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

Welcome to Oil Acumen. What follows is NHL and Edmonton Oilers information that goes beyond the newspaper.

Oil Acumen doesn't break the story; it breaks the story down.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

06/30/11 11.6 Odds & Ends: Smid, Erhoff, Flames' Goofs



The fresh-faced young man in the Mighty Ducks jersey never played a game for that franchise in the NHL. After being selected 9th overall by Anaheim in 2004, Ladislav Smid became part of a package that netted Chris Pronger. Five years into his NHL career, Smid is starting to cash in.

As with most contracts, Smid's can be good or bad depending on who you ask. $2.25 million is a big raise. He'll be making almost a million dollars per season more than he did with his last contract. This is quite clearly a signing that the Oilers hope Smid will outplay one day, because he's not there yet. One could argue with some truth that Smid hasn't done a whole lot to prove that he deserves a pay raise at all. There's never been an overly offensive bent to his game but his shutdown ability is also still a work in progress. Smid is good in the dressing room and he's a good team guy but is that worth what the Oilers are paying?

In the grand scheme of things, the Smid signing is not really a bad one money-wise. He is still young and he has still has plenty of room to improve, so there's every chance that Smid could be worth more than $2.25 million per season by the time the deal expires. The one problem with this contract is that if the Oilers are projecting him to play his way up to a $2.25 million deal, they probably could have committed to him for longer term. When this pact expires Smid will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he really does improve enough to be worth what he's now being paid then there's every chance that he could need another raise. At that time it will be harder for the Oilers to hold onto him, considering that the wunderkids' contracts will be up as well. If Smid never plays up to it then it's not a black eye on the organization and it won't handcuff the team under the cap, but this deal may end up being too conservative if the player does improve as much as the money suggests that he will.

Other Headlines:

- The Buffalo Sabres signed Christian Erhoff, which is pretty much the biggest news of the day. He's a $4 million cap hit, but Erhoff will be paid ten million dollars in the first year of the deal and $18 million after the first two. This negotiation obviously took into account the fact that the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires after next season, and if there is another work stoppage Erhoff will be guaranteed not to go hungry. It also helps to circumvent the salary cap, but it won't be stopped like the Kovalchuk contract because much of the actual money comes in the form of signing bonuses - $13 million worth in the first two years. When the new CBA gets tabled, there will almost certainly be measures that attempt to make contracts like these more difficult to push through.

The word now is that the Sabres are going to be in on Brad Richards tomorrow, so expect them to put together an offer that will also be ridiculously front-loaded. One thing is for sure: Buffalo is sending the message that they are a big player. The Oilers tried this same approach and fell on their collective faces, so we'll see how well it works out for the Sabres.


Alex Tanguay

Get used to seeing Alex Tanguay in that jersey of his because he's going to be in Calgary for the forseeable future. This is another bafflingly bad move on the part of Flames management. It's not so much that Tanguay didn't deserve a new contract, but consider the following:

- Tanguay is 31 years old and will be 36 when this deal expires.
- The contract isn't front-loaded, so he'll be making the exact same amount of money when he's a graybeard as he is next year, and have the same cap hit.
- The contract includes a Modified No-Trade Clause. Presumably Tanguay can name a list of teams he'd be willing to be traded to, or conversely he could have a list of teams he can't be traded to.
- The Flames now have 11 No-Trade or No-Move Clauses on the roster, which is actually more than before.

Tanguay played well in his Calgary return, but it was one year. Not only is there no guarantee that he will continue to play as well, but time will eventually catch up to him. There's no reason to commit to him for so long and so much money and with a NTC. Such clauses should only be employed when the team is going to get a discount on the contract, and that doesn't seem to be the case here. Certainly Tanguay would have got some interesting offers in free agency, but probably nothing more lucrative than this and almost certainly not for as long. Also, Tanguay has seemed to play his best hockey in Calgary of late, so the player obviously wanted to stay.

The Flames shipped out Robyn Regehr for some mediocre pieces that could probably have been found without trading him. They also got the Sabres to take on Kotalik's contract by giving away a second round pick, instead of simply burying him in the minors and waiting for his deal to expire. That created $7.02 million in cap space, which the Flames then promptly half filled with Tanguay's new contract. In other words, the team lost Regehr and kept Tanguay, which means they actually got worse. Now they are looking to add defensive help via free agency in a weak free agent pool, presumably to replace Regehr...

Flames fans are going to have to break out the good cutlery for all these head-scratchers.

By the way, Anton Babchuk is leaving to test the free agent market, which means that Calgary's once powerful blueline has been blown up in order to bring in Matt Stajan, Tom Kostopoulos, Chris Butler and Paul Byron.

Things should be interesting in Calgary in the Feaster Era.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

06/28/11 44.0 Oilers Free Agent Targets

Thanks to some technical difficulties, Oil Acumen has been on a short hiatus, but returns to deliver some information on potential free agent signings for the Oilers.


With the NHL Awards, the Entry Draft and the Hall of Fame inductions over with, it's time to focus on the last interesting thing that will happen in hockey for the next several months: the free agency period. As we all know, the Silly Season begins on July 1 and this year's crop is unspectacular to say the least; especially considering the number of pending free agents that are being re-signed by their teams. Steve Tambellini has said and said again that the Oilers won't be major players in free agent singings, but that doesn't mean that there won't be some holes that can be plugged (at least temporarily) by players who need new contracts. Below is a list of some possible targets and the likelihood that they will sign in Edmonton.

Forwards:

Kindly ignore the exclusion of Brad Richards on this list. The Oilers won't be in the market for a top line center, having just drafted a potential in Nugent-Hopkins. Look for the Oilers to try to fill bottom-six roles (and the fourth line in particular), as well as adding some defensemen for a potential playoff push next season.


Zenon Konopka
 Oilers fans have long been touting the merits of Zenon Konopka's game. This past season, the big center won 57.7% of his faceoffs, which - needless to say - blows any currents Oiler's total out of the water. The closest that Edmonton got among their regular centers was Shawn Horcoff at 48.3%. Konopka played all 82 games, scoring 2 goals and 7 assists and adding a staggering 25 fights. He made only $600, 000 in 2010-11 and he'll be due for a bit of a raise. The Islanders won't be shy to spend money to reach the cap floor, but neither will the Oilers.

Konopka is certainly a major upgrade over a player like Steve Macintyre, and if the Oilers can sign him then they should probably try. He's 30 years old, so he could still fit into the long term plans, but otherwise he makes an excellent stop-gap.

Eric Belanger: The 33 year old made only $750, 000 in 2010-11, but he managed to contribute 13-27-40 and a 55.3% faceoff success rate to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Oilers would probably like to have a player of his ilk in the fold, but if his recent comments about Winnipeg are any indication, Edmonton won't be his first choice. Belanger is a little bit like Manny Malhotra, in that he'll probably attempt to sell his skills to the best team that will have him in the hope of winning a cup before reitrement becomes a reality. There's very little chance that this player will be an Oiler next year.

Jarkko Ruutu: There will still be some competition at right wing among Oilers forwards this coming season, and Ruutu could be an excellent fit. Over the last twenty years or so, many fans have come to believe that the Edmonton Oilers are above the type of incendiary play that Ruutu provides; but the fact is that when the team was winning Stanley Cups they were doing it with the likes of Esa Tikkanen. Tiki-Talk was a particularly effective way of distracting and needling opponents, and Ruutu brings something similar to the table. Both are Finnish (for what that's worth), which may explain some of the similarities. Ruutu is a very good pest who can chip in a few points here and there - he's got 142 in his 652 NHL games. He made $1.3 million this year and he could be had for that amount again. He's 35 years old and that's a lot to pay, but his age shouldn't prevent him from doing what he does best: getting the oppostion off their games.

Joel Ward
 Joel Ward: Ward could be a welcome addition to the Oilers' roster for the 2011-12 season. The 30 year old is a very good two-way player, and he could fit in on the right wing on the third or fourth lines. At only $1.5 million in 2010-11, Ward contributed 10-19-29 in 82 games; helping to pad his current career total of 99 points in 241 NHL games. Ward was a minus-1 during the regular season, but stepped it up to plus-4 in the playoffs. He also led all Predators in scoring with 7-6-13 in 12 post season games. The Oilers shouldn't be too eager to overpay for his services and give him the Pisani Bump, but for the right price Ward would be an excellent cog in a rebuilt fourth line.

