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

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

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

05/31/11 30.0 What Does the Return of the (Jets?) Mean for the Oilers?

The logo may or may not be the same, but the City of Winnipeg will be the home of a 7th Canadian team. Pending approval by the NHL board of governors, that is, which probably amounts to mere formality at this point. Among other things, Gary Bettman is quoted as saying "we get to be back in a place we wish we hadn't left in 1996," which means that the deal is done and the move will happen.

A season ticket drive will now take place in the Manitoba capital, which is a key element to the process. The city has to show that it can fill the MTS Centre night in and night out, but that shouldn't be a problem for a city that is partying in the streets at the return of the NHL.

Bettman has already come out and said that the new team will play in the Southeast Division in 2011-12, which will make for some hellish travel on all the teams of that division. Tampa Bay, Florida, Washington and Carolina are each going to have to fly to Winnipeg three times next year, and the Winnipeg team will have to make the long flights to those cities three times each as well. The distance between Winnipeg and Miami - which are the furthest Southeast Division cities from each other - is around 3500 kilometers. It's around 2500 to Raleigh North Carolina, 3200 to Tampa, and more than 2000 to Washington. Let the Airmiles jokes begin.

But, more importantly than all that: what does this move mean for the Edmonton Oilers?

Zach Bogosian
 First of all, this news probably all but kills any chance that the Oilers (or any team) have of signing Zach Bogosian to an offer sheet. Bogosian may still want out of the organization for whatever reason, but the entire organization could look very different after the dust settles on Winnipeg's new team. Add to that the fact that Winnipeg now boasts the wealthiest owner in the entire NHL, and you have a situation where even if Bogosian signed an offer sheet the ownership would be able to match. David Thomson is worth $23 billion and he can pay Bogosian without batting an eyelash, whereas the ownership group in Atlanta had imposed a tight internal budget.

At the same time, Mark Chipman said today that the new team will not immediately be spending to the cap, and that they will be building through the draft instead of going after the free agent market. It's probably a sensible move until the team can get a sense of how much revenue they can expect to pull in from the community, and they won't have all that knowledge until the team has been in place for at least a year. Also, Oiler fans know that building through the draft is really the best way to build a competitor. The team will have some good, solid building block already in place, but expect them to draft a scoring forward 7th overall at this year's draft. The team is without a real definitive offensive weapon at this point in its development. In other words, don't expect the Oilers to be able to trade for Winnipeg's pick.

The divisions will be the same for the 2011-12 season, but one has to think that there will be some major shifts of the league in 2012-13. Winnipeg will probably eventually join the Northwest Division, which means that Oilers won't be the only team building from the bottom up in this neck of the woods. It will be interesting to see who gets good first, as the race will most definitely be on.

Bob McKenzie said today that in a perfect world, (without a move of the Coyotes) Colorado would go to the Pacific Division, Dallas would join the Central Division, and one of Nashville, Columbus or Detroit would go to the Eastern Conference. It would be Detroit's dream come true to go to the East, and it would make a lot of sense. The new divisions could look like this:

Northwest: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota
Pacific: Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose
Central: Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis

Southeast: Carolina, Detroit, Florida, Tampa Bay, Washington

The Southeast division isn't ideal for Detroit, but it's much better than being a part of the Western Conference, considering that the city is in the Eastern Time Zone, and the majority of its opponents in the West are not. Imagine living in a city where many of the away games start at 9 and 10 o'clock local time. And, naturally, it's still a lot less travel.

Having a good team like Detroit out of the West will certainly help the Oilers come out of the basement, but the plan is still for the team to be able to beat the best one day anyway. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

05/29/11 29.0 Oilers Sign Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones

The Edmonton Oilers re-signed forward Ryan Jones on Sunday. OilersNation and Twitter has it that the deal is for two years at $3 million, which would mean a cap hit of a million and a half per year. That's maybe a little bit more than many Oilers analysts would have liked (the number being floated was $1.3M per) but there's a certain premium that must be paid for the fact that it's only a two year deal. Players want some job security just like everyone else, but Jones' performance in 2010-11, while solid, was still only one year. It didn't merit getting tied down to a player for three or more years, so the Oilers had to cough up a little more money.

This contract is probably somewhere around fair market value for Jones. The Oilers didn't overpay, but they didn't exactly get a hometown discount either. There's no particular reason that they should, really, except that the Oilers are the first NHL team to give Jones a legitimate shot. Then again, Jones played well enough to merit a decent raise. The length of time that passed between the beginning of negotiations on the Jones contract and the time it was actually signed leads one to believe that there was a bit of a gap between the two sides that was finally bridged today.

The Oilers are now secure on the left wing for at least the next two seasons (assuming that Paajarvi continues to develop as planned). 18 goals is still 18 goals, but it's a number that Jones will be hard-pressed to repeat. His drive, exuberance, and love of scoring is truly something to behold, and it means that Jones will likely do his best to live up to the new pact. However, his shooting percentage of 14.3% was tied for first on the team, which means that Jones is a player who had a lot of puck luck this year. Scoring another 18 goals will be tough, especially if the Oilers somehow manage to ice a healthy roster for the majority of the 2011-12 season.

But Jones brings more to the table that just statistics. He's a capable and energetic penalty killer already, and as he continues to hone that skill he could end up being very good in that regard. The Oilers' top-six is all but set going forward, but there is a dearth of high end bottom six players on the team at the moment. If the penalty kill is ever going to improve - or keep up with the best in the league - it's going to have to start with players like Jones.

Here's hoping he's up to the task.

Friday, 27 May 2011

05/27/11 28.0 NHL.com Mock Drafts

Christopher Gibson

Every year on NHL.com, Adam Kimelman, Mike Morreale and Steven Hoffner release mock drafts. In fact, they release several. They come out through the season and are an indication of how some experts think the draft will play out. The interesting thing about these mock drafts is that they take into account the needs of the teams who are selecting in a certain position. The final mock drafts are out for these three, and they all agree on who the Oilers will take first overall. Not surprisingly, it's that undersized center from Red Deer with the great hands and vision. But where they don't all agree is what the Oilers will do with LA's pick. Unless something changes, the Oilers will be selecting 19th overall. Here's a look at the three mock drafts from NHL.com.

Adam Kimelman's mock draft has the Oilers taking goaltender Christopher Gibson 19th overall. Gibson's team, the Chicoutimi Sageuneens, made the QMJHL playoffs despite finishing 13th in an 18 team league with a record of 27-29-12. Despite the obvious shortcomings of the team, Gibson led the league with a .920 save percentage and was second in the league with a 2.42 goals against average. He also had four shutouts, which was good for a tie for second in the league. Only Jacob DeSerres of the St. John Sea Dogs had a better GAA, and he played 7 fewer games and faced 350 fewer shots than Gibson. DeSerres was also playing on the best team in the league.

The Oilers took goaltender Tyler Bunz last year, who is tracking very well, and they also have Olivier Roy in the fold from the 2009 draft. Roy lost the starting job at this year's World Junior Championship, but he's still an interesting prospect in goal. Do the Oilers need another goaltender? Christopher Gibson is ranked at #2 among North American goaltenders in Central Scouting's final rankings, but goalies tend to drop in the draft. The Hockey News had Olivier Roy ranked 38th overall in 2009's Draft Preview and he fell almost 100 spots to the Oilers at 133rd overall in the 5th round. Good though Gibson may be, it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that the Oilers should burn the 19th pick on him when he could easily fall to them later in the draft if they wanted him. Steve Tambellini has tended to take a goalie each draft year, but always in the later rounds. Gibson would have had to really impress for that trend to break.

