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

Welcome to Oil Acumen. What follows is a blog dedicated to ending the tyranny of Oilers management, and making hockey fun to watch again, dammit.

Friday, 29 July 2011

07/29/11 53.5 Rebuilding Conclusions


We've looked at five rebuilt NHL teams now, and each one is unique. They are varyingly similiar and dissimilar to what the Oilers are doing, and they have also had varying degrees of success. In the final part of this series, it's time to look at what conclusions can be drawn from these five teams, and what those conclusions may mean for Edmonton.

Overall success in relation to draft position:

Pittsburgh: Probably the most successful team; has appeared in two Stanley Cup Finals, winning once; every chance that they will return in the next few years. 5 lottery picks: 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd

Chicago: Second most successful; one Conference Final, one Championship; had to blow up team because of the cap but could return one day. 3 lottery picks*, 1st, 3rd, 3rd

Washington: Two Semi-Final appearances, perennial contender. 3 lottery picks: 1st, 4th, 5th

Los Angeles: No playoff rounds won, but a solid core in place that could see them contend for a long time. 3 lottery picks: 4th, 2nd, 5th

Phoenix: No playoff rounds won, questionable core of young players and disintigrating veteran leadership. 2 lottery picks: 3rd, 5th

The relationship between top-5 selections and success in the NHL seems self evident. Naturally there are plenty of other factors that can be the difference between success and failure, but a base of picks in the top 5 is a great place to start. The interesting thing is not only how the number of lottery picks effects a team, but also where those picks are. If we take the average draft position of each of these teams when they are in the top five, it breaks down like this:

Pittsburgh: 2.2 overall
Chicago: 2.3 overall
Washington: 3.3 overall
Los Angeles: 3.7 overall
Phoenix: 4 overall

That said, this does not mean that the Oilers are going to be better than Pittsburgh because they drafted first overall both times they were in lottery range, and therefore have an average position of 1 overall. The fairest way to judge the Oilers at this point might be to include Sam Gagner, who falls just outside the top five as a 6th overall selection. In that case the Oilers would have an average position of 2.7.

* Chicago picked Cam Barker 3rd overall in 2004 but neither he nor the players he was traded for had any impact on Chicago's eventual championship. Time will tell how Nick Leddy helps the Hawks going forward.

The "culture of losing" idea is overblown.


It may seem at times like losing begets losing and that if the Oilers aren't careful, they'll never know how to win. All of these other teams have shown to some degree that this simply isn't the case. A winning attitude must come from within the players themselves and not from being in an environment where winning is all that goes on. If anything, losing breeds a hatred for it in players that are driven to win. Since when has having everything go your way been the best way to grow as a person or professional?

Time spent out of the playoffs:

Pittsburgh: Finished 29th in 2005-06 with Crosby, Fluery and Whitney all in the lineup.
Washington: Finished 27th in 2005-06 and 2006-07 with Ovechkin on the team.
Chicago: Missed the playoffs in the first three years of Byfuglien, Keith and Seabrook's careers, coming in 28th, 26th, and 20th in the NHL. Kane, Toews and Hjalmarsson missed as rookies.
Los Angeles: Dustin Brown played 5 years before making the playoffs, Kopitar played 3, Bernier and Doughty played one. Each was present for Kings' 26th place finish in 2008-09.
Phoenix: Yandle played parts of two seasons before the Coyotes made it, and so did Turris, but this team is obviously much further behind the 8 ball than the others.

Obviously winning isn't a bad thing, but to suggest that losing will ruin prospects is taking it a little too far.

Breakdown of players selected in top five:

All told, these five teams made sixteen picks inside the top five. Of those picks, ten were forwards, five were defensemen and one was a goalie. 7 of the 10 forwards were centers.

5 of the 7 centers have panned out so far, while Schenn and Turris have work to do to join that list. Schenn looks like a player, so that leaves only Turris to figure it out.

The Oilers and their fans are hoping that Cam Barker doesn't become the first bust of the 5 defensemen. So far, Doughty, Whitney and Alzner have worked out; while the jury is still out on Hickey and Barker.

Only Pittsburgh selected more than one center, and only they have a Stanley Cup. Take from that what you will.


The Oilers are most similar to...

Washington. At least so far.

The Oilers don't quite have the caliber of talent or the number of high draft picks to be considered the next Pittsburgh, but the quality of the Oilers' picks is far superior to that of Phoenix. Edmonton would love it if they had selected a future Norris Trophy winner outside of the first round, but as yet there is no Duncan Keith on this team. And the Los Angeles Kings have simply traded for too much of their roster to be called the most similar to the Oilers. That, and they also have Doughty which is something the Oilers simply lack.

Like Edmonton, the Capitals drafted their first line left winger in Ovechkin and their number one center in Backstrom. If the Oilers were to have another lottery pick next year, it would almost certainly be used on a defenseman - which is similar to what Washington did with Alzner.

The Oilers drafted Dubnyk, who is potentially their future starting goaltender and they also have Tyler Bunz coming. This is similar to Washington's Neuvirth and Holtby.

On defense, the Oilers will hope that Ryan Whitney continues to be an offensive force for the team, but he'll be hard pressed to match Mike Green's production over the last several years. Otherwise, both teams have drafted some good defensemen, but no Doughty or Keith. Right now the Capitals have the edge in terms of the quality of D they have selected at the draft, but the Oilers' defensive prospects still need time to catch up developmentally.

***

The Oilers may be most similar to the Caps, but as we have seen, each rebuild is unique. Washington's progress and whether or not they ever win a Stanley Cup has nothing to do with the Oilers. Therefore, Oilers fans shouldn't put too much stock in Washington's future when deciding how their own team will be.

What these comparisons do show is how rebuilt teams are constructed. The comparisons confirm what we already know in that the Oilers are following the same path that other rebuilt squads have taken before them. Not only that, but the Oilers have recently pulled closer to some of the stronger rebuilt teams in the league by selecting first overall twice in a row. Based on the data (and accounting for a potential top-5 pick next year), it appears that the Oilers will end up as a better team than Phoenix and as good or better than LA, Washington and Chicago - but only because Chicago was forced to blow up a lot of their core and have been scrambling to replace it.

If that does end up being the case, the Oilers will be in a very good position for a very long time. Either way, the fans have a lot to look forward to.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

07/28/11 53.4 Comparing Rebuilds: Phoenix and Edmonton

Kyle Turris

In part five of the series, we'll look at the supposedly rebuilt Phoenix Coyotes. It's been a long, hard road for the team from the desert, but the worst may still be yet to come.

When one thinks of the weaker teams in the NHL - the ones that are mediocre on the ice and abysmal financially - the Phoenix Coyotes are one of the first teams that come to mind. It wasn't always so. It's so long ago now that it may be difficult for some to remember, but the Coyotes made the playoffs the first four years they were in Phoenix, and five out of their first six after relocating from Winnipeg. Unfortunately, that playoff season in 2001-02 was the last time the Coyotes would make the dance for seven long years including the lockout.