Adam Hall (No Relation): Another decent fourth line option, Hall the Second contributed 7-11-18 in all 82 games of 2010-11 and also won 55% of his faceoffs, officially as a right winger. He only made $600, 000 this year and won't require much more for a signing. Then again, this town might only be big enough for one NHL played named Hall.

Defensemen:


Cam Barker
 Word around the campfire is that former 3rd overall pick Cam Barker is set to be bought out by the Minnesota Wild. Barker never lived up to the contract that he signed, but he didn't have much hope of doing so. Thanks to then-Blackhawks-GM Dale Tallon missing the deadline to give Barker a qualifying offer, the defenseman was set to become a free agent. The Hawks then hastily signed him to a three year, $9.25 million deal. Less than a calendar year later he was traded, and after his play declined he's set to be bought out. Now there's chatter that the Oilers should attempt to sign him for cheap.

Barker put up pretty solid offensive numbers in Junior, but mostly failed to translate them beyond the AHL level. His best season was in 2008-09, when he had 6 goals and 34 assists in 68 games for Chicago. In all, Barker has 92 points in 271 games for a 0.34 points per game average. Meanwhile, Tom Gilbert has scored 0.42 points per game over 337 games. Gilbert is minus-25 and Barker is minus-26 over their two careers. As of now there isn't much reason for the Oilers to sign a Gilbert clone or inferior, even if it's for a massively discounted amount of money.

Zach Bogosian: Tambellini is unlikely to take the offer sheet route with a restricted free agent, but if he did it would be alright in the case of Zach Bogosian. The Winnipeg Jets would probably match the offer anyway, but Bogosian is the stud and potential number one D-man that the Oilers lack. Signing him would likely take at least $5 million per season, which would require the Oilers to give up first, second and third round picks next year as compensation. However, Bogosian is a fantastic prospect with plenty of NHL experience and his development is more advanced than any pick from next year's draft. An interesting option, but highly unlikely to happen.

Jim Vandermeer: All Oilers fans know what Vandermeer brings when he's on top of his game, as he was in the latter half of the 2010-11 season. Though he's 31, Vandermeer is a very good transitional type of player that could take some pressure off of players like Theo Peckham and also show them the way to be successful at the NHL level. He's likely to get a pay cut from the $2.3 million he made this year no matter who he signs with, so it's not out of the question that he could be back in an Oilers uniform for the coming season at a very reasonable price.


Jan Hejda
 Jan Hejda: Hejda was acquired by the Oilers from Buffalo in 2006 for a 7th round pick and was allowed to walk away after only 39 games in Edmonton. He then posted plus-20 and plus-23 seasons in the following two years for Columbus and became that team's best defenseman. Now 33 years old, Hejda has come back down to earth some. His last two years saw him put up minus-14 and minus-6 seasons, and he managed to contribute 33 points in that time. In fact, Hejda has seen his overall point production yo-yo from 13 points to 21 to 13 to 20 over the past four years. If that trend continues he's in for a dip in offensive output next year (which would make sense if he's learning a new coaching staff's systems) but he's still a valuable player.

Hejda's perception around the league of being one of the better available defensive defensemen might price the Oilers out of the market, since they arent likely to make a strong push for a guy that's 33 years of age. He'll likely need a raise over the $2 million he made this year; especially since many of the other big name free agent D-men are being locked up by their teams. Still, he could be a solid addition to this Oilers club; if only to help to shelter some of their younger players and allow them to stay in OKC until they are needed and not make them eat up huge minutes as call ups.

***

The players listed here are very different from the types that the Oilers have attempted (and failed) to sign in the past few off-seasons. Gone are the days when Edmonton was attempting to lure the Hossa's of the world. But far from being discouraged, Oilers fans should be heartened by the fact that their team doesn't need to overpay during the Silly Season of free agency just to get top-tier offensive talent. The team and the fans have paid their dues to have their elite scorers, and now the complimentary players must be added. It's a recipe for success that has worked for many of the better teams in the league - including many recent champions.

The Oilers and their fans are hoping to duplicate that success.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

06/23/11 43.0 Wheeling and Dealing: Philadelphia's Big Day


Mike Richards

Christmas came early for hockey fans. Paul Holmgren (aka Santa) made an enormous splash today, dealing both Jeff Carter and former captain Mike Richards in separate deals and also signing Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9 year contract. When you move the best player in any deal, you tend to lose that deal. The Flyers will be hard pressed to win all these. Here's what they may mean:

Jeff Carter to Columbus

The Blue Jackets have needed a number one center for some time, and many believe that they have him now in Jeff Carter. Certainly Scott Howson believes that he finally has his man to play with Rick Nash. However, this deal may end up being a failure for Columbus and if it is it could ultimately cost Howson his job.

The problem is that Nash's skills are somewhat duplicated by Carter. Carter has 181 goals and 162 assists in 461 NHL games, while Nash has collected 259 goals and 229 assists in 592 games. Both are better goal scorers than set-up men. That means that the left winger on that line is going to have to feed these two goal scorers, and that position hasn't been addressed. Carter isn't known as a premier playmaker, so the man who is going to feed Nash the puck probably hasn't been found yet.

From Philadelphia's end of things, Voracek gives them some cheaper help on the right wing, but he figures to be a second liner in the long term. The big question will be whether or not Paul Holmgren intends to use the 8th overall pick, move up or down, or trade it for more immediate help. Even with these trades for youthful players, Holmgren still figures to be in win-now-mode. If Holmgren feels that he can get a player who can help his team soon he'll probably use the pick. Otherwise, don't be surprised if he moves it.

From an Oilers' perspective, it would be easier for Edmonton to trade a winger to Philadelphia than it would be to trade one to Columbus for the 8th pick, so if Tambellini is serious about moving up that pick could still be a target. The Flyers will have Voracek at right wing, but not a true number-one offensive threat at that position. The Oilers have one that might be available for the right price.

Mike Richards to LA

This deal doesn't make a whole lot of sense from Philadelphia's point of view. The hope will obviously be that Schenn becomes at least as good of a player as Richards is now, but Schenn is unproven and has played only 9 games in the NHL. He's certainly a solid prospect, but if the deal was simply Schenn for Richards then the Kings would have won at this point. Because of that, Wayne Simmonds and a second round pick were added by LA to sweeten the deal. There must have been more going on behind the scenes with this trade, because one would think that Philly could have acquired Simmonds and a second rounder without involving Richards if they had wanted to. Philadelphia might feel that Schenn will one day be better than their former captain, but it's a fairly substantial risk to take.


Ilya Bryzgalov
 Meanwhile, the Flyers opened up enough cap space to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine year, $51 million dollar deal. The cap hit will be around $5.6 million per season. Bryzgalov just celebrated his 31st birthday and he'll be 40 years old when this contract expires. It's not impossible that Bryzgalov could still be playing at a very high level at the end of the deal. Still, there are question marks surrounding the former Phoenix netminder.

Most notably, can he get it done in the playoffs? The Flyers won a lot of regular season games despite not having a true number one goalie, but when it came down to crunch time their net was wide open. Bryzgalov has career numbers of 2.53 GAA and 0.916 save percentage in the regular season, and things don't change much in the playoffs. Over his 27 career playoff games, he's got a 2.55 GAA and 0.917 save percentage. The playoffs are a much smaller sample size, but at least his numbers haven't fallen off in the post season. The only difference is that Bryzgalov has a winning record in the regular season and he's 12-13 in the playoffs.

This deal will probably be a good one for the Flyers, but perhaps not at the expense of two of their best forwards. Time will tell.

Monday, 20 June 2011

06/20/11 42.0 The Pros and Cons of A Ryan Smyth Return


Look at that hair. You'd be hard pressed to find finer hockey hair anywhere in the NHL. By now you've no doubt heard that Ryan Smyth has requested a trade back to Edmonton. Other than all the innuendo surrounding the way the news came out (was it leaked by the Kings in order to put fan pressure on Tambellini to make a deal?), there are very important questions to be answered. Sentimentality aside, is this move good for the Edmonton Oilers?

The Pros:

- Let's start with the obvious, shall we? It's Ryan Smyth. He's a fan favorite and he bled Copper and Blue for over a decade. People want to see Smyth come back, and it would be a major boost for fans of a team that has toiled at the bottom of the league in both standings and prestige for a long time.