Jamie Oleksiak

Hoffner and Morreale's mock drafts both have the Oilers taking defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak 19th overall. This pick is probably more realistic, especially if the Oilers do take Nugent-Hopkins first. Oleksiak is ranked 13th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, so he could drop to number 19. Oleksiak is ranked at 17th overall by The Hockey News, and at 6'7" and 244 pounds, it's hard to imagine that he'll drop too far in this draft. An unnamed scout is quoted in The Hockey News Draft Preview as saying that Oleksiak is a poor-man's Tyler Myers. While he may not have the same hockey sense as Myers, Oleksiak is the massive shut-down type of defenseman that the Oilers will need going forward. However, the team has already taken steps in that direction by acquiring Colten Tuebert and drafting Alex Plante. On the other hand, the number of busts among very large players is high, so adding as many as possible is important if a team is going to have one that develops properly.

Oleksiak currently plays for Northeastern University, where he amassed 4 goals and 9 assists for 13 points in 38 games. He also had 57 penalty minutes.

It seems about as certain that the Oilers will take Nugent-Hopkins first overall as it is that Winnipeg will get the Atlanta Thrashers at this point, and in that case the organization will probably want to take a defenseman if they aren't able to use LA's pick to move up. Oleksiak is a decent option at 19th, and his size alone is justification enough for a team that is mostly itty-bitty. However, that doesn't mean that Christopher Gibson wouldn't be a solid pick as well, and if the Oilers get the chance they wouldn't be out of line in drafting him.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

05/26/11 27.0 What To Do With Souray?

What do you do with him? The Sheldon Souray question continues to drag on. And on, and on, and on...

This is a player that once scored an NHL record 19 powerplay goals (by a defeseman) in a season, and finished up that year with a total of 26. He scored a career-high 64 points in that same campaign (2006-07) with Montreal. He's scored 23 goals in a single year for the Oilers, and despite his many injuries he managed to have a respectable 0.53 points per game average in Edmonton. At that pace, Souray would have managed 130 points (roughly 43 per year) over three full, healthy seasons.

But Souray wasn't healthy.

When the Oilers signed souray in the summer of 2007, the biggest question mark surrounding him was his glaring -28 rating from the previous year. Despite those 64 points, Souray's plus/minus was abysmal, which led some to the conclusion that he was a shoddy defensive performer.

However, there was another reason why the big blueliner didn't get a contract until the 12th day of free-agency that summer. There may have been some awareness at the time that he was damaged goods. Kevin Lowe rolled the dice, hoping that Souray would either be healthy enough to play through the following season, or that if surgery was required it wouldn't put him out for too long. With all the things that were going bad for the Oilers at the time, Lowe needed to land at least one big fish in the off season. After all, the money that wasn't spent on Ryan Smyth was intended for a big free agent.

Whatever the smoke and mirrors that have been put up by both sides since the contract was signed, the real reason that Souray signed in Edmonton was lack of market interest. Souray obviously had a number that he wanted to be paid thanks to his fantastic 2006-07 season, and the Oilers were the only team desperate enough (and who had enough cap space) to sign him. It was short-term thinking by Kevin Lowe, who needed to justify the Smyth trade with more immediate dividends than the package that he receieved from the Islanders.

Four years later, even the most critical would never have thought that things would go this sour. Steve Tambellini exiled Souray to the AHL's Hershey Bears, where he managed 4-15-19, 85 penalty minutes and a plus-10 rating in 40 games. Those numbers aren't exactly inspirational for a player that should arguably be lighting up the American Hockey League.

At this point it seems highly unlikely that any team will claim Souray on waivers, and he definitely isn't coming back to Edmonton. So now the Oilers have the choice of loaning him to an AHL team for the 2011-12 season, or buying him out of his contract. The bonus to loaning Souray is that his contract doesn't count against the cap, but the Oilers aren't in a position for that to matter at the moment.

Conversely, if management buys Souray out he will be owed $3 million which will be paid over the next two seasons. Therefore, ownership saves $1.5 million in actual salary, but Souray's cap hit will be on the books next year for $2.4 million and $1.5 million in 2012-13.

It's an ugly situation, and there's no right answer. At this point it's probably better to just save the money and buy Souray out of his contract. The cap hits are unfortunate, but they aren't debilitating, and the hit will be gone by the time the cap becomes an issue again for the Oilers.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

05/25/11 11.3 Still More Odds & Ends

Is this the end of the Red Ox? It probably is the end in Edmonton, at least. In a rare bit of actual Oilers news (rare for this time of year), Liam Reddox announced yesterday that he has decided to sign over in Sweden with Vaxjo.

Reddox said that if the Oilers had given him a one-way deal he would have played for them for the league minimum, but management wasn't prepared to do that. With a glut of future fourth liners already in the system, it didn't make sense to guarantee Reddox a spot when he could easily be outplayed by others at training camp.

This will probably end up being a good move for both parties. Reddox will get a chance to hone his game in the Swedish Elite League, which is reasonably well suited to his style. Also, given that Vaxjo will be playing its first season in the SEL in 2011-12, a former NHLer like Reddox should get plenty of opportunity. Reddox will be highly motivated while playing there, and if it translates into a strong season he could end up back in the NHL in no time.

The Oilers probably would have loved to keep Reddox in the fold as a call-up since he's a decent penalty killer, but not on a one-way deal. Reddox simply didn't produce enough to justify his roster spot; effective though he was while shorthanded. The Oilers' pipeline is going to be overflowing soon, so it's probably right for the organization to give tryouts to the other fourth liners that are coming who also have two-way deals.

Some Other Headlines:

- Vacouver is going to the Stanley Cup Final blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda.

- Once again Tampa Bay rallied and won a must-win game to stave off elimination. Game 7 should be one hell of a gooder.

- The St. John Sea Dogs have punched their ticket to the Memorial Cup Final with two wins to start the tournament. They are the first QMJHL team to make the final since Quebec won it all in 2006. Tomas Jurco leads the tournament with 4 goals (including one off his head) and an assist in St. Johns' 3 games. Depending on how things finish, his performance could see him move up some draft lists. Huberdeau has 2 goals and 2 assists in the 3 games.

Host Mississauga beat the Owen Sound Attack tonight, which is a small measure of revenge for them. Mississauga blew a 3-2 series lead in the OHL Final and relinquished the league championship to Owen Sound, but now the St. Michael's Majors have a bye to the semi-final. Meanwhile, the Owen Sound Attack will play the Kootenay Ice in an elimination tie-breaker to determine who will play the Majors for the chance to appear in the final against St. John.

- Brian Rafalski is hanging up the skates. It's been a very good career for one of the best undrafted players ever. In 11 NHL seasons, Rafalski appeared in the Stanley Cup Final 5 times. Leaving $6 million in salary is not an easy thing to do, but when it comes to careers, Rafalski's was as full as it gets.

This leaves some major question marks for the Red Wings going forward. If Nicklas Lidstom retires, it will leave Brad Stuart as that team's number one defenseman. Ruslan Salei and Jonathan Ericsson are both Unrestricted Free Agents, so GM Ken Holland will have to basically rebuild the entire blueline of his team. Either way, expect a dropoff from the Wings next year.