Compared to the Coyotes, the Oilers are in a brilliant spot. Try telling fans in Arizona that their hockey team is going to finish out of the playoffs for a long, but undisclosed period of time - preferably as far down the league standings as possible - and in the end it'll all work out. Oh, and by the way: pack the house every single night, why dontcha?

It wasn't going to happen.

Just like most rebuilds, the one in Phoenix occurred out of necessity, but there was always the underlying need for the team to win in order to attract fans. Because of that, the franchise has had a total of 2 lottery picks in its history, and none higher than 3rd overall.

Blake Wheeler
 That third overall pick was the young man at the top of the page. The other lottery pick was Blake Wheeler, who was selected 5th overall in 2004. Wheeler played out his college hockey at the University of Minnesota and then refused to sign with the team that drafted him. Instead, Wheeler signed with the Boston Bruins and has put up mediocre totals for a 5th overall pick, at 57-70-127 in 244 games.

Perhaps the best way to understand why Phoenix has continued to flounder is to look at their drafts since 2002-03.

2003: 8 picks; none ever played an NHL game
2004: Wheeler 5th overall but never played for Phoenix, 3 other mediocre NHLers; best pick was Daniel Winnik
2005: Easily their best draft; Martin Hanzal 17th and Keith Yandle 105th
2006: Peter Mueller 8th, Chris Summers 29th might be a player and Benn Ferriero 196th. After a series of trades Mueller turned into Michal Roszival who will be 33 this season and in the last year of his contract
2007: Kyle Turris 3rd; has yet to justify his high draft position
2008: LW Mikkel Boedker 8th; 45 points in 126 games so far but still plenty of time to get better. LW Viktor Tikhonov 28th; 16 points in 61 games.
2009: Oliver Ekman-Larsson 6th; could be a very good defenseman one day but it may be a little while yet

In 2010 the team made the playoffs, which is when we stop counting the draft as being part of a rebuilding situation. All told, Phoenix never had the kind of high draft picks to dig themselves out of the hole they are in, and the ones they did have were wasted. Unless Turris can start to show something offensively, he is on the cusp of being a bust. Fellow 2007 draftee Sam Gagner had 131 points after 223 games and has 173 points right now. After next season, Turris will have played around 213 NHL games and is on pace for 75 career points.

If Turris doesn't take a step forward, it could present a large problem for the 'Yotes. Their 1st and 3rd leading scorers, Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, will be 35 and 39 this year respectively. When those two are gone this team will be virtually devoid of scoring, and the goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Labarbera/McElhinney is frightening.

In other words, as the Oilers continue to improve and their rebuild takes shape, the Coyotes will be a punching bag for the Copper and Blue. Whether they are the Phoenix Coyotes or the Coyotes of Parts Unknown, their rebuild is far from finished if it is to be done right.


The Coyotes are a good way for Oilers fans to be reminded of the consequences of never being truly awful. Though it is painful to suck, and to finish 30th in back-to-back years, the worst possible outcome would be to continue to pick in the 6-10 range in perpetuity. Nothing sucks worse than sucking forever. Not even finishing last for two years.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

07/27/11 53.3 Comparing Rebuilds: Los Angeles and Edmonton

Anze Kopitar

In part four of Comparing Rebuilds we will look at the Los Angeles Kings and their long road back to respectability.

The Los Angeles Kings are a peculiar team. Of all the rebuilds we've looked at so far, the Kings are the most unique in their assembly. The spring of 2003 saw the first time that LA would miss the playoffs in a stretch that lasted until 2010. Including the lockout, that's seven long years out of the post season. Sounds pretty standard so far, right? Read on.

In order to understand how the Kings built their team, we'll first have to look at the finished product. After all those years out of the playoffs, 10 of the players on the current roster were drafted by the team. Of those, only Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty can truly be considered impact players. And of those, only Doughty was a lottery pick.

In fact, Brown was drafted 13th overall that first year the Kings missed the playoffs in 2003, when the team was a reasonably respectable 18th in the league. Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick were drafted during the lockout draft of 2005, when there was no season to determine the order. Those two went 11th overall and 72nd overall respectively. After finishing 20th in 2006, ownership cleaned house; removing the entire coaching staff, GM and assistant GM, CEO and also the vice president. Jonathan Bernier was the first pick of the Lombardi era, taken 11th overall.

Thomas Hickey
Thomas Hickey (4th overall) was the first of three lottery picks that the Kings would have in a row, beginning in 2007. Wayne Simmonds went 61st that year as well. In 2008 the Kings finished 29th and took Drew Doughty and then Teubert 13th. Finally, after finishing 26th in 2009 they picked Brayden Schenn 5th overall.

Hickey still has a chance to make an impact in the NHL, but so far the Kings have gotten along just fine without him. Schenn would have counted as a second lottery pick that made the team, but of course he was traded with Simmonds for Mike Richards before this year's draft.

In the Kings' current top nine forwards, only Brown and Kopitar were drafted by the team (and possibly one more depending who plays third line right wing). The defense is no different, with only Doughty and Martinez as former Kings picks. Aside from the two goaltenders, the other selections outside the first round who made the team are all role players that don't really require a rebuild to obtain.


This is in stark contrast to the Oilers, who look to have drafted every player in their current top nine, despite the fact that Ryan Smyth was re-acquired via trade.

On the other hand, one of the main similarities between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers is that not every year spent out of the playoffs resulted in lottery picks. While teams like Washington and Pittsburgh spent every non-playoff year at the bottom, the Kings and Oilers didn't start off by blowing it up. Luckily, both teams have managed to mine some gems in the mid-late first round in addition to the lottery picks each has had. However, the rebuilds of these two teams has been somewhat slower because of their lack of a load of picks in the 1-5 range.

Counting the lockout, the Kings were out of the playoffs 7 years, and it will be at least 10 before they win a round. The Capitals were out for 4 years including the lockout and it was 6 years before they won a playoff round. Pittsburgh was out of the playoffs for 5 years including the lockout and won a round in the 7th year.

Edmonton has so far been out for 5 years. An optimistic assessment would see the team spend 6 years out of the playoffs and win a round in their 8th; assuming that they follow the model of other rebuilt squads and lose in the first round of 2012-13.

The Oilers' draft position and effectiveness falls somewhere between the Kings and Pittsburgh/Washington, and Edmonton's progress will probably follow.

The Oilers have had slightly better draft position during their time out of the playoffs than LA had, selecting 6th, 22nd, 10th, 1st and 1st (with another high pick probably on the way) compared with the Kings' 13th, 11th, 11th, 11th, 4th, 2nd and 5th. However, the Oilers still aren't close to Pittsburgh's 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd or Washington's 1st, 4th, 5th with some extremely high quality picks late in the first round of a few drafts.




Now all the Oilers need is to luck into a situation like the one that saw defenseman Jack Johnson get traded to LA. Johnson was drafted 3rd overall by Carolina but wouldn't sign there, so he was traded to Los Angeles for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason. That type of thing doesn't happen every day, but it certainly would help in Edmonton.