- Smyth has the ability to move up and down the lineup if need be. He can play behind both Hall and Paajarvi on the left wing, but if either of those players falters he can work on the first or second lines in a pinch. It would create some flexibility at the position but it would also make for some healthy competition at left wing. Furthermore, it means that Ryan Jones would be pushed down to the fourth line most nights, and Jones would be a very good start to a re-vamped bottom three. Jones can also move up and down the depth chart, so no one's ice time would be safe at left wing.

- Net presence is something that the Oilers have lacked on the powerplay. Other players have been tried in front of the net, but few in the league are as effective at the task as Ryan Smyth. The Oilers' powerplay would almost certainly improve with the likes of Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle in their second seasons and with Smyth back in his office creating havoc.

- A free agent wants to come to Edmonton. Nevermind the fact that Smyth has obvious ties to Edmonton and that serves as a big reason for him wanting to return. A player that is over 30 is choosing to come to the Oilers instead of going to an obvious (and warm) contender. With the beating that the team's reputation has taken from the likes of Pronger, Souray and Heatley, Smyth's trade request could help to rebuild the esteem with which the Oilers are held in the eyes of the entire league.

- Intangibles. Oilers management had more or less replaced the scoring punch that Smyth brought to the table since he left, but what they never recovered from was losing his heart and soul. Dustin Penner could have scored 40 goals per season and still be a downgrade at the position because he never brought all the drive it takes to win (which incidently is why Penner doesn't score 40 per season). Smyth could help to instill the hard working identity that the Oilers had for the better part of two decades and that started to erode when he was traded. All of the young guns on this Oilers team could use an example to follow like Ryan Smyth, because they won't have an excuse for not working hard when they see a 35 year old do it every game. If even a fraction of Smyth's work ethic rubs off on the kids long term, it will help them all enormously.

The Cons:

- The money. Smyth has a $6.25 million cap hit for next season, which is actually a good thing for the Oilers since the salary cap is going up (which means the cap floor is going up). According to CapGeek, the Oilers currently have $37 million in contracts for next season with no major raises in the off season, and they still have to reach the $48 million cap floor. The downside to a deal getting done is that the Kings only have close to $48 million committed to player contracts next year, including Smyth. Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds will both need raises for next year, but it's not like the Kings are strapped for cash. If they so desired, LA could still go after a big ticket free agent like Brad Richards and fit him under the cap, provided that they don't mind being pressed up against it a little. So the Kings don't have to trade Smyth. What will the Oilers have to give up in order to get him? If the conversation starts with a first or second round pick, the trade will probably die on the vine. The positives Smyth brings to the team aren't necessarily worth a draft pick or prospect for a team that should be stockpiling both and unloading 35 year old wingers with albatross contracts.

Why give up an asset now when Smyth will be unrestricted next year?

- Which brings us to the asking price. The news has leaked, which means that there will be pressure on Tambellini to get something done. The Kings don't need Smyth's contract off the books, and they certainly don't want to lose his 23 goals and 47 points of offence. All of that is working against the Oilers. Chances are that the Kings will value Smyth more than the Oilers can afford to pay for him, and if they acquire the Mullet Man "just because" and give up assets, it will not work out well for Edmonton. Nothing more than draft picks later than the third round and mid-level prospects should be moved to get Smyth, and LA is unlikely to make a deal like that.

- The age. Speaking of being 35, Ryan Smyth is 35! Where did the time go? $4.5 million in actual dollars is a lot to give up for a player that age, who probably can't be expected to contribute all that much with younger future stars ahead of him on the Oilers. If this were a free agent signing, it would be looked at as a massive over-payment and probably a bonehead move for a player well past his prime. See: Khabibulin, Nikolai.

And so?

If the price is right the Oilers have to make the move; if only for the sake of the fans who have been so loyal to such an awful on-ice product. It would give them all something to cheer for and rally around. It could also help the kids along. But if Dean Lombardi over in Hollywoodland wants to recoup draft picks lost in the Penner trade, it will be a mistake for the Oilers to make the deal. Ryan Smyth is the stuff of legends up here, but management has to go into this negotiation thinking like any other team in the league would, or they will get burned.

Probably the best thing to do is just to ride this season out and offer Smyth a reasonable contract in the off-season so that he can mentor the young Oilers and retire as a member of the team that drafted him. That would be the best outcome and it wouldn't cost the Oilers a thing.

Nice to know that he still wants to come back, though.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

06/18/11 41.0 Fourth Overall Pick in Play

Lou Lamoriello

Think back to the time when you were a little kid waiting for Christmas Day; the day when you could finally open up all the presents that had been under your tree for what seemed like forever. Oh sure, you might have had an idea what was inside those neatly wrapped boxes - even a pretty good idea. After all, you'd issued a list of potential presents that were on your Christmas radar. But that didn't lessen the excitement as you counted down the days. For fans of a 30th place team, the week leading up to the NHL Entry Draft is a little bit like that.

It's the one day where the team that was most insignificant throughout the regular season gets to hold all the cards, and make decisions that can affect every other team. The man pictured above currently holds the 4th overall pick in this year's draft, which would make a wonderful addition to the Oilers' bounty this year.

This article appeared on Monday, in which Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello did not discount the idea of trading the 4th overall selection. This, despite the fact that this pick is the highest that New Jersey has had since taking Scott Niedermayer third overall in 1991.

We get some clues from Lamoriello's words as to what it would take to get the fourth pick overall. The GM says that he won't move this pick just for the sake of acquiring additional picks (which the Devils would not otherwise have in round two). For the Oilers, that means that trading a combination of 19th and 31st overall to get the #4 pick will not fly.

The troublesome thing is that the Devils will want a defenseman with the 4th pick if they can get one that suits their needs and has a high enough talent level; which, of course, is what the Oilers will want with that pick as well. But what makes the remote possibility of a trade not so incredibly remote is the Devils' need of a puck-moving, offensive type of defenseman.

Adam Larsson
 Adam Larsson will no doubt be seen as a strong option if he's still available at #4, but would the Devils be interested in moving down a few spots and taking Ryan Murphy instead? The highest scoring Devils defenseman this season was Andy Greene with 4-19-23 in 82 games. In fact, New Jersey got just 18 goals from its defense all year, and a paltry 88 points spread out over ten defenders. Adam Larsson is not likely to improve much on Greene's offensive numbers, but Murphy certainly could - both now and in the future.

The Devils won't make the trade if the talent level drops too much from where they are picking to where they would be picking after a deal. It seems highly unlikely that the Oilers could move all the way from 19th overall to somewhere in the top ten, so the Oilers would need to acquire a top-ten pick another way.

Again, we return to Hemsky. If the Oilers feel that he's too much of an injury concern and his chances of re-signing are in question, then they could move him to Columbus for the 8th pick. New Jersey would have been picking in that spot anyway if they hadn't won the lottery, which means they might be open to moving down that far. The Oilers don't have much to offer New Jersey in terms of roster players, but perhaps moving down only four spots would be a small enough drop for Lamoriello to accept the 8th and 19th picks as compensation.

The deal ultimately shakes out as Hemsky and the 19th pick for the 4th overall pick, with the intent being to take Adam Larsson. However, the Oilers really end up trading Hemsky and Penner for Adam Larsson (plus Tuebert and a third rounder next year), which is a lot to give up. That deal could either make the Oilers' brass look like geniuses or fools in the coming years.

All of this is just words for the moment, and the chances that a deal of this kind actually gets done are small. Still, the reason that General Managers come out and publicly say that their pick can be had is because the picks can be had for the right price. Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson would be a coup for the Oilers, and it could make this draft one that solidifies the rebuild.

Oiler fans will go to sleep on June 23rd with visions of a number one center and a number one defenseman in their heads. Will they find themselves with both the following day?

Friday, 17 June 2011

06/17/11 40.0 Making Your Picks Count

Brad Marchand

Hockey fans became quite well acquainted with Boston's Brad Marchand over the course of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Marchand is one of a number of players that were drafted by the Boston Bruins who were integral parts of their eventual Championship. Successful teams tend to be built by all three means available - draft, trade and free agency. But in order to build a contending team, one has to make sure to draft a lot of the core in a relatively short span of time. It will take some luck and some very astute scouting, but the Oilers will need to follow the examples of other teams if they are ever going to compete.