- It's looking more and more like it was a very good thing that Dany Heatley didn't come to Edmonton. The 30 year old had just 3 goals in the playoffs for the Sharks, and is coming off statistically his worst full season ever. Last year Heatley had just 2 goals in the post season for San Jose and he's only managed to ripple the netting 15 times in 66 playoff games. Almost fully half of those tallies came in Ottawa's 2007 Cup run, when he had 7 goals.

In hindsight, Oiler fans are happy that Heatley didn't come and improve the team enough to ruin its chances of finishing 30th and drafting Taylor Hall. Hall has the potential to be as good as Heatley, and for a much longer span of time.

- Is the NHL ever going to make the announcement that all the people of Manitoba are waiting for? Are the Thrashers leaving the NHL money pit that is Atlanta and moving north of the border? It would be the second time an Atlanta team has moved to Canada (the other of course being Edmonton's hated rivals down in Calgary), but it's more important than that. It means that an American team is coming to Canada rather than the reverse for the first time since those Atlanta Flames. It's a good sign for the strength of the Canadian hockey (and financial) market.

It seems pretty obvious that the Thrashers will be sold and relocated at some point. If Winnipeg gets them, what will the team be called? Calgary kept the Flames moniker when they got Atlanta's last team, but the people of Winnipeg seem to want the Jets. It'll be a blow to the prestige of the NHL to not only have a failing team that was once the Jets, but also another failing team that turned back into the Jets. Will the new Winnipeg team do better on merchandising if they go back to the Jets name, or if they change the name and force all the devotees to buy new jerseys, car flags, nick-nacks and doo-dads?

- At least one man high in the Oilers organization is happy that the Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup Final. Jeff Tambellini, Steve's son, has the opportunity to win it all. Steve managed the feat with the Islanders back in 1980, and he's got to feel good about his son's chances. It's got to be hard to preside over a 30th place team, but the Oilers will have their day in the sun down the road. No one will begrudge Tambo if he's cheering for the Northwest Division rival in the final round.

- Finally, we all remember articles like this one back in 2009:


Jagr is quoted as saying that Edmonton would be his first choice for an NHL return and that he "[will] never forget" that Edmonton pushed so hard to get him back then. Apparently the former NHL star has developed a case of Alzheimers, because when asked about his NHL return this time around, he didn't even mention the Oilers. In fact, Montreal came up because they are a Canadian team, but not the Oilers.

The reason is probably very simple: the Oilers don't want him anymore. They aren't starving for offensive help on the wing and to give him ice time over a young, developing forward like Eberle would be a mistake. The one benefit would be that Jagr could really help the kids to grow and mature mentally in the game, and he could probably teach them a few tricks as well. But that benefit doesn't mean a thing if he's robbing the Oilers' best youngsters of ice time, since they are all on the wing. If Jagr was a center, you can bet your buns the Oilers would want to sign him for the interim between sucking and being respectable, but he isn't. Besides, who would want to play here at that point in their career? If Jagr comes back, it will be to try to win. Edmonton can't offer that to anyone quite yet. Don't feel slighted, Oiler fans. It just doesn't make sense for either side.

05/25/11 26.0 And End to Enforcers

That was a great tilt. Unless you're Raitis Ivanans... Or a Calgary Flames fan, for that matter.

But great as that fight was, it was really the only time all season that big Steve MacIntyre made an impact. You can't help but cheer for the guy because he has a feel good story; coming all the way through several minor leagues and battling his way onto the Oilers' roster. The theory is that having a big guy like MacIntyre would deter other NHL teams from taking liberties with the Oilers' young talented forwards. It makes sense on paper, but it hasn't worked in practice. It's time to stop trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and eliminate the designated Super-heavyweight "enforcer" position from the Oilers roster.

The Edmonton Oilers lost 281 man games to injury this season. That number is way down from 530 last year, so on the surface of it one might assume that the MacIntyre experiment is working. You tend to have less crime when there's a cop on the beat, right?

Even more tellingly, very few of the Oilers' injuries came from opposing players taking liberties, and none of the major injuries were incurred that way. But they weren't the year before either, and that's without MacIntyre.

In 2009-10, Sheldon Souray got hurt by Jarome Iginla and then proceeded to break his hand in a fight with Iginla after he got back, but that's not an opposing player taking advantage of a weaker Oiler. Marc Pouliot was out with a groin injury, Pisani's colitis flared up, Khabibulin tweaked his back, Ryan Stone somehow hurt his knee, Smid aggravated an old neck injury, Jacques re-injured his back. The list goes on, but those are the major ones. There were a lot of injuries that year, but not having an enforcer was not the reason for any of them.

But, you say: Ales Hemsky was taken into the boards by Handzus, which put #83 on the shelf for the rest of the season! And you'd be right. The hit was certainly from behind, but once again the contact only aggravated an existing injury. It was only a matter of time before Hemsky would need the surgery that he ended up needing. And most importantly of all: what could an enforcer have done about the Handzus hit? Is Steve MacIntyre going to jump over the boards and fight Michal Handzus? Not likely.

Which brings us to the findamental flaw in the theory of enforcers: they don't police the average player.

Heavyweights generally fight other heavyweights because anyone else would be crazy to do it. Sure, MacIntyre could have gone out the next time Handzus had a shift and started ragdolling him all over the ice, but for them to actually fight would be unlikely. According to hockeyfights.com, Handzus has a grand total of 3 fights in his career, so he isn't making a living taking on the heavyweights of the league. It's seen as somewhat dishonorable to just pummel a smaller or unwilling player, but thanks to the instigator rule it's not only dishonorable; it's stupid. It doesn't help the enforcer's team to engage in a tit-for-tat battle when it costs the team a penalty and possibly a goal.

There's a constant arms race going on in the NHL. If your nearest rival gets better scoring, you have to get better scoring. If your rival gets bigger then it follows that you must match. But it doesn't make sense to have an enforcer - even if everyone else does - unless he can play a regular shift.

It makes perfect sense to have a guy like Dave Semenko, who served famously as "Gretzky's bodyguard," but that's because Semenko could be deployed on a line with The Great One. An enforcer is almost useless if he isn't actually out there with the better players on the team. To have a guy who will play an average of 3 minutes per game (or less) over less than half a season is a waste of a roster spot, and doesn't protect anyone anyway. The Oilers tended only to use MacIntyre when the other team had a heavyweight, and the opposite is probably also true. If there's no one for the super-heavyweights to fight, they don't even play.

The reason that the Edmonton Oilers sometimes get pushed around by other teams is that the team lacks toughness throughout the lineup, not for a lack of an enforcer. What the Oilers really need is a pest - someone who can get into the heads of the opposition's best. Pests are useful because they can get other teams off of their games, force them to make mistakes and take stupid penalties. As an added bonus, pests can usually play a little too, which gives the coach more flexibility with his lines.

There's an article on this blog damning Matt Cooke, who is a pest, but Cooke is not the type of player the Oilers need. There are players who walk the line and those who cross it, and Cooke is of the latter variety. If only one could go back in time and bring back Esa Tikkanen... While that won't happen, Jarkko Ruutu might work.

This article is not an indictment of fighting in hockey or the men who make their living doing it. It isn't intended to discuss the moral dilemma of whether it's right to expect people to bash each other's faces in while teetering on razor-sharp skates and probably not wearing helmets. Fighting does have its place. Oiler fans remember Derek Boogaard well, and feared when the Boogeyman came to town. What Boogaard brought was an intangible of striking fear into the opposition, and that did have value. But the simple fact is that there aren't many Derek Boogaards in the league, and that's part of why he'll be missed.