By the time the Oilers are finished their rebuild, the team may have traded away many valuable former draft picks for help on the backend, which will bring the comparison to Los Angeles slightly closer together. The Kings have largely been constructed through trade and free agency, but each trade had to start with a draft pick at one time.

Monday, 25 July 2011

07/25/11 53.2 Comparing Rebuilds: Washington and Edmonton

Alexander Something-or-Other


In part three of Comparing Rebuilds, we will look at the Washington Capitals and how they fell and rose again. Are they a good comparison to the Oilers?

The best thing that ever happened to the Washington Capitals was winning the Draft Lottery in 2004. Although the Caps picked first that year, they actually finished third-last in the league. If the draft order had remained the same, Washington might easily have ended up with Cam Barker. The best that Washington could have done with the third pick was to take Andrew Ladd. Ladd is a good player in his own right, but he's no Alexander Ovechkin.

At the time that it was all happening, it seemed like the Washington Capitals were a lot worse for a lot longer than they actually were. After losing in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final to Detroit, the Caps would see two consecutive years of first round exits. Once Pittsburgh went into financial peril, Washington was able to acquire Jaromir Jagr and signed him to a contract worth $77 million over 7 years. What did they get for their troubles? No playoffs the following year and a first round exit at the hands of Tampa Bay the year after that. Unfortunately, it turns out that at the time "having Jagr" = financial trouble for his team; which is small wonder considering his pricetag. In the end the Caps had to agree to pay $4 million of Jagr's salary annually just to be able to trade him to the New York Rangers.

To shed salary, and acknowledging that their attempt to buy a team had failed, Washington also traded Peter Bondra, Robert Lang and Sergei Gonchar in 2003-04. All of these trades caused the team to go down the tubes, and resulted in the lottery position where the Caps managed to win and jump to first overall. The result was Ovechkin.


Of course, this all sounds eerily reminiscent of when the Oilers traded Ryan Smyth mid-season and then dropped directly into the toilet. Interestingly, if the Oilers had won one less game in 2007 they would have finished 5th last and hit the lottery (Chicago had the luxury instead and took Patrick Kane), just like what happened to Washington. Instead the Oilers beat Calgary in game 82 and finished 6th-last, selecting Sam Gagner at the draft. The Caps had three first round picks in 2004, just like the Oilers in 2007. The difference? Washington's 27th and 29th picks overall in 2004 were Jeff Schultz and Mike Green. The Oilers selected Alex Plante and Riley Nash in 2007. Enough said.

However, you might say the Oilers got their Ovechkin in 2010 with Taylor Hall. There are some similarities. After the lockout the Caps continued to struggle in Ovechkin's rookie season. They finished 27th, but played 42 one-goal games that year. The Oilers finished 30th in Hall's rookie year, and played in 31 one-goal games. Washington selected their future number one center in Nicklas Backstrom after their dissappointing finish, while the Oilers hope that they took their future number one in Nugent-Hopkins.

Things didn't get any better with Ovechkin as a sophomore. Backstrom stayed over in Sweden in 2006-07, just as Nugent-Hopkins may stay in Red Deer. Despite 46 more goals from Ovi, the Capitals finished 27th and took Karl Alzner one pick ahead of Gagner in the 2007 draft. The following year they won their (weak) division and made the playoffs on the back of a 65 goal campaign from Ovechkin, and Backstrom's 55 assists and 69 points as a rookie.

Alexander Semin
 In all, the Washington Capitals spent just three straight seasons out of the playoffs (not including the lockout) and selected 1st overall, 4th overall and 5th overall. There was still a draft in 2005 of course, but it can be discounted since none of the players picked by Washington that year amounted to anything. The reason for the quick turnaround can be attributed to mid-late first round picks as much as to their lottery selections in 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Steve Eminger, Alex Semin and Boyd Gordon went 12th, 13th and 17th in 2002 to the Caps. Eric Fehr went 18th in 2003, and then there was the aforementioned Jeff Schultz 27th and Mike Green 29th in the Ovechkin draft. Varlamov and Neuvirth went 23rd and 34th in 2006, future stud John Carlson went 21st in 2008, which was the same year that Washington took Braden Holtby 93rd overall.

Those later picks make up (or did at one time) the core of the re-vamped Capitals. Ovechkin and Backstrom are certainly two huge pieces that came from their lottery picks, but it's safe to say that most of this team wasn't built through the top of the draft.


The Oilers have done alright later in the draft as well, plucking Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark, Petry, Peckham and Dubnyk well outside of the top 5. Only time will tell how integral those players are to the team's future success, but they will have to be key if the Oilers hope to turn it around like Washington and other former bottom-feeders have done.

So far the Oilers have only had two lottery picks and the team (and the fans) don't want another. The Capitals have shown that it isn't necessary to have a multitude of them to build a contender. On the other hand, a team like Pittsburgh that had 5 lottery selections has already won the Stanley Cup.

If the Oilers fall out of playoff contention this year, there will be a special place among some Oilers fans for the Capitals. If Washington can win it all, it will be a good sign for Edmonton.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

07/23/11 56.0 Hall and Hemsky Together > Apart



My, but that hat-trick was sweet. Hemsky assisted on the first two goals, including a beauty give-and-go at the goal mouth. That game was an indication of things to come.

Ironically, the Oilers have been looking for a left winger to fit into the top line ever since Ryan Smyth was traded. Now that he is back, the Oilers have finally got their man - and it isn't Smyth. Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa and Dustin Penner are three wingers that the Oilers have pursued in the interim. While Penner did have one exceptional season in Edmonton, he was never really the answer. In all likelihood, the selection of Magnus Paajarvi was at least partially driven by the need for a left winger that could play opposite Hemsky full time.

With all of this blatant desire on the part of the organization to find a winger that could compliment Hemsky, it should have come as no surprise which player the Oilers selected first overall in 2010. Taylor Hall falling into the Oilers' lap was like a God-send.

Perhaps that is part of the thinking when it comes to how the Oilers have dealt with the Hemsky situation. Now that they clearly have the left winger they wanted, management isn't going to shake things up. If the glimpses of chemistry that Hemsky and Hall have shown continue, it could be a very special tandem indeed.


Of course there's still Jordan Eberle to think about. It's no wonder that Hall and Eberle were placed on a line together for much of the year, considering how dynamic they were together at the World Juniors. During the tournament Oilers fans could only dream of the possibility of having both players, and when it actually happened it was like a dream come true. To put them together in the NHL seemed perfectly natural.

However, Hall and Eberle are both goal scorers, so it doesn't make much sense to keep them together any longer. Trying to force them to stay on the same line because of what they did in one Junior tournament is not the right way to go about things, especially now that they are both in the NHL with players that can better compliment their abilities.