2010-11 Boston Bruins:

A very notable core of this year's Bruins came to that team via the draft. Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin were among those who Boston picked up at various drafts. Seguin skews the number, but the average time it took these players from being drafted to being champions was 4 years.

Importantly, these players were all drafted within an 8 year span. If you discount Seguin (who made an impact but only played in 13 of Boston's 24 playoff games), the others were all drafted within a 4 year span of time. Lucic and Marchand were picked up at the same 2006 draft.

Why is that important?

The Bruins were able to obtain a core of quality players that grew together at around the same ages, and none were so much older than the others that it was time for them to move on. It isn't so much about players getting so old that their effectiveness declines, but rather the fact that if a team doesn't improve, the earlier draftees will simply walk away to find greener pastures. If a team doesn't draft a core of solid NHL players at around the same time, they will have little chance of building and keeping a winning squad.

For example, the Atlanta Thrashers selected Dany Heatley in 2000 and Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001. However, the best player aside from them who Atlanta took in those two drafts was Darcy Hordichuk. The Thrashers didn't draft another impact player until Brayden Coburn in 2003, who played just 38 games for that team before being dealt in 2007. After Coburn there wasn't another impact player selected by Atlanta until Zach Bogosian in 2008. By the time Atlanta started to get a few picks right again, their first two stars were gone.



Kevin Lowe

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of getting it right than the early Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers drafted Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson with their first three picks in 1979. They then proceeded to follow it up by taking Paul Coffee, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog in 1980. Grant Fuhr went in 1981; Jeff Beukeboom and Esa Tikkanen in 1983. Within five years the team drafted 9 players that would play key roles in the Dynasty Years.

The trend of drafting quality players in clumps was also true for the other finalist this year.

The Vacouver Canucks:

Drafted the Sedins, Kesler, Raymond, Edler, Hansen, Bieksa, Schneider and Hodgson. Aside from the twins, all of the other players were drafted in the period from 2001-2008. If one discounts Hodgson (who didn't make an impact in just 12 of Vancouver's 25 playoff games), then all of these notables were picked between 1999 and 2005.

The average time it took these players (excluding Hodgson) to go from the draft to the Final was 8.6 years, which shows that it can be a long process. This is the first Stanley Cup Final for the twins in the 12 years since they went 2nd and 3rd overall. But the fact that many of these other players were added in a relatively short span of time was largely responsible for the fact that the team was able to steadily improve. The Sedins weren't left as the only two weapons that Vancouver had.


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
 All of this is why the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will be so pivotal to the success or failure of the Edmonton Oilers over the next decade. As amazing as the Oilers' 2010 draft looks right now, there are still going to be busts among those selections. The upcoming draft will help to add more impact players that are similar in age, which will be critical.

Had it not been for these two 30th place finishes, the Oilers would be falling victim to a fate similar to that which crushed Atlanta. Ales Hemsky never really got enough supporting cast drafted around him and he might be nearing the end of his time in Edmonton. Thanks to some recent draft success his loss wouldn't be so devastating, but without Paajarvi, Eberle, Hall and this year's first pick, losing Hemsky could have hurt the team enormously.

It looks like the Oilers will have added some important parts of their core over the last few drafts, and if some of their later-round picks pan out as they are projecting to, the team will be able to duplicate the successful model of winning franchises. That said, even one key miss (like Patrik Stefan to Atlanta first overall in 1999) could hurt the Oilers' chances of bringing it all together.

Stu MacGregor has shown that he's more than capable of getting things right so far. Let's hope that trend continues.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

06/15/11 39.0 Some Facts About 31st Overall Picks

Georges Laraque and... Friends

Big Georges up there is having a good old time, isn't he? Aside from being a muscular and athletic dude, Georges Laraque also has a decent bank account, which can't hurt with the ladies. That bank account started when he was drafted 31st overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 1995. Believe it or not, Laraque is actually one of the best players taken 31st overall in the last 20 years. Here they are:

2010 - Tyler Pitlick (Edmonton)
2009 - Mikko Koskinen (NYI)
2008 - Jacob Markstrom (Florida)
2007 - T.J. Brennan (Buffalo)
2006 - Tomas Kana (St. Louis)
2005 - Brendan Mikkelson (Anaheim)
2004 - Garrett Leslie (Vancouver)
2003 - Danny Richmond (Carolina)
2002 - Jeff Deslauriers (Edmonton)
2001 - Matthew Spiller (Phoenix)
2000 - Ilya Nikulin (Atlanta)
1999 - Charlie Stephens (Washington)
1998 - Artem Chubarov (Vancouver)
1997 - Jeff Zehr (NYI)
1996 - Remi Royer (Chicago)
1995 - Georges Laraque (Edmonton)
1994 - Jason Podollan (Florida)
1993 - Scott Langkow (Winnipeg)
1992 - Denis Metlyuk (Philadelphia)
1991 - Martin Hamrlik (Hartford)

Tyler Pitlick

Those boyish good looks of Tyler Pitlick are now Edmonton Oilers' property thanks to the 31st overall selection last year. Pitlick had a fine season - despite some injury problems - scoring 27-35-62 in 56 games for Medicine Hat of the WHL. He may end up as a third liner, but a pretty solid one.

Goalie Mikko Koskinen has apparently struggled since being drafted, and is now 8th in the Islanders' organizational depth chart, according to The Hockey News Future Watch. The same magazine had Florida's Jacob Markstrom ranked #2 of the top 50 prospects outside the NHL last year, but this year the goalie has slipped to #8. Still a solid prospect and potentially a future starting goaltender.

T.J. Brennan and Brendan Mikkelson have a shot to be NHLers, and are knocking on the door, but Tomas Tana was a miss for St. Louis in between those two.

Every 31st pick from 1999-2004 was a bust except for Jeff Deslauriers in 2002. Even then, Deslauriers is a fringe NHLer and the idea that he'll never make it is not that far off at this point. Ilya Nikulin (2000) was an Olympian for Russia in the Vancouver Olympics, but he never played an NHL game. 1999 pick Charlie Stephens did not sign with Washington after being selected 31st by that team, and re-entered the draft where he was selected 196th overall in 2001. He went on to play 8 games in the NHL, all for Colorado.

Artem Chubarov played 228 games before returning to Russia and was a half decent player in that time. He set an NHL record by starting his career with four consecutive game winning goals, but he's probably not coming back to North America.

Every player before Chubarov was a bust except for Laraque; seen here plying his trade of fisticuffs:


In all, 12 of the players here are complete busts. 6 fall into the category of being just okay, fringe NHLers, or have the potential to be alright. Those players are: Koskinen, Brennan, Mikkelson, Deslauriers, Chubarov and Laraque. Laraque is probably the best that this group has to offer.

2 of these players - Pitlick and Markstrom - have the potential to be good NHL players. Seen through the eyes of a fan, and with the selection having been so recent, it's easy to like Pitlick. In the end, he may end up being no better than the others in the "just okay" group. Markstrom, on the other hand, does have the potential to the first very good player taken 31st overall in the last 20 years. It had to happen some time.

Historically, this pick doesn't do particularly well. It has great aesthetic appeal because it's almost a first round pick, and it's as good as it gets without actually being one. That's why the pick has value if the Oilers wanted to trade it. If an Oilers' move at the draft involved moving the 31st pick to get a much better one in the first round, it will probably be a good deal for Edmonton.

Monday, 13 June 2011

06/13/11 38.0 Some Facts About 19th Overall Picks

Ryan Getzlaf and Stanley

The man pictured above represents the very best that can be had when it comes to 19th overall picks. If the Oilers don't move up or down in the draft, they will be picking in that slot this year. Here is some information about 19th overall picks over the last 20 years.