Many of these types of players wouldn't make the NHL at all if it weren't for fighting, and so fans have an easy time rooting for them. Not to mention the fact that it isn't hard to want to watch the teams use their nuclear arms against each other and see what happens. It's like a heavyweight boxing match and an NHL game all in one.

But it doesn't necessarily help the team win. In fact, looking for an enforcer can be a quick fix that distracts from the real goal, which is to instill toughness everywhere in the lineup. To expect one man to shoulder that whole burden is asking too much, especially if coaches can't or won't play them.

It's much more intimidating to face an entire team that can clobber you at any moment with a bodycheck than to just have one bully you have to avoid. Team toughness is a relentless attack that grinds the opposition down (especially in the playoffs), and that's what the Oilers need more of.

As for Big Mac, we all wish him well and thank him for that fight on opening night. And for this hit:

Monday, 23 May 2011

05/21/11 25.0 What's Missing?

Many of those in the media who follow the Edmonton Oilers have been saying that the team is X amount of players away from being a contender. Everyone has their own opinion on just how many players that is, and while it's helpful to have a guage, it doesn't really address what is missing from the team. Exactly how many players are missing from the Oilers roster that will turn them from a bottom-feeder to a contender? What positions are the weakest, and need the most improvement? Most importantly, who might be available to help fill those holes?

Really the only way to tell what the team is lacking is by looking at teams that are successful in the NHL. What's needed is a team to serve as the model; one which is successful both in the playoffs and the regular season. Hard as it is to admit, the Vancouver Canucks may be that team. They haven't won the Stanley Cup yet, but if they make it by San Jose it's hard to imagine one of the Eastern finalists besting them. This is a team that is good now and should remain that way for some time. Vancouver is also a fairly balanced team (they are strong at all positions), which makes them a good example to follow.

Firstly, here's a look at Vancouver's depth chart:

Vancouver's forward lines look something like this (assuming that everyone is healthy and everyone stays on for next season):

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Mikael Samulsson
Chris Higgins - Manny Malhotra - Raffi Torres
Jeff Tambellini / Victor Oreskovich - Maxim Lapierre / Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen

That's pretty solid balance throughout the lineup. There's some grit and toughness there, some chirpiness, and of course there's plenty of scoring. If we compare the forward lines of the Canucks to that of the Oilers, we can start to see the holes. Oilers players are listed below if they are now - or could conceivably be - of comparable quality to the same player in the Canucks' lineup. At the positions where the Oilers can't match the Canucks player, there is an X. Where scoring ability is not so much a factor, intangibles will substitute.

Taylor Hall - X - Jordan Eberle
Magnus Paajarvi - X - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Jones - Shawn Horcoff - Linus Omark
X - Gilbert Brule / Andrew Cogliano - Teemu Hartikainen

Sam Gagner is not on this list because it seems unlikely that he'll end up being as good as Henrik Sedin, nor as complete a player as Ryan Kesler. However, he'll also probably end up being better than Manny Malhotra (at least offensively), which means he doesn't fit into the third line spot either. Thankfully for the Oilers, there's no real panic when it comes to Gagner's development, which means that they can keep him in the fold on the second line for a while and hope that he comes along as they originally thought he would. If that happens, the Oilers will have a player who, while not like Kesler in style, could conceivably get close to him in overall quality. Gagner is still very young, and it's much too early to write him off as a prospect. He could still end up as a near-elite player, which is what the team will need for the second line center position.

The Oilers are now (or in some cases, will be) as good as or better than the Canucks on the wings. It's hard to say that anyone could be as good or better than Daniel Sedin, but Taylor Hall has that kind of potential. Furthermore, it isn't as much of a stretch to suggest that Eberle will be better than Burrows, or that Paajarvi could better than Raymond. Ales Hemsky is already a better offensive performer than Mikael Samuelsson, though Samuelsson is still a very good player. Raffi Torres and Linus Omark aren't similar in style, but Omark should be able to contribute at least as much offensively.

What the team is lacking is two centers, and some overall toughness throughout the forward lines. Notice that there is no "stick optional" goon type of player who is theoretically supposed to protect Vancouver's lineup; at least not one that is only a designated fighter. Even a guy like Tanner Glass plays a somewhat regular shift. While he's not an offensive dynamo, he did manage to contribute more than the Oilers' Colin Fraser or Steve Macintyre both on the scoreboard and in terms of a physical presence. The fact that every player on the Canucks roster can actually play gives that team the flexibility to roll four lines and get their elite players at their freshest.

There are at least 3 players missing from the forward lines. Assuming that everyone develops as planned (which is sometimes assuming a lot), the Oilers should be set on the wings for years to come, and Horcoff is steady as a third line center. If Brule and Cogliano don't pan out as fourth line centers, the Oilers still have Lander, Vande Velde and O'Marra coming, so they should be set there as well. Naturally, the top two center positions are the hardest holes to fill, and also where the Oilers are the weakest, but there is the opportunity to address that particular weakness through the draft. If Nugent-Hopkins is selected by the Oilers and he pans out as well as many believe that he will, then he could eventually end up being as good a set-up man as Henrik Sedin.

The Defense:

Vancouver's defense doesn't boast what you could call a true number one. There's no Nicklas Lidstrom or Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger on this team, but there doesn't have to be because once again there is a good balance. This is exactly the reason that a comparison betwee the Oilers and Canucks could be a good one. Barring some unforseen trade, free agent signing or draft pick (like perhaps Adam Larsson), the Oilers will not have a true number one defenseman. However, the Canucks have shown that that doesn't mean that a team can't have a solid defensive group.

Speaking of the draft, the Canucks prove yet again that there is no need to draft a defenseman with a top-five pick in order to build a solid blueline. Vancouver drafted only two of their regular defensemen: Bieksa and Edler. Obviously those two are key cogs in the Canucks' defense, but Edler was drafted 91st overall and Bieksa was a 5th round, 151st overall pick.

In order of regular season ice time per game, here are the Canucks' regular rearguards:

Alexander Edler (8-25-33)
Christian Erhoff (14-36-50)
Dan Hamhuis (6-17-23)
Kevin Bieksa (6-16-22)
Sami Salo (over 27 games) (3-4-6)
Aaron Rome (1-5)
Keith Ballard (2-5-7)

Not a true number one among them. However, it is a solid defense. Luongo and Schneider certainly had something to do with it, but this team had the fewest goals scored against it in the regular season. That stat is due, at least in part, to this defensive group.

So how do the Oilers stack up? As you might imagine, they don't stack up well. Once again, here is a list of the Oiler's current defensemen who can match (or could one day match) those of the Canucks. Where the Oilers can't match, there is an X.

Jeff Petry*
Ryan Whitney
Ladislav Smid
Theo Peckham

Jeff Petry gets an asterisk because it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that he'll end up being as good as Edler at this point. Certainly the potential is there for him, but he's got a ways to go. Whitney has shown that he can put up points like Erhoff can, and he can also eat up a large amount of minutes. Smid and Peckham can bring the physical presence and log similar ice time to Rome and Ballard, but Peckham in particular has work to do to be more complete.

The Oilers have no legitimate answer for Hamhuis, Bieksa or Salo. It could be argued that Tom Gilbert is somewhat similar in style and usage to Salo, but Gilbert is a poor-man's Salo at best. This list is being kind to the Oilers' defense because it also accounts for players' potential, but right now the drop-off in talent from Whitney is huge.