Perhaps one day (maybe next year, maybe not) when Nugent-Hopkins is the set-up center on the top line, it will make sense to have two goal-scoring wingers play with him. For now though, RNH is not as good as Hemsky; if only because of experience. If Eberle was a center it might also make sense to keep Eberle and Hall together. For the time being, it seems best to ease Nugent-Hopkins in with a second line role, where he can feed pucks to another former WHLer in Eberle. On the top line Gagner and Hemsky can hopefully find Hall 30-40 times this season, and it will create a nice and balanced one-two attack.

There's no doubt that as Eberle and Hall improve they will be able to be effective with each other, but as long as the Oilers have one of the league's better set up men in Hemsky, they might as well utilize him with Hall.



Of course this all hinges on the Oilers staying the course and not trading their best player over the last several years. This blog has not exactly shied away from the idea of trading Hemsky, but that window seems to have closed now.

Trading Hemsky for a high pick in the 2011 Draft might have made sense since that player could have been in the Oilers lineup on opening night in 2011-12 and been all but guaranteed to be an Oiler for a good long time. Trading Hemsky for an established, up-and-coming player might also have made sense, but with only one year left on Hemsky's contract that probably won't happen. Hemsky has the chance to move on if he chooses after next year, but Oilers management is obviously banking on that not happening.

Ales Hemsky will be 28 at the start of next season, which means that if the Oilers can manage to sign him to an extension they will still get at least 4-6 years of high end play from him. That fits into the long term plans just fine. As a matter of fact, there wouldn't be any talk of trading Hemsky at all if it weren't for the fact that his contract is about to expire and also the way that players have recently been leaving Edmonton as if it were Old Testamant Egypt.

If for whatever reason the Oilers decide to trade Hemsky, it will be better to do it at this year's trade deadline instead of right now. Right now teams see that Hemsky has one year left on his contract and shy away, but when those same teams are trying to win a Stanley Cup they'll be willing to pay a huge price for a player that only has a few months left on his deal.

But whatever the Oilers get for Hemsky probably won't be as valuable as having him on board, considering that only contending teams with mid-late first round picks will trade for him. The fact that Hemsky hasn't been traded already means that:

a) none of the offers have been good enough to this point
b) the Oilers feel that they have a decent shot to get him re-signed
c) all of the above

The Oilers won't let Hemsky walk for nothing, but let's all get together now and hope that he wants to stay. It would give the team a fantastic mix of scorers and set-up men in their top six, which would be deadly for years to come.

"Hemsky dangles across the blueline, threads the needle over to Hall, who scores!"

Has a nice ring to it.


GO ESKS GO!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

07/21/11 55.0 Solutions in Goal: Pekka Rinne

Pekka Rinne

The debate rages on. Is Khabibulin going to bounce back next season, or will he continue to be a sub-par goaltender who ends his career with a fizzle? It turns out that it doesn't really matter. Regardless of the answer to that question, the one near-certainty is that Nikolai Khabibulin won't be with the Oilers for longer than the next two years. That means that a long term solution is needed between the pipes.

There were rumblings that the Oilers were in on the race for free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun this off season before he signed with Washington. If true, it suggests that the organization is not concerned with adding a goaltender through free agency and the implications for Khabibulin. If a third goalie enters the fold, it probably won't be Devan Dubnyk who goes down to Oklahoma City. That leaves old Nik as the odd man out.

Next July 1st Vokoun will be up for grabs again, but he'll also be seeking a long-term deal at age 36. If that sounds painfully familiar, it's because that is the story of Khabibulin as well. Granted, Vokoun has been solid over the past several seasons, but he's still not a long term solution. Nashville's Pekka Rinne is set to become an Unrestricted Free Agent next July as well, assuming that the Predators don't sign him to an extension before then. Rinne is the type of goalie that could be a real answer for the Oilers.

The 28 year old currently carries a cap hit of $3.4 million, and to sign him would probably take a raise of at least one to two million dollars. This past year he was second in the league in save percentage at .930 and third in goals against average with 2.12. Over his career, which spans 177 games, Rinne has posted a .920 SV% and 2.33 GAA. The fact that Rinne will be just 29 at the time of next year's free agent frenzy means that his team will still get a lot of quality mileage out of him.

It's a rare opportunity for the Oilers because Rinne fits perfectly into the age bracket that will allow the team to stay together for a long time. Furthermore, when Nikolai Khabibulin comes off the books, $3.75 million in cap space will open up. If the Oilers signed Rinne to a contract with a cap hit of around $5 million, it would mean spending just $1.25 million more for a tremendous goaltending upgrade and would still leave plenty of flexibility to sign the wunderkids to new deals.




The inevitable question is what the Oilers do with Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk is an RFA after next season, and he will probably want a bump from the $800,000 salary he is bringing in now. The Oilers should still be able to get a deal done without breaking the bank.

There's certainly plenty to like about Dubnyk, but he only has 54 NHL games under his belt at this point. Throwing him into the fire of the starting job might not be the best thing for him, or for the team. Signing Rinne - or any veteran goaltender for that matter - doesn't mean Dubnyk isn't part of the team's future plans; it simply cements the position going forward. The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins both went into the playoffs with number one and one-A goalies. While the one-A's didn't much effect the outcome, it was a nice luxury to have during the regular season and also the playoffs where anything can happen.

***
After next season the Oilers should have the clout around the league to be able to land the bigger fish in free agency. It will be impossible to ignore all the up-and-coming talent on the team. If the Oilers offer competitive money, term and a chance to win, then there's no reason that a player like Rinne wouldn't take an offer seriously.

It may be a hard pill for Darryl Katz to pay Khabibulin $3.75 million to play for the AHL team in the last year of his deal, but the owner has shown a willingness to open the check book to help the team win. His going along with how Tambellini handled Sheldon Souray shows that Katz understands the big picture regardless of the cost, especially considering that it ended in a buyout anyway. If the Oilers have a chance to make their goaltending rock solid for the next 4-6 years by signing Rinne and Dubnyk, it seems unlikely that Katz would be opposed to burying Khabibulin on the farm. One thing is for sure: the fans wouldn't mind in the least; which speaks volumes about the Oilers' situation in goal.

It may be next July that the situation finally gets rectified.

07/21/11 53.1 Comparing Rebuilds: Pittsburgh and Edmonton


Welcome to part two of Comparing Rebuilds. This time we will look at the Pittsburgh Penguins and how their championship team was built.

The Pittsburgh Penguins made the playoffs in the 2000-01 season, and reached the Conference Final where they lost to the New Jersey Devils in five games. However, financial trouble saw the Penguins trade away much of their core and the team dropped in the standings like a stone. The team only spent 5 years out of the playoffs (if you include the lockout) between their Conference Final appearance and their return to the post season in 2006-07.

To put that in perspective, if the Oilers were to make the playoffs next year then the timeline of the two clubs would be about the same. Though there is a fear of creating a culture of losing in Edmonton, the Penguins weren't at the bottom for much less time than Edmonton will be. The turnaround took place because the time the Penguins spent outside the playoffs was not wasted in the middle of the NHL Draft. When the Penguins were down in the standings, they were way down.

