since Tavares signed his contract.

3. The Tavares deal is at the cheap end of players in these sorts of situations.

1. Which is why signing Eberle right now is crazy. I get the P/G justification, but I'm not convinced that carries as much weight in actual negotiations as it should.

2. Again, I'm not sure this carries as much weight as it should. I think the alignment between percentage of cap and player quality is a natural function of inflation rather than an intentional function of negotiation. ie. Comparables in dollars wins the day, not comparables in cap percentage.

3. True, but Eberle cannot maintain his current pace, and I sort of doubt Hall can play more than 60 games in a season.

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