Seeing that there are at least 3 defensmen missing (and possibly more depending on the development of the rookies) might make some argue that the Oilers should draft Adam Larsson first overall. But, as stated previously, the Canucks defense was not built that way. Of the regular defensemen listed, only Hamhuis and Ballard were drafted in the first round, and none were drafted in the top ten overall. Also, this defense was amassed slowly, over a period of several years as the team improved, which is something that the Oilers will have to do as well.

In goal, the Canucks have the arguably the best goalie in the league, who is backed up by a guy who could probably be a number one on most teams.

This is where things get a bit more dicey. Having a goalie like Luongo definitely helps a team, but recent history shows us that it's not absolutely necessary to have the best goalie out there to win the Stanley Cup. Antti Niemi has silenced a lot of doubters in these playoffs, but he's also had some shaky performances. His opponents in last year's Stanley Cup Final, the Philadelphia Flyers, didn't have a real number one goalie.

Then again, stout goaltending is important come playoff time. Nikolai Khabibulin probably won't be around when the team starts winning, which means that the mantle will pass to his current backup Devan Dubnyk. Once again, we can only look at Dubnyk in terms of projections because the sample size of his NHL work is so small. He has the potential to be a number one goaltender, and even though he didn't always win, he showed that he had the mental toughness to withstand the rigors. There weren't many nights when he seemed like his head just wasn't in the game, which is a strong indicator for goalies.

If Dubnyk develops as Oilers' management hopes he will, he will probably be good enough to backstop the team's future. After that, the Oilers will need to find a solid backup, which is relatively easy through free agency. Also, the team has prospects Olivier Roy and Tyler Bunz who could both end up as legitimate backups at least.

The Implications:

The Oilers are at least 6 players away from being a contender. Less if Sam Gagner develops as planned; more if you count a goaltending backup and if the other rookies don't progress properly.

This is another case study that can be used in the argument for drafting a center first overall, because players like Henrik Sedin do not appear in free agency, and there's not really ever a good reason for teams to trade them. Conversely, the Oilers' defense could be built in the same way that Vancouver's was and still end up being just as good one day. Even though the Oilers' defense is their weakest point right now, in the long view it is better to let quality, experienced rearguards come to you.

So if the magic number is 6, there is work to be done. We already knew that. What we don't know is how all those holes will be filled. Painful though it is to watch a losing team, watching it be built and growing it together is a special thrill in itself.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

05/19/11 11.2 More Odds & Ends

Here's a look at what's been going on, and some stories of interest in the NHL:

- The Tampa Bay Lightning are down 2 games to 1 in their Eastern Conference Final series against Boston. Dwayne Roloson hasn't lost his flare for the dramatic. He's been flopping all over the ice to make saves. Like most players, Roloson sometimes seems a bit robotic when he's being interviewed, but he truly is a character and he shows it on the ice. According to Craig MacTavish on the TSN panel, no one works the officials as hard as Roloson between whistles. And from batting the puck out of the zone with his goal stick, to the alarming frequency with which he loses his mask (possibly to force stoppages in play), Roloson has shown through his performances that his mind works on a different level than what he shows the public.

It's not that a mask can't fall off for real sometimes, but Roloson's seems to fall off more than most. The puck hits him in the mask and he shakes it off. Oiler fans have seen that from Roloson before.

- Ever wonder about that scar on Lightning coach Guy Boucher's face?

If you have, it turns out that's exactly what he wanted. Nobody knows how he got it but him, and he likes it that way. According to Wikipedia:

When asked how he received it, Boucher said "it's not hockey-related. I didn't tell anybody back home, so it's like this little enigma. My kids don't even know."

- Vancouver dominated San Jose in Game 2, and the Sharks are starting to look like they will be swept in the Conference Final for the second straight year. The Sharks look tired out there, which is probably a symptom of allowing Detroit back into their series and extending it seven hard-fought games. San Jose eliminated Detroit in 5 last year before being swept by Chicago. How do you think going seven games with the Red Wings and six with LA will affect them? We're seeing the answer. It will take an unbelievable turn around for them to win the series, but the Sharks are owed one from '06, when they blew a 2-0 series advatage to the Oilers.

- Kevin Bieksa made an interesting play in game 2, covering the net cam with his skate right after Patrick Marleau jammed the puck by Roberto Luongo. At that time it was the tying goal. Ultimately Bieksa's skate didn't matter because the goal was counted and the net cam view was not the deciding factor, but it's still an interesting move. First of all, it suggests that Bieksa saw the puck cross the line, and - surprise, surprise - he wanted to cover up the fact! Apparently the NHL was slightly amused by the play, probably because it was futile. Because of that he wasn't fined, but he was issued a warning.

That could have been a series changing moment that was blocked out by a skate. Just ask Calgary Flames fans how video replay can affect the Stanley Cup Playoffs (though Gelinas did not score on that play in 2004). To be Frank, Bieksa's play was a smart one. Winning a Stanley Cup is everything and if his skate had made the difference between a Vancouver win and loss, why not? It perverts the game and should not be tolerated, but what's worse:

A reprimand and maybe even a fine from the NHL, or a Stanley Cup and all the perks and pay increases that will come with that? For a potential unrestricted free agent, a Cup ring would look really good on his resume. See the video here:

- Tyler Seguin was held off the scoresheet tonight in Boston. Does this mean that Seguin really isn't going to be better than Taylor Hall? It's no surprise that Seguin is a good player and a clutch performer, but two games are not a large enough cross-section to judge the player, and certainly not enough to say that the Oilers made the wrong selection. By that logic, the Oilers should have traded Hall for Fabian Brunnstom, who scored a hat-trick in his first NHL game, but who has 40 points in 99 NHL games. It's not that Seguin won't be a good player, but to suggest that he'll be better than Hall is premature.

The Lightning weren't expecting Seguin to be in the lineup at all, and they certainly had no reason to expect to have to key on him. Combine that with a highly motivated young player and you have 6 points in 2 games. What will really tell the tale is how Seguin performs now that teams know to take him seriously.

- The Memorial Cup Tournament begins Friday. Mississauga, St. John, Owen Sound and Kootenay will be the the teams that duke it out for the trophy. Jonathan Huberdeau is the only real top prospect to make the Memorial Cup this year, scoring 16-14-30 in 19 playoff games with St. John. Teammate Zack Phillips has amassed 9-15-24 in the 17 contests he's gotten into, and could be pushing himself up the draft rankings. The Sea Dogs have to be seen as a serious contender to win it all, and it will be interesting to see how that affects the rankings of the six players on that team who were invited to the NHL combine. These players include a defenseman and five forwards: Nathan Beaulieu, Huberdeau, Phillips, Tomas Jurco, Scott Oke and Ryan Tesink.

- According to Stephen Brunt, the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold to True North in Winnipeg, and Nick Kypreos confirmed it. Then again, Sportsnet has jumped the gun before on these matters. Kypreos and Doug MacLean reported that Phoenix would be moving to Winnipeg as soon as they were eliminated from the playoffs, which obviously didn't happen. The league denied the report at the time, and of course Phoenix ended up finding a way to stay put for another year. The NHL is denying the sale of the Thrashers at this time as well.

Brunt claims that the NHL planned to announce the acquisition of the Thrashers by True North on Tuesday, so it's then that we'll see what the truth really is. It wouldn't be at all surprising if the Thrashers moved, and it would actually be a good thing for the league as a whole, but it's difficult to believe until Gary Bettman holds the press conference to confirm it. Until that time, who knows what can happen.