2010 - Nick Bjugstad (Florida)
2009 - Chris Kreider (NYR)
2008 - Luca Sbisa (Philadelphia)
2007 - Logan MacMillan (Anaheim)
2006 - Mark Mitera (Anaheim)
2005 - Jakub Kindl (Detroit)
2004 - Lauri Korpikoski (NYR)
2003 - Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim)
2002 - Jakub Koreis (Phoenix)
2001 - Shoane Morrisonn (Boston)
2000 - Krystofer Kolanos (Phoenix)
1999 - Kirill Safronov (Phoenix)
1998 - Robyn Regehr (Colorado)
1997 - Stefan Cherneski (NYR)
1996 - Matthiew Descoteaux (Edmonton)
1995 - Dmitri Nabokov (Chicago)
1994 - Chris Dingman (Calgary)
1993 - Landon Wilson (Toronto)
1992 - Martin Straka (Pittsburgh)
1991 - Niklas Sundblad (Calgary)


Nick Bjugstad
 Nick Bjugstad here is the last player to go 19th overall. He's listed by The Hockey News Future Watch as Florida's 3rd-best prospect. Chris Kreider is the number one prospect for the New York Rangers, and Luca Sbisa looks like a real player and has already been an Olympian for Switzerland. The last three years of 19th overall picks are tracking well, which is encouraging for the Oilers. However, the 19th overall selection has seen more than its share of busts as well.

Logan MacMillan (now Flames property) looks like a bust in 2007. He's got just 11 points in 63 AHL games and has not suited up for an NHL team. He doesn't appear on Calgary's top-ten prospects list, and it's Calgary's list.

Mark Mitera can almost be called a bust for Anaheim at this point, while Kindl and Korpikoski are at most average NHLers so far. Getzlaf was a home run, Koreis was a miss for Phoenix and Morrisonn was a good value pick for Boston even though he never played a game for that team.

Every 19th pick missed from 1995-2000 except for Robyn Regehr in 1998. Chris Dingman and Landon Wilson were both halfway decent picks in 1994 and 1993, playing 385 and 375 games respectively.


Marty Straka
 Martin Straka ended up being one of the best players taken at 19th overall in the last 20 years. After a slow start to his career, Straka ended up with 717 points in 954 NHL games, including 257 goals.

Niklas Sundblad rounds out the last 20 years as a bust for the Calgary Flames.

All in all, 3 of the 20 players can so far be called very good or elite: Straka, Regehr and Getzlaf. The last three picks at that spot are tracking well, so we will count them as good picks thus far. That being the case, 11 of the 20 picks can be considered at least somewhat legitimate NHL players. The high-end of that spectrum being Getzlaf and Straka, and the low-end being Dingman and Wilson - at least to this point.

9 of the picks can be considered complete busts, but the more recent selections could still go either way. Essentially, the team picking 19th overall has historically had a 50/50 shot of selecting at least a somewhat decent player.

With the Magnificent Bastard Stu MacGregor running the draft, those aren't bad odds.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

06/12/11 37.0 Who Else Could the Oilers Get in the Top Ten?


With all of the rumors swirling about the Oilers trying to get another top ten pick (and for once a couple of teams that might be willing to trade out of the top ten), it's time to look at what players might drop to #8 or #9 overall. Obviously the Columbus Blue Jackets are willing to trade the 8th overall pick, but the Boston Bruins might also part with #9 - especially if they don't win the cup - to improve immediately.

Those are really the only picks that are available inside the first ten selections. In the case of both teams, what they will want from the Oilers is Ales Hemsky. Any other trade is not likely to get it done, aside from moving the 1st overall pick in some way, which would be a mistake. As we have seen recently, the Blue Jackets have interest in #83, but the Bruins would also love to have him come on board and help out their lifeless powerplay. If they lose in the Final, it will be plainly obvious that the powerplay is the biggest reason that the Bruins didn't win the Stanley Cup. If Mark Recchi retires, Hemsky would be even more desirable to Boston.

That being the case, the Oilers would need to have a player drop to at least number 8 who they simply couldn't pass up. For the moment, Hemsky is still the most dangerous offensive threat the Oilers have, so to trade him would take a player that is truly going to be special and impactful, and it would have to get the team further along. Here is a list of the highest ranked prospects in this year's draft class that the Oilers would really want, and the likelihood that they will drop to 8th overall.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is almost certainly an Oiler after going 1st overall. If for some reason the Oilers don't take him, there's no chance that he'll drop as far as 8.

Jonathan Huberdeau will likely go to the Avalanche. Huberdeau plays left wing in junior and the Avs are weak at that position. Almost no chance that he drops past #2, and no chance at all that he drops to #8.

With those two out of the way, things start to open up a little.



Sean Couturier: The Florida Panthers have taken a defenceman with their first pick in 3 of the last 4 drafts. Two of those players are in the NHL and Erik Gudbranson should be there soon. The Panthers need help up front. Probably the best all-around player left at forward is Couturier, who Florida could snap up.

If not, it will probably be Landeskog. In that case, Couturier could slip past the Devils at #4 if they take Adam Larsson and he could get by the Islanders if they take a defenceman like Hamilton. However, he is unlikely to get past Ottawa and Winnipeg since both of those teams need help at forward. Couturier could be Winnipeg's franchise center, and they wouldn't let him get by them. In addition, if Couturier did slip to 8th overall, Columbus might prefer to simply select him instead of making a trade.

Adam Larsson might get by Florida, but the Devils need help on defence in a bad way. Larsson could help anchor their blue line for years. If he gets by the Devils, then the Islanders will probably take him since they would have the chance to get the big Swedish defenceman that they had to pass on to select Tavares first overall in 2009. Larsson has too many tools to slip too far in this draft. Last year when Cam Fowler dropped, it was probably because he is a tad one-dimensional and perhaps not thought of as NHL ready. Many teams are regretting not taking Fowler now, and Larsson is more of a complete defender. Very little chance that he drops to number 8.



Gabriel Landeskog could fall a few spots in this draft because of his offense not being what one might expect from a high-end prospect. Florida and New Jersey could easily let him go by, and the Islanders probably could as well. If Ottawa and Winnipeg are looking for more of a pure offensive threat, they could pass on Landeskog as well. But if the Oilers trade Ales Hemsky so they can select Landeskog, do they really get themselves much further ahead? What the Oilers lose in offense from Hemsky they gain in drive and leadership from Landeskog, but probably not for a number of years. Landeskog could be there at #8, but the move doesn't necessarily make sense.

Dougie Hamilton is the second best defenceman available in the eyes of many scouts. He'll have to get by the Devils and Islanders, who need defensive help, but if he does he could easily be on the board at 8th or even 9th overall. Neither Boston or Columbus would rather have him over Hemsky, and the Oilers might be better off having Hamilton help anchor the backend. This is a move that could make a lot of long-term sense.

From 3-7, Florida, Ottawa and Winnipeg will probably all want forwards, which is why Ryan Strome likely won't drop past them. Landeskog, Couturier and Strome are the 3 best available after RNH and Huberdeau, so unless there's a Jeff Skinner type of surprise out there, Strome will be gone by the time the 8th pick is made.

Ryan Murphy is the type of player that could make things very interesting. There's every chance that he'll be around at 8 or 9 overall. Murphy is one-dimensional, but the Oilers could use a pure scoring defenceman. Essentially trading Hemsky for Murphy might seem like a bad idea, but it would give the Oilers a more well-rounded offensive attack.

Nathan Beaulieu, Duncan Siemens and Zack Phillips are all likely to be available at 8th and 9th overall, but they could also drop further to the middle of the first round. Those three represent the last players that are really worth trading up to get, but not necessarily by trading Ales Hemsky. The Oilers might be able to get them at 19th overall, or trade a lesser asset and the 19th pick to move up a few spots and snag one of them. The fact that the Oilers have another mid first-round pick means that there isn't much need to trade up to take any of the other players in round one since the talent level basically levels off with all of them.

***

There's a realistic chance that Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Murphy could be around at 8th or 9th, and those two players would be who the Oilers might want to target. Only those two are worth trading a player of Hemsky's ilk. However, the draft is always full of surprises and the Oilers won't hesistate to trade Hemsky if Larsson falls to the 8th or 9th spot. Couturier might also be worth Hemsky in the long run, so if he somehow falls then the Oilers may go after him; but in that case Columbus and Boston might take their chances with simply drafting him.

If one of those four drops to 8th or 9th overall, expect the Oilers to move heaven and earth to get them.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

06/11/11 36.0 Unspoiling the Fan Base


The last time we of Oil Country saw anyone in that hallowed jersey lift the Stanley Cup was 21 years ago, in 1990. It will probably be at least a couple more years before we can start talking about it realistically happening again. Those long decades have been hard and painful at times, but it's all happening for a good reason.

By the time the Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in 7 years, Oiler fans had become a bit jaded. It was a fanbase that was accumstomed to winning, and had had one of the best teams ever assembled play for them for a decade.

