a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

01/25/14 Don't Sign Jonas Hiller

It's all but certain that the Oilers will be moving heaven and earth to sign Jonas Hiller as a free agent this off season. But they probably shouldn't do that.

Oh, I know it's nice to think of the flashy numbers that Hiller has posted over his career. He's got a 0.917 Sv% in his 310 games and in 2010-11 he posted a 0.924 mark. Hiller might be a good choice if you're playing fantasy hockey, but not for the long term health of an NHL team.

With any free agent, the question is always "what will you do for me in the future?", and not "what have you done up to now that I'm going to pay you insane money for?".

Hiller has had fairly pedestrian numbers over the last three seasons, with 0.910, 0.913 and 0.912 save percentages from 2011-12 until the present. Of course, that's an upgrade over what the hapless Edmonton Oilers have experienced in 2013-14. So why not Hiller?

It basically comes down to age.

Hiller is about to turn 32 years old in February, which, as we know, is over the hill for hockey players. Despite the fact that goalies are not subjected to the same kind of abuse as the rest of the NHL, they are not immune to the effects of age.

I looked at the numbers of goalies from the 1994-95 NHL lockout to the present who played at least 100 games after age 32 (as Hiller will be to start next season) and didn't find a lot of encouragement. Only ten of these players were able to keep up a save percentage north of 0.910 over a long period of time, and some of the ones that did are all-time greats. It seems unlikely that any team will sign Hiller for less than four years because this is his retirement contract, so by the time we're in the back half of the deal it will be a bad bet to get value.

It's already been fairly well established that goalies decline with age. Even great goalies go from destroying the NHL to being more or less average as they get older, which is impressive in that they're ahead of where they probably should be, but also not a great plan if you're building a team around such a player.

So even if the Oilers are planning on becoming contenders next season and use Hiller as a centerpiece, they'll be stuck with a difficult contract in the years after he begins his inevitable decline. This off season will tell us if they truly learned the lessons of Khabibulin.


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