That's it for now. More to come soon...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

05/18/11 24.0 New Arena Closer to Reality

The city of Edmonton needs a new downtown arena. Yes, the city; not just the hockey team that calls it home. The new arena district will be beneficial to more than just hockey fans in Edmonton. In fact, it will help to not only revitalize the aged and decrepit downtown core, but it will contribute to putting the city on the map. You are here because you are a hockey fan, which means that chances are you're in favor of the new arena. But this is something that every citizen should care about, and something that should excite us all. Today city council agreed on the framework of an agreement that is a major step toward the new arena district. Let's break down the particulars:

Daryl Katz will contribute 100 million dollars, the city of Edmonton will contribute $125 million and a user-fee (like a ticket tax) will pay for $125 million. That's $350 million, which still leaves $100 million to find. The city and the Katz Group agree that the cost will be $450 million, and the project will not go forward until all of the money is accounted for. The agreement today means that both the city and the Katz Group can now pursue additional sources of funding. When that funding is located, the two sides will hammer out the terms of the master agreement which will then mean that the project can get underway.

This is extremely encouraging news for the potential of an arena, because time is of the essence. The Oilers' lease of Rexall Place expires in 2014, so it's very important that a new arena be built before then. If funding and a deal can be put together and somehow ground can be broken in 2011, it will mean that the deadline could be feasible. Otherwise, the Oilers will have to extend the lease at Rexall Place for another year - a deal that is not likely to be favorable for the Oilers. City council does not believe that the city can support both Rexall Place and the new downtown arena, so if Northlands isn't part of the deal it will probably want to squeeze Katz in that lease extension.

If the arena is built, then it - and the land it's on - will be owned by the city. The Katz Group will have a lease there, which will presumably last for 35 years. That's because it's part of the conditions the city put forth that the Oilers remain in Edmonton for that period of time. That's great news for the security of the franchise. The Katz Group will operate the arena and they will get all the revenue from it and also be responsible for all the costs. Now one wonders where that leaves Northlands. Also, one wonders if the cost of beer will decrease... Chances are not good.

The Community Revitalization Levy, or CRL, is part of the way that the city intends to keep up their end of the bargain. The city did not want to increase property taxes across Edmonton, but the property taxes surrounding the arena will increase. The boundries of the CRL taxation were proposed to be from 109 street to 97 street and from 106 avenue to 102 avenue. The area is not a perfect square, but those are the basic parameters. However, the CRL will account for $45 million of the city's $125 million commitment instead of the $125 million CRL that was originally proposed, which means that the boundries of the CRL will be bigger. Because the overall cost that the CRL is covering is lower, it will mean that spreading out the cost will ease the burden and pay for it faster. Also, the increased fees from parking in the arena district and the surrounding area will help to cover the cost. Parking downtown already costs an arm and a leg, and it's only going to get worse inside that area, but it's a necessary evil.

Only new tax revenue would go to the arena, which means that the taxes already being paid in those areas would still go to infrastructure and education. As such, only tax revenue that is generated as a result of the arena development will got to the CRL. The city provides an excellent example:

"Mr. A and Mr. B own lots in the CRL zone. Both currently are parking lots and they are located directly next to each other. Today both businessmen pay $500 in taxes. The City approves a CRL in the area where the two lots are located. Mr. A builds a 20-storey condominium tower on his lot and Mr. B leaves his lot as is. Mr. B continues to pay $500 in taxes but Mr. A, who is collecting new revenue from his condominium tower, sees his taxes increase to $10,000 as a result of his new development. The increased amount – in this case $9,500 – would be used to pay for the CRL."

Originally, the Katz Group did not want to use a ticket tax to cover the cost of the arena, but the new framework agreement includes this measure, which means that Katz has agreed to it in principal. This was a major hurdle in getting the funding model approved, since without it the project would be without $125 million.

18, 500 seats is the number to expect for the new arena, but it's not set yet. This new agreement changes that. Now the two sides can come together and begin to finalize the design and components of the new arena and the district, so as to better understand the costs and logistics required to build it.

This is a major step for the development of the city. A new arena would totally change the look of the downtown, and bring it back to life. Let's face it: our downtown is a combination of skyscrapers and broken down old buildings and low-income housing. It is not exactly a place with a great deal to do. Being central, it should be the focul point of the city. If you live in the East end of Edmonton, it's further to West Edmonton Mall than downtown. If you're on the North side, you're closer to downtown than Whyte Avenue. Why not make downtown the place to be?

The Katz Group put together a website (revitalizedowntown.ca), and in it they provided some very interesting case studies of cities with shoddy downtown districts that turned them around with arenas. The case studies can be found here:


Clearly these case studies show that a new arena can transform a city. The great thing about a new arena in Edmonton is that you don't have to be a hockey fan to reap the benefits. There are enough great fans of the Oilers in this city - and all of Northern Alberta - to make an arena district viable. When you factor in a world-class location for concerts and other events in a city that is already a major destination for big acts, you have a facility that can benefit the entire community.

The money that is spent and invested in the district will help to change the face of Edmonton for the better whether you're a patron or not, and that's something that every Edmontonian should be thrilled about.

Monday, 16 May 2011

05/16/11 23.0 Changing of the Guard

It's no revelation that the winds of change have been blowing in the NHL since the lockout. The salary cap has changed a great many things in this hockey world of ours. It's that much harder to build a dynasty team and to keep it together, and it's arguable whether there will ever be another team like the Oilers and Islanders of the seventies and eighties. Not that there won't be teams that dominate, but there may never be one that dominates so consistently for so long. But the salary cap has forced some other changes as well. One of the more prominent ones is the fact that the value of a draft pick is increased because young, cheap talent is so necessary to build a champion. The older, better teams are still always going to fade away to the young up-and-comers, but the cap has made the change more noticeable.

In the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, and Calgary Flames are all either in decline or in the midst of massive overhauls in the case of Colorado. These are all teams that have - to a certain degree - become synonymous with winning in the West. Oiler fans remember all too well how good Colorado and Dallas were in the 90's and early 2000's. Detroit's resume still speaks for itself. Calgary never really reached the heights of those others, but they were a perennial second-tier contender for the better part of the last decade.*

The Dallas Stars were able to trade James Neal to Pittsburgh because they still boast some decent depth on the wings in Loui Eriksson, Brenden Morrow and Jamie Benn. But if Brad Richards leaves Dallas, it will make Mike Ribeiro their number one center without much behind him besides Steve Ott. Their defense is questionable (though Goligoski will help), and it's headlined by 34 year old Stephane Robidas. Robidas is solid, but time is beginning to catch up to him. All-in-all this is not the team that Oiler fans hated and feared in the 90's.

In Detroit: Holmstrom is 38, Lidstrom is 40, as is Mike Modano. Draper is 39, Bertuzzi is 36, Rafalski is 37, Salei is 36... Well, you get the idea. That's a list of the core of the Red Wings outside of Dastuk, Zetterberg and Franzen (no spring chickens either at 32, 30 and 31 respectively) and they are all old. It's only a matter of time before all the hockey Detroit plays takes its toll, and coupled with retirements it will mean a very different Red Wings team than we are used to. And let's face it: Detroit is not a particularly hospitable city. If that team was not as good as it is, it would be on par with Edmonton to potential free agents.