So, as star players left or were traded and it became apparent that there were no prospects in the system to replace them, the fans were not amused. To go from a Stanley Cup to the worst season in franchise history (points earned) in 1992-93 was a blow. Pocklington and the Alberta economy didn't help either. Interest and attendance declined, and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the team was able to stay in town and continue on its path of mostly middling play. Fans had glimpses of past success in the late 90's and early 2000's, but it was pretty lean until 2005-06. Expectations were not particularly high that playoff year, so a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was extremely welcome and reminded everyone what that "winning" thing was all about.

All of those bad seasons over the last 21 years have helped to remove the sense of entitlement from the fans. The fact that we are all fed up enough to accept back-to-back 30th place finishes as a good thing is evidence enough of that. For a lot of fans it's already hard to remember what it's like to actually want the team to do well and not tank for draft position. Finishing last after the Cup run was a good thing, because the team has continued to add new fans even as it is terrible and not just when it gets good. It's a stark contrast to what happened after the Oilers last won the Cup. After only 3 years out of the playoffs you could go to the Coliseum and find loads of empty seats in 1995-96.

When the Oilers start to win again - and it will happen eventually - even the fans that watched the dynasty years and expected to win will be happy with modest increments of success. It's made everyone much more humble, and that's a good place to start. Because of that, we may not be the most vocal fans there is, but Oilers faithful have shown their support by selling out the building of a dismal team year after year since the lockout.

The bandwagon is still full, but the attitude has had a fresh start. The trick will be to keep it up even as the team improves (and not cheer when your goalie gets pulled in the playoffs). These two 30th place finishes will help with that. In the late 70's and the 80's Edmonton went from no team to a decent team to a great team. Finishing 30th gives the fans some perspective that they've never had before, and hopefully it will help to keep them grounded when playoff hockey returns. If we all thought 2006 was wild, wait until fans who have been to the bottom get back into the hunt.

It's not that far away.

Friday, 10 June 2011

06/10/11 11.5 Odds & Ends: Hemsky Trade Rumor, Drury, Calgary's Coaching Staff

Chris Drury

It seems like everyone in the NHL is doing something except for our beloved Edmonton Oilers. Philadelphia is busy acquiring the rights to Ilya Bryzgalov (and apparently ignoring his dismal playoff performances over the years); Winnipeg is absolutely bustling with activity in selling season tickets, finding a new GM and deciding (STILL deciding) on a name for their newly minted team. Toronto, St. Louis, and Montreal are among teams who have signed some of their own talent to extensions.

And the Oilers are still patiently waiting for their time in the sun at the draft on the 24th. It's incredibly inconsiderate of Oilers management not to give us all something to talk about in the Oilogosphere, so we'll just speculate and talk about everyone else for now.

Headlines:

- It was announced yesterday that the New York Rangers are planning to buy out Chris Drury once it becomes possible on Wednesday. Drury struggled mightily this season, scoring just one goal and four assists in 24 games and battling injury. The Drury buyout will save the Blueshirts $3.3 million against the cap next year, and Sather will finally be rid of his two huge free agent blunders from 2007 in Drury and Scott Gomez.

Could the Oilers sign Drury? It sounds crazy, but it might not be. Part of the strength of a rebuild is not only the players that a team acquires, but also the transitional players that are part of the team when it sucks. Drury is a former Stanley Cup Champion, NHL rookie of the year, and Olympic silver medalist. That's the type of player that young kids should be around when they are learning the ropes.

Drury wouldn't bring a lot of scoring punch, but he doesn't have to. Doug Weight scored just 53 points in 107 games with the Islanders, but the team kept him on because of the leadership and knowledge that he could impart to their kids. There aren't many ways in which one should emulate the Islanders, but this could be one. Over the past four seasons, Drury has won an average of 53.8% of his faceoffs, and that alone would be worth signing him if he could teach the kids. In that same span, Oilers faceoff afficianado Shawn Horcoff has won an average of 51.4% of his draws. It doesn't sound like much, but 2.4 percent is a pretty big improvement when it comes to winning faceoffs. Also, a fresh perspective wouldn't hurt when it comes to teaching the Oilers' youngsters how not to get destroyed in the dot.

If the organization treated Drury as a reclamation project and signed him for only one year, they could probably pay him somewhere close to what Alex Tanguay got in Calgary at $1.7 million. If he has a bounce-back season, trade him at the deadline. If not, no harm, no foul, and hopefully the kids came away with some veteran leadership advice that they can use throughout their careers. At the very least, it would give the Oilers the ability to leave Nugent-Hopkins in junior for another year.

- This article came out on Thursday, which is claiming that the Columbus Blue Jackets are interested in pursuing Ales Hemsky. I hate to say I told you so, but there it is in black and white; two days after a certain article went up on this blog. Clearly it was a stroke of unbridled genious and intuition. That, or somewhat obvious if you think about it. Will the Oilers make the move for the 8th pick? It's impossible to tell, but another interesting question arises from the fact that the Jackets are interested in Jeff Carter:

What is to become of all of Columbus' centers? Surely there isn't space for Vermette, Carter, Brassard, Pahlsson and Johansen. Even if Johansen doesn't make the team, that's still a bit of a log jam. Would Derick Brassard be in play for the right price? Brassard is 23 years old but he's only played 201 games. In 2010-11 he had career highs in goals, assists and points with 17-30-47 in 74 games.


Craig Hartsburg
 - Brent Sutter made some additions to his staff earlier this week, hiring Craig Hartsburg as associate coach. Supposedly (according to Calgary GM Jay Feaster) this was Sutter's hire, and it's now Sutter's staff. Still, one wonders. Two seasons ago, the Oilers hired Pat Quinn as head coach with Tom Renney as associate coach, not assistant. After the season Quinn was sacked and Renney was given the top job. Last year, Calgary hired Jay Feaster as assistant General Manager, and when Daryl Sutter's team flopped he was sacked and replaced by Feaster.

Is it good for current Flames coach Brent Sutter to have an associate who has been an NHL head coach before? If you were him, would you hire an associate coach that could easily replace you if need be? How about if your team had underachieved in the eyes of management and missed the playoffs the past two seasons? It's either a veiled attempt by Flames management to hedge their bets, or a very stupid decision by Brent Sutter to hire a guy that makes him expendable.

- As hard as we all try to cheer for Vancouver, it just doesn't happen. The only good reason to cheer for the Canuckleheads is that they are Canada's team, but as this article points out, there are more Canadians playing for the Bruins. Let all those reservations about cheering for Boston wash away, and join the ever-growing contingent of hockey fans uniting under the call:

Go Bruins Go!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

06/09/11 35.0 How Bad Was Kevin Prendergast?


K-Prend and K-Lowe with Sam Gagner

On Monday an article appeared here about Craig Button and how much we should believe what he thinks about prospects. It turns out that in the time Button was head scout he made 60 picks in 7 years and 13 of them played 200 or more NHL games. What we need now is a little context.

Above is Kevin Prendergast, who served as the Oilers' head scout from 2000 to 2007. Most fans will tell you that Prendergast was an awful head scout and that his drafting record was atrocious. In fact, the Wikipedia article on Prendergast says:

"Aside from Ales Hemsky whom he drafted in 2001, his drafting record during his tenure was abysmyl, and is probably the biggest factor in the oilers current struggles."

That seems a bit harsh, but it's an opinion that was apparently echoed by the higher-ups, since Prendergast was removed from the position after 2007. Admit it, you're thinking he was terrible right now.

So let's compare Craig Button, who most people consider to have been a good scout (and was certainly above average) to Kevin Prendergast, who most people consider to have been an epic failure.


Jeff Petry
 Since a lot of the picks that Kevin Prendergast made were too recent to judge just yet, we'll have to extrapolate career paths for them. 200 NHL games will be the benchmark. If they can be expected to play that many, they will make the list as a somewhat successful pick. 500 or more games will be the next level, and will make for a very good pick. Only players that meet or probably will meet the 200 game plateau will be listed.

Prendergast:

2000: Brad Winchester (323 games, 35th overall), Matthew Lombardi (446 games, 215th overall)

2001: Ales Hemsky (490 games, 13th overall), and Jussi Markkanen who doesn't count at only 128 games, but damn did he ever play well in the final. Sigh.