Here is a comparison of Edmonton and Pittsburgh's draft positions, starting with the year after each last made the playoffs (first pick only):

Pittsburgh: 5th Overall (Ryan Whitney), 1st Overall (M-A Fleury), 2nd Overall (Evgeni Malkin), 1st Overall (Crosby), 2nd Overall (Jordan Staal)

Edmonton: 6th Overall (Sam Gagner), 22nd Overall (Jordan Eberle), 10th Overall (Magnus Paajarvi), 1st Overall (Taylor Hall), 1st Overall (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins)

The Penguins took three centers in those 5 drafts, and all of them were key to the Cup victory. However, Ryan Whitney was ultimately traded for help on the wing. That means that these drafts resulted in four forwards and a goalie for Pittsburgh.

The Oilers took two centers and three wingers. Both teams weighted the value heavily on forwards at the top of the draft. The Oilers are obviously without a Sidney Crosby, but that would be asking for a lot. Four of the players that Pittsburgh drafted in that span helped them to win their third Stanley Cup, and Whitney was traded at the deadline for Chris Kunitz and Eric Tangradi. Kunitz didn't exactly light up the playoffs that year, but he did contribute 14 points on the way to the Cup win.

Both teams had two first overall picks in a five year span, and in a re-draft one has to think that Jordan Eberle would have at least cracked the top ten in 2008. The caliber of talent that Edmonton has collected in their time out of the playoffs is perhaps less impressive than that of Pittsburgh, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a solid core of players.

Kris Letang
 The Penguins drafted 9 of the players on their Stanley Cup winning team (who played at least ten games). They were: Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Kennedy, Letang, Talbot, Orpik, Scuderi and Fleury. Aside from Scuderi, who was drafted in 1998, all of the others were selected between 2000 and 2006. Five of those nine were forwards, three were defensemen and of course Fleury in goal.

Five of the players were free agent signings: Fedotenko, Satan, Cooke, Eaton and Gonchar. All of them were depth players except for Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar signed a deal with the Penguins in August of 2005 - after Crosby, Malkin and Fleury were all drafted. The Oilers' search for a number one defenseman might also be solved in this manner, now that the core forwards have been set into place.

4 of Pittsburgh's players were acquired via trade: Dupuis, Kunitz, Guerin and Gill.




The Oilers are still very much in an evaluation phase in their development, so it's very difficult to project which free agent and trade moves will work out and which ones will not. On the draft side, however, things are a little less hazy.

Sam Gagner has a better points per game average at this point than Jordan Staal, but Staal is a more complete player and is also playing behind two of the best centermen in the NHL. Still, Gagner's development is not complete. He could end up being better than Staal, but still nowhere near Crosby or Malkin.

If Ryan Nugent-Hopkins pans out as planned, he still won't be Sidney Crosby. For him to reach a similar level to Malkin is perhaps the best that the Oilers can hope for. 418 points in 352 games is nothing to sneeze at, after all. Even if RNH doesn't quite reach those heights, he will still be a very successful pick at a point per game clip.

The center position is key for this comparison because the Oilers will probably blow Pittsburgh's depth on the wing out of the water in a year or two. It's hard to argue with a model that has recently been used to win the Stanley Cup, but the Penguins have constantly been trying to add wingers that can play with their highly skilled centermen. To that end, they have traded away some of their depth on defense in Whitney and Goligoski.

While the Oilers don't boast the same formidable power at center, they have used their top picks in a more balanced manner. In fact, the team may have drafted an entire top line in Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle; as well as an entire second line in Paajarvi, Gagner and Hemsky. This approach could pay dividends later on.

Some say that the Penguins were successful because they drafted centers, and while that is true, it's also true that they drafted the best player available. Before Crosby was drafted, the Penguins selected Fleury first overall in 2002, even though center Eric Staal was available and went second. The team felt that Fleury was their man, and they were rewarded. Malkin was the next-best option after Ovechkin went off the board, and he happened to be a center. Crosby was obviously the best player out there in 2005. In Staal's draft year, 4 of the 5 picks after number one were centers, and Pittsburgh simply picked the one they liked best. In each case an argument could have been made for drafting by position - especially once the Penguins had so much depth up the middle - but they continued to take the best player regardless of position or organizational need.



The Oilers also took the best player on the board in a given year. They took Magnus Paajarvi even though they had taken 3 forwards in the first round of the previous 2 drafts. And even with all those picks up front, they took Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to round out their forward ranks with the best options that could be had. It may end up that identifying and taking the best players is more sound than taking the best center.

The last thing to note is one that was touched on earlier: the culture of losing. Pittsburgh's kids weren't ruined by the supposed culture of losing in their stretch out of the playoffs. They finished 26th, 29th, 30th, 29th, with one season in between that wasn't played. That's no less dismal than what the Oilers have gone through and yet the Penguins are a force in the NHL. If anything, the adversity probably helped those players rally and develop into a team. Worrying about a culture of losing is folly, because the same thing is likely to happen to these Oilers players.

How far they take it remains to be seen.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

07/20/11 11.8 Odds & Ends: Bogo Rumor, Cogliano, Arena Battle

Zach Bogosian

Despite the insistence of Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff that Zach Bogosian is staying put, the rumors continue to persist. In all likelihood they will continue until Bogosian is either signed or traded. Whether you believe in Treenasoil or not, even a broken clock is right twice a day. For a few days now, the hottest new supposed insider has been claiming that the Oilers and Jets have been talking about a deal that would see Bogosian come to Edmonton. If you have no idea who Treenasoil (or Tracy Lane) is, follow her here.

A lot of the tweets that she has put up are odd. At first it seemed that Gagner and Petry were on the trade block for Bogo, but the Jets didn't want Petry so the deal fell through. It's hard to imagine the Oilers wanting to part with either of those players right now, so the validity of her supposed source is immediately called into question. Lowetide just put up an excellent article on OilersNation which deals with Sam Gagner and his upward trajectory, which means trading him at this point wouldn't make much sense.

Then an interesting tweet appeared on the 18th, which claimed that the Jets asked for Magnus Paajarvi for Bogosian and the Oilers turned it down. That begs an interesting question. Whether this rumor is true or not, would a deal of MPS for Bogo be worth it?

I like Magnus Paajarvi, but Bogosian is exactly what the Oilers don't have. He is young, just about to enter his prime but he isn't a raw rookie, and he's got top pairing written all over him. Any Oilers prospects that might come close to Bogosian are still many years from being where Bogo is now, and although the defensive prospect depth is improved, there isn't necessarily a future top pairing D-man among them. Paajarvi will be a good NHLer, but his role is easier to fill than a top pairing defenseman is.