And what can you say about Calgary? They are a team that is already spending too much on an aging, average roster that hasn't been good enough to make the playoffs for the past two years. Worse, they are fraught with no-trade and no-move clauses which will limit management's ability to fix the problem. Worse still, GM Jay Feaster has shown no willingness to make the necessary steps to fix the problem. By signing Curtis Glencross and giving him a no-move clause, he's shown that he's willing and able to stick with a status-quo that is already failing. The fact that he's stated that he will not trade Jarome Iginla - which is the logical first step in a looming rebuild - means that the Flames will be spinning their wheels for years to come before falling down the inevitable black hole of suck.

In the Eastern Conference, New Jersey, Ottawa, and the Rangers are all beginning to show cracks. All of these teams still have good players on them, but there are plenty of good players that are wasted on bad teams.**

When Martin Brodeur retires, there will be no one in New Jersey to fill that void in goal - at least not to the extent of Brodeur. Patrik Elias is 35, Brian Rolston is 38, and Brodeur is 39. Two wingers - Parise and Kovalchuk - are the new centerpieces of that team, which is not unlike the do-nothing Atlanta Thrashers who boasted Hossa and Kovalchuk. Their number one center will likely be Travis Zajac, who is a good player but not a number one. Other than Anton Volchenkov, the defense is made up of guys whose names you probably don't recognize. The early part of the 2010-2011 season was no mirage. This is a team in decline.

Ottawa needs help at forward in a bad way. In particular, center is a weakness for them and they will certainly attempt to address that with the 6th overall pick this year. Continually selling off pieces of the Senators team that was so dominant has left them a shell of their former selves, and the age of Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar won't help their plight. Those players are good enough to bounce back next year, but how much longer do they have? Most importantly, will the development of another young core (Karlsson, Butler, possibly Couturier) peak at a point when the aging veterans will still be difference-makers?

The problem with the Rangers is not so much age as it is money (although Prospal is 36, and Fedotenko is 32). There are things to like about the Rangers, like Gaborik and Lundqvist and Staal. Aside from them however, the team is good but not great, and some poor spending decisions have left the team with little to no cap space to improve. The Rangers will compete, but they will probably continue to be passed by better managed teams.

What this all means is that there's a changing of the guard in the NHL. The older teams are declining and the younger ones are improving. There are still only 16 playoff spots available, but the decline of some of the old stalwarts means that there are going to be some spots opening up. It takes a long look ahead to see what teams are likely to fall off, but it's not really that hard to predict.

Teams like St. Louis and Edmonton in the West are salivating over the prospect and so too are the Islanders, Panthers and Leafs in the East. With 30 teams scrambling for 16 seats, it will be the young ones with plenty of cap space that get them when the music stops.

It's great news for the Oilers and their fans. Not only have the Oilers begun to amass part of the new wave of NHL stars, but they have the benefit of watching some of the past failures of other teams who fought with the cap and lost. Chicago will serve as a lesson to any up-and-comers now, and the Oilers are central among them. Far from wandering into the great unknown, Steve Tambellini and the rest of his management team will have some ability to detect the landmines and pitfalls before they break the new Oilers apart.

Ironically, the NHL has come full circle. It's impossible to tell if there will ever be dynasty teams again like there were in the 80's, but the Oilers and Islanders can at least be counted among the candidates.

* - It's only because of Calgary's inevitable decline that I even admit that they were a contender... *manical laughter*

** - See: The Oilers 1993-94 season - present

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

05/10/11 22.0 The Dark Time

The title sounds a little ominous, but this truly is the dark time for Oiler fans. We aren't glued to our TV's, paying enormous amounts of money for tickets to games, literally draining the city of beer, or partaking in fun-filled riots on Whyte Avenue. We're sitting here waiting for the draft. Again.

It's easy for the early energy of the playoffs to rub off on fans of teams that didn't make the dance, but now, with the mostly boring hockey that made up the Semi-Final Round, that energy is wearing thin. Two sweeps in the East didn't help things, and as much as the Canucks tried to make things interesting by giving the Predators two games, there was never any doubt who would win that series. Pekka Rinne is good, sure, but he's not that good. No matter how good your goalie is, you still have to score goals and the Predators simply couldn't do enough of that. No big surprises there.

Detroit has a chance to make things interesting in the only remaining series. Even if the series does go seven games, it's safe to say that not many people care. No one is cheering for Detroit in the traditional underdog role because Detroit has had their share of success. At the same time, the reputation for choking that San Jose has been saddled with has reduced the amount of respect that they get around the league and among fans, which means that it's hard to cheer for them as well. When a good team like the Sharks bow out early, it's natural for fans of lesser teams (see: the Edmonton Oilers) to be happy about it. All the Canadian teams except the Canucks are lesser teams than San Jose, so it's not hard to see why Canadians (who watch the playoffs because it's still the game they love) will not be sad if the Sharks blow the 3-0 series lead.

Among the four teams that are left, the Tampa Bay Lightning will likely be the favorite among Oiler fans. It's hard to imagine that there's a fan out there who doesn't want Roli the Goalie to win a Stanley Cup after his heroics in 2006. As stated previously, nobody is cheering for San Jose or Detroit. The Canucks? Forget it. Boston is still a rival from many years ago, whom the Oilers knocked off in the final twice.

But there's another reason to cheer for the Lightning. They have shown what it takes to rebuild a franchise through the draft. Things are a little different in Edmonton than they are in Tampa, with the #1 overall pick in Stamkos being a center and not a winger as Hall is. Also, the Lightning took Hedman second overall in 2009, while it seems very likely that the Oilers will take a center with their second straight first overall pick. Furthermore, the Lightning already had some key pieces in place from a previous era in Lecavalier and St. Louis.

Nevertheless, the Lightning finished among the bottom teams in the league last year and they were still abismal in the two prior years even with St. Louis and Lecavalier, and now they are in the Eastern Conference Final. The Oilers are younger, and make no mistake: they will not be this deep in the playoffs as soon as the Lightning. Tampa has benefited greatly from the experience of their veterans, and outside of Hemsky and Horcoff that's something the Oilers lack. Horcoff and Hemsky are not St. Louis and Lecavalier.

That doesn't mean that the Oilers won't eventually get there though. The Pittsburgh Penguins were sent packing in the 2007 playoffs by the Ottawa Senators in 5 games, which was Pittsburgh's first post-season berth since 2001. Their core was young, just like the Oilers are now, and they went on to the Stanley Cup Final the following year.

Expect the Oilers' learning curve to be more similar to that of the Penguins, but cheer for the Lightning because it's another team that was a laughing stock not so long ago that has a legitimate shot to win it all. It's an encouraging story for Oiler fans, and there's a certain satisfaction to be taken from seeing Roloson go all the way.

Go... Lightning... Go?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

05/05/11 21.0 The Dream Scenario

When it comes to trying to predict what trades or draft choices are going to happen in the NHL, you're in tough unless you're a General Manager. It's fun to try and come up with scenarios that could actually happen because we'd all like to feel like we know what's going on. The reality is that no one knows. General Managers typically play things pretty close to the vest, so when you get right down to it, all predictions and forecasting are just dreams. That being the case, here's a look at a dream scenario for the Edmonton Oilers. It's just as likely to happen as anything else (ie: not very likely).

Our first stop is the Stanley Cup Final. After eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins advance to the Final, only to lose in seven games to San Jose. Why San Jose? Because they're not Vancouver. Feeling the extreme pain of the defeat, and eager to get right back there next year, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli goes into the off-season and the draft with an eye on improving his team for the immediate future.