2002: Jarret Stoll (515 games, 36th overall), Matt Greene (379 games, 44th overall)

2003: Zack Stortini (256 games,  94th overall), Kyle Brodziak (337 games, 214th overall)

We begin to extrapolate:

2004: Devan Dubnyk (looks like he has the right stuff to play 200, 14th overall); not counting Rob Schremp but he'll probably play 200.

2005: Andrew Cogliano (328 games, 25th overall)

2006: Jeff Petry and Theo Peckham, who will both play at least 200 on a weak Oilers defence, but could also turn into legit players.

2007: Sam Gagner (291 games, 6th overall), Linus Omark (if Robert Nilsson can play 252 games, Omark certainly can play 200)

Count em. That's 13 players over an 8 year span of drafting who have already, or will one day play 200 NHL games. Button had 13 in 7 years.

As for the 500+ game players, Button had 6: Harvey, Langenbrunner, Turco, Iginla, Morrow and Lehtinen. Erskine and Sim will probably get there too, which makes 8.

Prendergast has (or will probably have) around 7: Lombardi, Hemsky, Stoll, Greene, Brodziak, Cogliano, Gagner. Petry, Peckham and Dubnyk might make it too, but they have a long way to go to be in that conversation so they don't count yet. There's no Jarome Iginla on this list, but Hemsky is more than a match offensively for the other players drafted by Button.

Prendergast had 4 first round busts and Button had 3.

Winner:


Mr. Button wins! It's no surprise that this guy was a better scout than Kevin Prendergast, but it's actually a lot closer than one might think at first glance.

***

The point of this is not to call out Craig Button and say that he was a worse scout than he was, and it's not even about calling Prendergast horrible for the 894, 000th time (although I do love when the odometer ticks over to an even number like that). It's a message about how truly finicky and difficult the draft is, and giving some context to fans when it comes to the record of a scout.

By most fan accounts, Craig Button was a great scout and Kevin Prendergast was a terrible one, but their records aren't really as far apart as they should be if that were the case. More than anything, it's that one pick of Jarome Iginla that really sets Button apart, and rightfully so. But that's how razor-thin the margins are from being a hero to a goat in the NHL draft.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

06/07/11 34.0 Trading for the Eighth Pick



With franchise relocation once again a reality in the NHL, teams in the bottom-third of the league in both performance and revenue have to start finding ways to win - now. The Columbus Blue Jackets are one such team. The Blue Jackets would like to avoid a similar fate to what happened to Atlanta's former team, and to do that is going to take winning. General Manager Scott Howson is an astute man, and he's aware that this year's 8th overall pick is not as valuable to his team as an established player would be. There simply isn't any more time to wait for an 18 year old to develop. Howson knows that he has to make something happen next season, or his job and the stability of the franchise could both be gone. The 8th pick in this draft is therefore in play.

Here's proof!


What Columbus Needs:

Despite Rick Nash and Steve Mason and a number of other youngsters who could potentially turn into something, this team is a long way from being a contender. We'll ignore the bottom six forwards and bottom-pairing defensemen because the 8th pick isn't moving for those anyway. Here's how the top-end breaks down:

At left wing, Columbus is more or less set with Umberger and Huselius. They have Antoine Vermette and Derick Brassard at center, but obviously the team's real hope is that last year's 4th overall pick Ryan Johansen will have a strong training camp and not only make the team, but make an impact. On the right wing Columbus has Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek. Voracek hasn't really worked out as the Jackets hoped, and there were rumors at the deadline that he could be traded, so obviously the organization doesn't feel that he's the solution. Chris Clark and Scottie Upshall are both UFAs on July 1, and may not be back.

The acquisition of Upshall at this year's deadline is very interesting, because it shows that management was looking for more scoring punch, even if it came on the right wing where Nash is king. The Jackets shipped off Rusty Klesla to get Upshall, and Klesla has been in Columbus from the very beginning.

Columbus is going to need to replace Upshall if he walks; preferably with a player that is an upgrade offensively.

The Jackets also need a scoring type of defenceman and they have for some time. Now the problem is that stay-at-home stalwart (as well as past and hopefully future Oiler) Jan Hejda is unrestricted and could walk away.

If the Oilers are in the conversation for the 8th overall pick, then it won't be an Oilers defenceman who is traded for it, since the Oilers can't upgrade Columbus' defence. At all. That leaves the forwards.

And the one forward that Columbus will want is Ales Hemsky. Hemsky, Hemsky and more Hemsky is the only way that the Oilers could get a deal done for that 8th pick. It won't be a pie in the sky combination of draft picks and prospects. It won't be Sam Gagner because Gagner (0.59 ppg over his career) isn't necessarily an upgrade over Voracek (0.56 ppg over his career). It probably won't be Linus Omark because he isn't a known commodity yet (which is good reason not to trade him and not to trade for him). Columbus needs someone who can help them now, and Howson will be willing to sell a little of the future for the chance to compete.


So do the Oilers trade Hemsky a decade after drafting him? It comes down to whether or not the right player is available at 8th overall this year, and maybe whether or not Hemsky is willing to re-sign in Edmonton.

The latter was something that was discussed at this year's trade deadline, and the implication from the Penner trade was that the Oilers had long term plans with #83. On the other hand, the right deal may not have been available for Hemsky at the deadline and Tambellini may have been waiting to use his biggest bargaining chip at the draft. If that was the thinking, it wouldn't be terrible not to have traded Hemsky at the deadline. If Columbus traded their first round pick for Hemsky at the deadline, he could have helped them finish higher in the standings. It's a safer and better idea to trade Hemsky once the draft order is set and you're assured of a top-ten pick.

And if you're going to wait to see the draft order, why not wait to see the order of the actual picks before you make your decision? If a player the Oilers covet falls to number 8, then they can try and make the deal. If not, they can stand pat and still have a good draft. It's a reasonable proposition.

Then again, that might be giving management too much credit for a plan. We won't know until the draft. But Tambellini has said openly that he is interested in moving up and getting a second top-ten pick, so it could happen.

Monday, 6 June 2011

06/06/11 33.0 Does Craig Button Know His Stuff?

Craig Button

Every year as the NHL Entry Draft approaches, Craig Button releases "Craig's List," which is a compilation of the top ten prospects as he sees them. This year Button has Nugent-Hopkins pegged as the first overall pick, but how much stock should fans put in what he thinks?

When people talk about Button, they often reference his time as a scout for the Minnesota/Dallas organization and his selections of Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow. To have selected those two players makes Button's career a successful one, but how good was he really at spotting talent? Pretty darn... just okay, as it turns out.




Button served as a scout for the Minnesota North Stars from 1988-1992. During that span, the team made 53 selection in the draft. There's no way to know how many of those picks were Button's, but the team's drafting record was mixed with him as a part of the staff.

1988: Mike Modano first overall (no brainer; the talent after Modano was not really in his league). Other than that, this draft was bare for Minnesota. Link Gaetz played 65 games, and Travis Richards played 3. All of the other combined 6 picks combined for 0 games played in the NHL.

1989: Doug Smolek 7th overall, who played 467 games. Mike Craig in round 2 (423 games), Arturs Irbe 196th overall, and Tom Pederson 217th overall. 13 picks this year, and Irbe is arguably the only one that turned into something. The players listed here each played at least 200 NHL games, but the other 9 picks did not. The first round of this draft was weak, but the North Stars left Bobby Holik and Mike Sillinger on the board who would be taken 10th and 11th overall. (Not to mention Lidstom, Bure, etc. in later rounds.)

1990: Derian Hatcher 8th overall. Home run. Enrico Ciccione played 374 games, and was taken 92nd overall. Roman Turek taken 113th overall. 12 picks, 3 players. Everyone else busted.

1991: Richard Matvichuk 8th overall. Solid pick. 9 others were taken by Minnesota, and none of them played 200 or more games in the NHL.

1992: Minnesota's third pick, 88th overall, was Jere Lehtinen. Another solid pickup, but one of the few past round one that panned out for the North Stars. 9 picks that year, Jere Lehtinen and 8 busts. This was Button's first year as Director of Scouting.

All in all, that's 10 of 51 picks that played at least 200 NHL games, or 20% of the total. In terms of actual impact players, the North Stars managed 6 of 51, or 12%.



