Saturday, 10 March 2012
03/10/12 Let Eberle Run
At some point, the Oilers are going to have to let their young players run with this thing into the wild blue yonder. That time should be now.
There have been plenty of rumblings around the fan base and in the media that Tom Renney should not be brought back as head coach because of some of the decisions that he's made at the helm. Renney has a solid resume, including a Memorial Cup Championship with Kamloops, as well as the best ever winning percentage as a coach (0.714) in CHL history. Before taking over the Oilers, Renney had a record of 203-170-45 in the NHL. But when it comes to how ice time has been distributed this season, he's left much to be desired.
Case in point: Jordan Eberle.
Eberle is averaging 3.15 points per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, which is the best of all Oilers forwards, and second in the NHL among forwards with 30+ games played. And yet, this season he's been the 7th-most used Oilers forward at even strength with an average of 13:57 per game at 5x5. Six players (Hemsky, Hall, Smyth, Gagner, Horcoff and Nugent-Hopkins) have received more ice time at even strength this year, despite the fact that Eberle has had by far the best results. The fact that Eberle hasn't been a go-to player at even strength has resulted in his being 6th in total ice time per game of Oilers forwards, at 17:11.
For some context, Steve Stamkos is averaging better than four minutes more per game than Eberle at 21:36, and more even strength ice time alone than Eberle has averaged in total. Malkin in Pittsburgh and Claude Giroux in Philadelphia are both averaging 4 minutes more than the Oilers' number 14. Eberle has had the lowest average time on ice of any of the NHL's top 30 scorers (he's 13th).
It makes a person wonder what he could do if he was given more responsibility. With all of the evidence pointing toward utilizing Eberle as much as possible, the current coaching staff has failed to do that.
In fairness, Eberle's ice time has jumped in the last three games up to 21:33, 20:49 and 19:01. He's got two goals and a minus-2 in those games. It's the first time all season that he's played 19 or more minutes in three straight games. It could be that Renney has decided to lean on the young man who has clearly been his best player all season.
The Oilers are in 29th place. There's nothing to lose by playing Eberle more, and if anything it could give him the experience he'll need in taking on tougher competition. It would be nice to see some skill on display for the last 15 games in another losing season.