For the Jets' part, they went into this off season aware of the fact that they need more scoring punch in order to compete. Mark Scheifele might get there one day, but not next season. The Jets' other acquisitions have been mostly underwhelming and consist of minor leaguers or depth players. If they feel Paajarvi can be an impact player, he's worth looking at. With Byfuglien, Enstrom, Stuart, Hainsey and Oduya under contract, things might be a bit muddled when it comes to finding Bogosian a spot on the defense. He's an excellent cornerstone for Winnipeg's blueline, but he might be a luxury that gets moved for a scorer. There's no real evidence that the Jets think Paajarvi is their man, but if so it's worth the Oilers considering.


Andrew Cogliano's agent looked like a genius on Tuesday when he managed to wrestle $7.17 million out of the Anaheim Ducks over three years. Also coming out of this smelling like roses is Oilers GM Steve Tambellini. Cogliano's contract demands were obviously way out of whack with what the Oilers were willing to offer. The two sides wouldn't have even been close on this one, and an arbitrator was unlikely to see it all the Oilers' way.

Only Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky and Hall would have had higher cap hits among the Oilers forwards. Paying Cogliano more than Gagner makes no sense at all for Edmonton, and it would only drive up the ask for Oilers players when they come up for contract negotiations. That second round pick in 2013 is looking awfully good right now.


That sucker looks forlorn doesn't it? It's time for a new arena already, but matters have been further complicated by the fact that Katz is shutting Northlands out of the negotiations.

To be fair to the Katz Group, there's no particular reason that they should have to include Northlands, because it's a separate business. However, Katz wants Northlands to sign a non-competition agreement which will ensure that the two venues won't fight over the same events. Needless to say, this would be a crippling blow to Northlands and asking them to please sign everything over is probably not going to go over too well.

Northlands came right out yesterday and said that they are going to fight the new arena for their share of the event pie. Add to that the fact that they want to replace 8000 seats in Rexall Place - the same Rexall Place that would be essentially redundant if Katz gets his way.

This could get ugly. When elephants fight, the ants get trampled and that's exactly what is happening to Edmontonians who deserve not only a new arena, but a revitalized downtown core.

Edmonton may not be big enough for both Katz and Northlands, but some healthy competition between the two might not be bad for the users of the facilities. They may try to outdo each other on pricing and the like in order to gain the upper hand. Or, Northlands might have to charge huge prices just to compete financially. We'll never know until the second arena gets built, but attempting to strong arm Northlands may only impede the progress.

After already conceding on the ticket tax he didn't want to include in the deal, Katz may have to stop getting in his own way and work toward a solution that can see construction crews break ground.

Monday, 18 July 2011

07/19/11 54.0 Edmonton Eskimos Hockey

Edmonton Eskimos Hockey Players 1926

The strapping young gents pictured above are members of Edmonton's first professional hockey team: the Edmonton Eskimos. The Eskimos challenged three times for the Stanley Cup, but they never were able to bring it home. Twice they played against Ottawa and one time against Montreal's team, the Wanderers. It's an interesting bit of history that not many Edmonton hockey fans may be aware of. There was a team from Edmonton playing for the Stanley Cup 71 years before the Oilers joined the NHL.

Hockey Hall of Famer Eddie Shore played for the Eskimos in 1926, where he was nicknamed the "Edmonton Express" before being sold to the Boston Bruins later that same year. Hall of Famers Lester Patrick, Dieder Pitre and Tommy Phillips are also alumns of the Eskimos Hockey Club from all those years ago.

Lester Patrick as a Ranger
 In 1908 the Stanley Cup Final - so to speak - was a two game series. The reigning champion Montreal Wanderers were challenged by the champions of the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association - the Eskimos. The Wanderers won game one by a score of 7-3, but Edmonton managed to win the second game 7-6. However, in the event of a tie the series was decided by total goals scored and the Wanderers defended the Stanley Cup by an overall score of 13-10.

Edmonton lost both games in 1910 to Ottawa by scores of 8-4 and 13-7.

In the 1923 Stanley Cup Final, the Eskimos outshot Ottawa in the two games of the best of three series by a margin of 68-48, but it wasn't to be. Hall of Famer King Clancy played all six positions in game two for Ottawa including goal when the Senators' goaltender was called for a penalty and had to serve it; as per the rules of the day. The Senators won both games by scores of 2-1 in overtime and 1-0 in game two. Hall of Fame goaltender (and the first to ever wear facial protection for five games) Clint Benedict put on a clinic for Ottawa in the crease.

***

The modern day Edmonton Eskimos are off to a magnificent 3-0 start to the season, which feels like a harbinger of things to come for the city of Edmonton. Over the last several seasons it's been hard to be a sports fan in this city. It's still early, and we're all too aware of how quickly our hopes could be dashed, but it's beginning to feel like the turnaround has begun. During one glorious period in the 1980's and early 90's, the Oilers and Eskimos were lighting up their respective leagues, and the first whispers that it could happen all over again have started to gain in volume.

The Eskimos Hockey Club may not have ever won the Stanley Cup, but they were champions of their league and started a tradition of winning sports that hasn't left in all the years since. The winning ways may have been buried, but they most certainly aren't gone.

Friday, 15 July 2011

07/16/11 53.0 Comparing Rebuilds: Chicago and Edmonton

Chicago wins it all

Welcome to the first installment in a new multi-part series called Comparing Rebuilds. In it, we'll delve into some of the franchises that have recently risen to prominence after being horrible for a long time. The belief is that because these teams were horrible they were able to build contenders through the draft, and the Edmonton Oilers are banking on that formula working out again. This series will examine just how true that idea is (or isn't), and measure similarities and differences between past teams and the future Oilers. First on the list is the Chicago Blackhawks.

Oilers fans think they've had it rough, but The Chicago Blackhawks only made the playoffs once in a ten season span from 1997-98 to 2007-08 (ten seasons because 2004-05 was cancelled due to lockout). They also won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10, but it was their first since 1961. That's a drought of 49 years - more than twice as long as Oilers fans have waited for Stanley to return. Because of the additions of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the belief is widely held that Chicago's championship team was built through the draft. While true, it wasn't necessarily built that way because of high draft picks.

Duncan Keith

Of the 20 players who appeared in at least ten playoff games during their Stanley Cup run in the spring of 2010, nine of them were drafted by Chicago. These included: Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Dave Bolland, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Adam Burish.

The interesting thing about this group is that only three of them - Kane, Toews and Seabrook - were drafted in the first round. Furthermore, perhaps the most pivotal draft for the future Chicago championship team was the 2002 draft, which occurred in a year that the Blackhawks made the playoffs. That year the Hawks selected Keith in round two (54th overall), Matt Ellison in round four (whose importance will be explained), and Adam Burish in the ninth round (282 overall; third-last pick in the entire draft). Incidently, the Hawks also took James Wiesniewski in the fifth round in 2002, but he wasn't important to the championship team.

From 2003-2005 the Blackhawks drafted Byfuglien, Brouwer, Bolland and Hjalmarsson outside of the first round. In fact, none of them were taken earlier than Dave Bolland (32nd overall in 2004). A 29th finish that year gave the Hawks that pick, so it technically is a point for building through the draft. However, the others were taken in the 8th, 7th and 4th rounds respectively.