At the draft the Oilers retain the first overall selection and use it to take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. RNH couldn't be happier to be joining the Oilers, being a Western-Canadian kid and all. Then, Larsson, Landeskog, Huberdeau, Hamilton, Strome, Murphy and Siemens go in no particular order after Nugent-Hopkins, leaving Couturier on the board at number nine.

The Oilers trade Ales Hemsky, the 31st and 151st picks to Boston for the 9th overall pick and select Sean Couturier in that slot.

Other players are selected from 10 to 18, but Nathan Beaulieu falls to the 19th spot where the Oilers select him. In the other rounds where the Oilers still have picks, Stu MacGregor mines some gems that will take a few years to get to the NHL, but who have a legitimate chance to at least make the Barons one day.

On July 1st, free agency begins. The Oilers extend an offer sheet to defenseman Zach Bogosian in Atlanta. Because the Phoenix Coyotes have been moved to Winnipeg already, the Thrashers are forced to stay in Atlanta with ownership that will not match the offer sheet. Bogosian signs for $4.5 million per season for 5 seasons and couldn't be happier to get out of there.

Also signed is Zenon Konopka for one year at $1 million. Maybe too much money, but he'll be a hot ticket item.

Kurtis Foster is traded back to Tampa Bay for future considerations. Sheldon Souray is traded to the New York Islanders for a large bucket of pucks and a 7th round pick.

The Oilers re-sign Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Jones for $1.3 million apiece for 2 seasons. Peckham, Reddox, Smid and O'Marra are all re-signed, while Stortini and Jacques walk as free agents. Ditto, unfortuntely, for Steve Macintyre, who is a heavy hitter but also pretty much a 'stick optional' player. Jason Strudwick retires and becomes a stand-up comic, Giroux goes to Europe to seek his fortune. Jim Vandermeer decides to retire for a career as a Country/Western superstar singer.

No other moves are made in the off-season. The Oilers have the following lineup on opening day of the 2011-12 season:

Hall - Gagner - Eberle
Paajarvi - Couturier - Omark
Jones - Horcoff - Hartikainen
Reddox - Konopka - Cogliano

Whitney - Bogosian
Gilbert - Smid
Peckham - Petry


Khabibulin gets to stay because it's never a bad thing to have an experienced goalie around to teach a young netminder the mental toughness that it takes to withstand the rigors of an NHL season. Say what you want about Khabibulin (and you do; loudly), but he has managed to take a lot of things in stride over his career. He was a whipping boy in Chicago too, but he got that team to the Conference Finals in the last year of his deal. Speaking of deals, Khabibulin's will be up the same year that the Oilers' rookies need a raise, so he isn't going to handcuff the team in regard to the cap.

Sam Gagner gets to stay too because this could be the year that he finally breaks out. Also, Nugent-Hopkins is sent back to junior after 9 NHL games, which is the other reason that Gagner is retained. The Oilers will be brimming over with centers after next season, with Anton Lander and Nugent-Hopkins ready for the big time. Provided that Gagner doesn't have a horrible season, he could be traded for whatever the team is missing at that time. Probably it will be another defenseman. Keep in mind that Joffrey Lupul was traded for Chris Pronger twice. It wasn't a superstar forward, it was Lupul and picks and prospects that got the deals done. Gagner could be part of a package that lands the Oilers the last piece of the puzzle.


Granted, this scenario is a tad unlikely in places, but if even part of it happens it will be good for the Oilers. Then again, some of these things will happen, so Oiler fan can look forward to a bright future.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

05/03/11 20.0 Comparing Top Prospects' Stats in Each Other's League

With the draft still a long way off, fans of the most God awful NHL teams are left with nothing to do except watch other cities enjoy playoff hockey, and dream of the end of June. Ah, the end of June and the draft and all of the promise that it brings... Needless to say, such fans have some time on their hands with their team no longer playing. This article is a fine example of that.

For the sake of argument, let's say that the three players who are in contention to go first overall are Sean Couturier, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau is included because his strong playoff showing will probably rocket him even further up the lists of NHL teams. Huberdeau and Couturier both play in the QMJHL and Nugent-Hopkins in the WHL. It's somewhat difficult to guage the quality of these players against each other because of the fact that they are in different leagues. Some would argue that the QMJHL is weaker, and thus the good players in it are more likely to put up points. Teams play four more games in the WHL, which can contribute to point totals, and there are numerous other differences.

What if you could put Couturier in the WHL, or Nugent-Hopkins in the Q? How would the differences in those leagues affect their ability to produce, if at all? On paper, at least, there's a way. Let's find out what would happen.

This year in the Western Hockey League that Nugent-Hopkins calls home, 5355 goals were scored in 792 games, or an average of 6.76 goals per game. In the Q things were a little different because there are fewer teams and fewer games played by each, which resulted in 4112 goals in 612 games, or an average of 6.72 goals per game. The WHL is actually the more offensive of the two this year, but only by a slight margin.

Let's start with Couturier. If you adjust his stats for playing in the Western Hockey League, Couturier would have produced thusly:

72 games played - 46 goals - 76 assists - 122 points. (1.68 points per game)
In the Quebec League he was on pace for 42 goals - 70 assists - 112 points in a full season of 68 games.

Couturier scores more in the WHL than the Q because more goals are scored overall this year in the WHL, but mostly his numbers are a product of playing more games than he was eligible to in the QMJHL. In a full WHL season, Nugent-Hopkins was on pace for 32 goals, 78 assists and 110 points.

What if we put Huberdeau in the WHL?

He would have scored: 46 goals, 68 assists and 114 points in 72 games. (1.58 points per game)
In the Quebec League he was on pace for 44 goals, 63 assists, though he played all but one game.

For both of these players the statistics are calculated supposing that they are still on good teams in the WHL, and they are calculated assuming that Nugent-Hopkins is still in the WHL.

Now, if Nugent-Hopkins were to play in the QMHJL, his stats would look like this:

31 goals, 74 assists, 105 points in 68 games. (1.54 points per game)
In the WHL, he was on pace for 32 goals, 78 assists and 110 points.

Nugent-Hopkins would stand to see his stats decrease a tiny bit, because there are slightly fewer games played in the Q and just slightly fewer goals are scored per game in the Quebec League. Still, he has a strong showing even having made the switch.

These numbers are not a definite representation of what the players would have scored in the opposite league, but only a projection. In fact, they are a projection of a projection because they are estimating how many points each could have scored in a full season in another league and comparing them to how many points each player could have scored in a full season in their own leagues. As such, they are not to be taken too seriously, but merely used to muse over the comparisons between the two leagues.

The one interesting aspect, however, is that the differences in the scoring totals from one league to another are affected more by the number of games played, rather than the average number of goals scored per game. In other words, the two leagues are very close in terms of total offense, and the difference between them is probably smaller than one might first have thought. Therefore, to say that Couturier or Huberdeau only scored as much as they did because of the league they play in is not necessarily fair; nor is it fair to suggest that Nugent-Hopkins would suddenly tear it up in the Q.

These numbers don't even hint - as I had suspected at the start - that one league is vastly superior, and therefore the player that has more points in that league is the best player. What it actually suggests is that the playing field is more or less level. Because of that, it's hard to argue with scouts who say that Nugent-Hopkins is the best player available if your argument is based on a quality comparison of the WHL and QMJHL.