It's as Director of Scouting that we can really start to judge Button's performance and his impact on the draft. He was the head honcho from 1992-1998, and here's how he did:

1992: See above

1993: Todd Harvey 9th overall, Jamie Langenbrunner 35th overall, Per Svartvadet 139th overall. Harvey was a decent pick, but better players in Bertuzzi and Saku Koivu were still available. Langenbrunner is a great pick. 10 picks, 3 players with 200+ games.

1994: Jason Botterill 20th overall :( and Marty Turco 124th overall. Botterill played only 88 games. Of the 8 Dallas picks this year, only Turco panned out. All the others were busts.

1995: Jarome Iginla 11th overall. All Oiler fans know how good this pick was. However, none of the other 9 Dallas picks played more than 200 games.

1996: Richard Jackman (5th overall) played just 231 games. Jon Sim (70th overall) played 469 so far but isn't an impact player, and Joel Kwiatkowski managed to get into 282 contests. 8 picks, no impact players, 6 busts.

1997: Brendan Morrow 25th overall with Dallas' first pick, and Brett McLean 242nd overall with their last pick. McLean played 385 NHL games and Morrow is still going, but none of the other 7 picks became players.

1998: John Erskine 39th overall and Niko Kapanen 173rd overall. Only 6 picks this year, 4 of which were busts.

Under Button's stewardship the team made a total of 60 picks (Minnesota's 1992 draft included). Of those, 13 played 200+ NHL games (22%), and 6 played 500 or more games (10%).

Take from those numbers what you will, but also take them with a grain of salt. Scouting was not as developed in Button's day as it is now, and so his effeciency may be somewhat skewed because of his not having seen all the draft-eligible players in a given year.

As head scout, Button plucked 5 very-good-to-elite level players: Morrow, Iginla, Turco, Langenbrunner, and Lehtinen. The former two were taken with Button's first pick in their draft year, and the latter 3 were taken in later rounds. Not bad to get 5 very good players in 7 years of drafting. The other 55 picks were mostly disappointments, however.

Button's first selections in each draft are as follows:

Jarkki Varvio (13 gms), Todd Harvey (671 gms), Jason Botterill (88 gms), Jarome Iginla (1106 gms), Richard Jackman (231 gms), Brendan Morrow (749 gms), John Erskine (396 gms).

Just like any scout, Button is not immune to the dreaded first round bust. Iginla was a very good pick at number 11 overall and so was Morrow at number 25, but Jackman was a bust at 5th and so was Botterill at #20.

So how much stock should you put into his eye for talent?

Probably somewhat more than the average, but don't take his word as Gospel. Just like everyone else, Button has been seduced by the sublime skill of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but the rest of his prospect list shouldn't necessarily have any more weight than the next scout. That may sound like a truism, but it's necessary to note for a guy whos opinion is coveted because of a few draft selections that worked out. This is still the man who released Marty St. Louis back when he was General Manager of the Flames (thanks for that, by the way, Craigy-boy).

Then again, Button has been around the game and player development for better than 20 years, so what he says should be listened to more than Joe Blow Blogger.

But come on back and read the blogs anyway. We update more.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

06/04/11 11.4 Odds & Ends: Richards, Malhotra, Pisani

Brad Richards

The Dallas Stars won't be re-signing marquee center Brad Richards. With the ownership situation in Dallas still up in the air, the team has all but closed the door on the return of their best player. Richards has been through some interesting ownership groups in Tampa in the past, and therefore stable owners are something that this year's biggest free agent covets. Former Lightning owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules were a major part of the reason that Richards was traded out of Tampa Bay in the first place, so expect him to sign in a city where he can expect to stay.

To all the Oiler fans who think maybe Richards would come to Edmonton: don't bet on it. Richards is 31 years old, and he'll be looking for a situation where he can get paid and have a chance to win. Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini has stated that the team isn't in the market for the big-ticket free agent right now, and the Oilers certainly aren't in a position to win. There's little to no chance that Brad Richards will sign here.

The same might not also be true for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brian Burke knows that a number one center is first on his wish list this off season, so the Leafs GM may be putting together a hefty offer for Richards right now.

Whatever the offer, it will have to be bigger than what the New York Rangers have, because Glen Sather is apparently going to be right in the thick of things come July 1st. Rangers coach John Tortorella is very familiar with Richards since they won a Cup together in 2004 (over Calgary; just had to mention that part). Also, the retirement of Brian Rafalski leaves a large hole on Detroit's blueline, but an even larger hole in their payroll. Detroit and LA will probably make serious pushes for Richards' services.

If one of those four teams trades for Richards' rights (essentially the right to negotiate with him on a contract before July 1st), there's a good chance that he will sign there. Because the of the shallow free agent pool and the interest in Richards, the trade for his rights may be somewhat more significant than what one might expect. Still not a big trade, obviously, but perhaps bigger than what's warranted given the circumstances.

Some Other Headlines:

- Winnipeg fans didn't waste any time buying up all the remaining season tickets once they went on sale to the general public. In fact, they sold in just 4 minutes. The drive for 13,000 was completed in only 3 days, which is 17 days before the NHL board of governors will vote on the sale of the Thrashers to Winnipeg's True North group. If it hadn't been for a cap on how many seats that Manitoba Moose season seat holders could buy (or if seats had been sold to the general public from day one), the goal could probably have been reached even sooner. It's a solid showing from fans who lost a team once and don't want to leave anything to chance when it comes to bringing the team back. More than that, though, it shows the passion of the hockey fans in Winnipeg. There's no doubt that the MTS Centre will be sold out all of next season, but now it seems as though it would have been wise to build it for more than 15,000 spectators. If things continue as is, the organization will undoubtedly have to add seats if at all possible.

Phoenix is obviously still in dire financial straights, and the strong showing from Winnipeg fans will only encourage the NHL to move poor-performing American teams north of the border if they have the opportunity in the future.

- The NHL combine wrapped up yesterday and Nugent-Hopkins didn't hurt his case for going first overall. Here's the results of some of the kids who the Oilers might take at 19 or 31 overall who finished well in combine events:

Winterhawks forward Ty Rattie tied for first in the dreaded Wingate Peak Power-Output Test, which measures how hard a prospect can go for a 30 second stretch. Rattie is ranked 17th among North Americans by Central Scouting and scored 28-51-79 in 67 WHL games.

Defenseman David Musil finished tied for first in the VO2 Max test at 14 minutes. He was tied with Adam Larsson in this test, and may have helped move himself up the rankings somewhat. Musil is ranked 38th in Central Scouting's list of North Americans.

Travis Ewanyk of the Oil Kings finished tied for second in the long jump at 115 inches.

Thomas Jurco was in a 3-way tie for first in the bench press (150 pounds) with 13 reps. Monster defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak was in a 3-way tie for second with 12.

Mark McNeill (6'2", 210 lbs) was clearly the greatest physical specimen of the combine, who won the grip test, tied for a win in the bench press, and won the push/pull strength test outright. McNeill had 366 pounds of push strength, which beat out the much larger Jamieson Oleksiak (6'7", 240 lbs). Only Tyler Biggs was close with 323 pounds. Winning 3 of 11 events that are done by 102 prospects is huge for McNeill.

- Everyone is happy to see Manny Malhotra back in the lineup for the Stanley Cup Final. The former 7th overall pick has paid his dues and has moved around among contenders for the last two years. This could be his year to win it all, and it would be that much sweeter given the potentially career-ending surgery he has gone through.



- Fernando Pisani is coming back to Edmonton to support a Crohn's and Colitis golf tournament. It's hard for fans to imagine how the hero of the 2006 Cup run could be too weak to go up the stairs in his own home, but that is the nature of the disease. When I first heard of Pisani's illness it didn't strike a chord. I had no idea how draining, debilitating and downright painful the disease could be. All of that changed when I was diagnosed with it in early 2009. Pisani serves as a beacon to those who are afflicted with Crohn's and Colitis, because it would require a great commitment from him to continue to participate in a gruelling and phsyical sport in spite of his illness. Please help to support efforts to find a cure whenever you can, and cheer for Fernando Pisani no matter who he plays for.

Pisani recently did an interview with The Team 1260's Jason Gregor. Listen to it here:

http://www.jasongregor.com/radio_shows/burrows-bite-nhl-draft-canadian-basketball-fernando-pisani/show_clips/fernando-pisani-former-oiler