Brent Seabrook was the 14th overall pick by Chicago in a year that they finished 9th in the West (though the Oilers had a significant 13 point lead for 8th place). Only Toews and Kane were taken in the top five; when Chicago finished 28th in 2006 and 26th in 2007 (but won the draft lottery).

Two of Chicago's most important players were lottery picks, but only one other player drafted by the team was a first round pick. Cam Barker was a third overall pick, but he was traded before the Cup run.


Antti Niemi
 Seven of the key players on Chicago's roster in 2009-10 were acquired as free agents. These included some of the most important of all: Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, John Madden, Tomas Kopecky, Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry and goaltender Antti Niemi. That's one-third of the total roster of players that appeared in 10 or more playoff games, and only Hendry and Sopel signed before 2008. Big name players only signed after Kane and Toews were drafted and had shown that they could make an impact in the NHL.

Andrew Ladd

Four of Chicago's players were acquired via trade, including: Andrew Ladd (for Tuomo Ruutu who was Chicago's 9th overall pick in 2001), Kris Versteeg (for Brandon Bochenski who was acquired previously for Tyler Arnason, a Chicago pick in the 1998 draft), Patrick Sharp (for the aforementioned Matt Ellison, who was drafted the same year as Keith), and Ben Eager (for Jim Vandermeer, who was acquired for Alexei Zhamnov, who was acquired for Jeremy Roenick).

In a roundabout way, all of these players came through the draft. At some point down the line, a Chicago draft pick was traded for one of these four. One of the team's less impressive years in 2000-01 (22nd in the league) saw them acquire Ruutu in the draft, who turned into Ladd. Versteeg, Sharp and Eager, however, don't really fall into the rebuild mould. Each of them could have been acquired without having to be rebuilding.

RNH
 The Chicaco Blackhawks drafted an elite center and an elite winger in Kane and Toews with top-three picks at the draft. The Oilers look like they may have done the same with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. Unfortunately for Oilers fans, the pair were drafted in reverse order to Kane and Toews. Toews had the opportunity to spend one more year in college, develop his skills and star in the World Junior Championships for Canada. Nugent-Hopkins may need the same treatment, but because he was drafted after Hall, the timeline is set slightly back.

Interestingly, Jeff Petry was a 45th overall pick by Edmonton in 2006 - the same year that they went to the Stanley Cup Final. Like Duncan Keith, Petry is a defenseman taken in the second round the year his NHL team made the playoffs. Like Keith, Petry went through the Michigan State University program. Keith debuted for Chicago four years after being drafted and for Petry it was five. However, Keith had played four full NHL seasons before the 2009-10 campaign in which the Blackhawks won the Cup. Petry has a mere 35 NHL games under his belt.

Brent Seabrook played 314 games in the NHL before the 2009-10 season, and he was a veteran of 392 games before the playoffs rolled around that year. Perhaps just as important was Chicago's playoff run the previous season, in which Keith and Seabrook both got 17 games of playoff experience. Since defensemen take the longest to develop, Chicago was fortunate. Not only did they draft two stars in Keith and Seabrook, but both also had plenty of time to become stars before Kane and Toews came in.

There is no current Oiler close to Seabrook or Keith after that number of games, and any candidates are far from that total experience.

Anton Lander
 Edmonton will need to make good on some of their later picks if they want to emulate what the Blackhawks did. It's much too early to tell at this point, but so far many of the Oilers' recent picks beyond the first round seem to be tracking quite well. Anton Lander is just one of a number of players that could eventually be part of a core group that challenges for the Stanley Cup. If not, these players should have value enough around the league to be tradeable for some established pieces. It will take quality pro scouting to make these deals work out in Edmonton's favor.

Chicago was as much of a black hole for free agents at one time as Edmonton has been the past few years. This off season we are starting to see the first signs that free agents are seriously considering the Oilers again. The free agency front isn't really a concern any longer, given that after next season Edmonton will be an attractive destination again; especially if Nugent-Hopkins makes the team. The timing is perfect, because the Oilers will be looking to build their blueline through free agency and find established players that way. Plenty of solid defensemen are coming into the open market next year.

It will also take good pro scouting to find some undrafted free agents that can play parts in the organization. The Oilers have made great strides in that area at the college level with House, Fedun, Arcobello and Tremblay coming into the fold as free agent signings that no one took a chance on in the draft.

***

Edmonton has some similarities to Chicago. Most notably, their number one centers and wingers were lottery picks (at least that's what the Oilers hope for from RNH).

The differences are in how the defense will be built. The Oilers probably don't have a Keith or Seabrook in the system and even if one exists they will still be a few years away. Therefore, if Edmonton wants to compete sooner rather than later, it will take building a defense through free agency or trade. By contrast, Chicago's blueline was built through free agency and the draft. Neither approach is wrong, but building a defense through the draft takes a long, long time.

Most fans see that big names like Kane and Toews were drafted, the Stanley Cup is won, and then assume that it all happened in a relatively timely fashion. In reality, the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory started at the 2001 draft with Ruutu (who became Ladd) and also the draft in 2002 where they got Keith, Ellison (who became Sharp), and Burish.

Time will tell how good Edmonton's pro scouts are, but Chicago got full value out of theirs. Niemi, Sharp, Versteeg, Ladd, Eager and Hendry were all added to the Blackhawks before other teams were aware of what they truly had and/or were passing up.

The key to a Stanley Cup Championship seems to be that the organization is strong at every level. The draft, the pro scouts, the management to acquire and develop players must all be top notch to have success. The Oilers are moving in the right direction. Here's hoping that they take the next step.

Next up: The Pittsburgh Penguins

Thursday, 14 July 2011

07/14/11 52.0 Trade With Columbus Coming?

Linus Omark

Kristian Huselius is injured, and will be out four to six months. Because of that, the rumor mill has kicked into gear again, and the Ales Hemsky to Columbus rumors are flying. While Hemsky would be a good fit for the Jackets (and an improvement over Huselius), it's unlikely to take place. The Blue Jackets no longer have anything that the Oilers would want that is of equivalent value to Hemsky. The eighth overall pick in this year's draft might have been a good starting point, but an unknown first round pick next year certainly isn't. Not only that, but trading Hemsky for a pick next year would set the team back by at least a year and almost certainly more.

But that isn't to say that there is no possibility of a trade between the two clubs. Obviously Scott Howson has strong ties to Edmonton, and the two sides have been trading partners in the past. So what might a deal look like? One somewhat expendable winger on the Oilers' roster is Linus Omark.


The Jackets organization is certainly aware of Omark and his skill level, so he could be a potential target. He's shown that he has good ability to set up his linemates, which is something that Columbus will need for Carter and Nash. Omark plays a lot of right wing for Edmonton, but he is officially listed a left winger - the same as Huselius. He's also a bargain player for $875,000, which may be important for Howson's internal budget, considering that they just signed Wiesniewski and added Carter. Together those two account for more than ten million dollars in cap hit and $13 million in actual salary next year.

There's plenty of talent in Omark, and a doggedness that is rare in players his size, but there are a few reasons that Edmonton may consider this trade. If the Oilers are committed to Ales Hemsky long term, along with Paajarvi, Hall and Eberle, then the log jam is too tight for Omark to break into the top six. He's not necessarily a prototypical bottom six forward, which means that he may begin to suffer the same ills that afflicted Cogliano.

Omark's contract also has an out-clause in it that allows him to return to Europe if he's not playing in the NHL next year. Supposing that a player like Teemu Hartikainen is a better fit after training camp, Omark can return to Europe and not be a part of the Oilers anyway.

Omark is less valuable than Hemsky, which means that the Blue Jackets do have the assets available to acquire him. The Oilers might be interested in a player like defenseman David Savard.

David Savard at the 2009 Entry Draft

Savard was taken 94th overall by Columbus in 2009, and since then he's seen his stock rise. In his last year in the QMJHL, Savard collected 13-64-77 in 64 games and finished as a plus-36 with Moncton. Last year was Savard's first in the AHL, and he put up 11-32-43 and a minus-6 rating in 72 games for a non-playoff team. At 6'1" and 217 pounds, he's physically mature enough for the NHL, and he also brings a right-handed shot, which is something that the Oilers are short on in their defensive group.

Savard was Defenseman of the Year in the entire CHL in 2009-10, Best Defenseman, and Best Defensive Defenseman in the QMJHL in the same year, as well as being named to the QMJHL First All-Star Team.

Despite all that, David Savard has never played an NHL game, while Linus Omark has. If, because of that, the Oilers could wrestle Savard and a 3rd or 4th round pick out of Columbus, it might be a deal worth making.

***

Columbus clearly has a large Huselius-shaped hole in their roster now, but they'll wait until after other teams are finished with the second buyout window and they'll also make a play for some free agents before making a trade. If all of those avenues fall through, Columbus will almost certainly make some kind of deal to try to fill their immediate need. Howson can't afford to have gone this far and leave a big opening at left wing.

The Oilers will only make this deal if they feel that another strong defensive prospect can help them more than Omark can down the road. If the writing on the wall is the same for Omark as it was for Cogliano, a deal makes sense before Omark is forced into a checking role that sees his production decline like Cogliano's did. There was a time that Cogliano was part of a package for a former 50 goal scorer, but he probably wouldn't even be in the conversation now. The Oilers can't afford to let the same fate befall Omark.

Having said that, the Oilers are probably most likely to keep Omark and hope that he progresses. If he makes the decision for them, the Oilers will keep him in the fold. Either way, he's a restricted free agent after next season, so Tambellini is going to have some decisions to make regarding the skilled Swede.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

07/13/11 50.1 Can the Oilers Make the Playoffs? Part Two


Jason Smith didn't touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl, and the Oilers still lost. Will it be Horcoff who is the next Oilers captain to pose with that trophy? Or will he be retired by the time the Oilers get back there? A playoff berth in 2011-12 could fast track the progress, but is it realistic?

Once again the Western Conference was a tough one to win in. The tenth place Calgary Flames had enough points to make the playoffs in the East, but missed in the West by 3 points (and 3 wins in the event of a tie). Even more telling, only the bottom three teams in the Conference had losing records. These included the Blue Jackets (34-35-13), Avalanche (30-44-8) and Oilers (25-45-12). Next worst after Columbus were the Minnesota Wild, who finished 12th despite a record of 39-35-8. Therefore, simply to have finished 12th the Oilers would have had to win a whopping 14 more games.

To make the playoffs they would have needed around 19 more wins. Even then we are talking about the 8th seed in the West, and the Blackhawks barely made it in with a record of 44-29-9.

To suggest that the Oilers will improve in the W column by 15-20 wins is probably a pipe dream at this point. The improvements they have made will help, but the blueline is still average at best and the question marks surrounding the goaltending are collosal.

However, some of the teams in the West have fallen off this off season and there is the potential for the Oilers to pass them. Below is a list of a few of them. Will it be enough?

Playoff Teams:

Phoenix: As we have seen previously, the Coyotes were average to horrible in most statistical categories, but Bryzgalov and some great coaching got them through. They have lost Bryzgalov now and replaced him with Mike Smith, who has yet to show that he can be a full time number one netminder in the NHL. In 2010-11 he posted a 2.90 GAA and a 0.899 save percentage in 22 games, which are hardly inspiring numbers. Aside from Smith, the Coyotes signed Raffi Torres and Boyd Gordon, who will help their bottom six, but won't give them much scoring punch. Dave Tippett has shown that he can coach his way out of a minefield of mediocrity, but this team is probably going to take a step back and out of the playoffs.

Anaheim: Adding a number of former Oilers isn't going to get the Ducks over the top. Much will depend on the status of Jonas Hiller and Teemu Selanne, because this team wouldn't have made the playoffs without those two. The Ducks boast arguably the best line in hockey at the moment with Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan; but the team still struggled at times last season. Without Selanne they would instantly become weaker, and Cogliano is still not Todd Marchant. Another year of age will help Cam Fowler, but it could have the opposite effect on Jason Blake and Saku Koivu.

Nashville: Another example of a team that is brilliantly coached and gets a lot out of a little. The Predators got 33 wins out of goaltender Pekka Rinne on the back of his 2.12 goals against average and remarkable 9.30 save percentage. They'll need a performance like that again if they want to make the playoffs, as the Preds haven't done much to address the fact that they finished 21st in the league in scoring and 26th on the powerplay. It's a lot to ask of Rinne, and could see them fall out of the top eight next year.

***

That's three teams that could realistically drop out of the playoffs. It's almost certain that Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, Los Angeles and Chicago will all make it, and there's no chance that the Oilers will pass any of them to grab a playoff berth.

Non-Playoff Teams:

None of these teams made the playoffs last year anyway, but the Oilers will have to be ahead of them if they want to get to the post season.


Dallas: Losing Richards hurts. Between James Neal and Richards, the Stars have lost 122 points, and that's based on last season where Neal switched teams and didn't produce up to expectations. Ryder, Fiddler, Dvorak and Dowell are all downgrades. Souray and Pardy will need huge years for the Stars to make noise. They will probably miss the playoffs.

Calgary: Baffling moves in the off season see the Flames get worse by losing Regehr. They opened up cap space, but not enough to justify the move. This non-playoff team is worse, if anything, and the once powerful blueline is now devastated and arguably among the worst in the league. It's Oilers blueline bad. Calgary will miss the playoffs.

St. Louis: Finally got a pure scorer in Chris Stewart and added experience in Arnott and Langenbrunner. If Cheechoo can bounce back he could help as well. This team will fight for a playoff spot and could potentially make it.

Minnesota: Losing Burns hurts, but Setoguchi will help. Mikeal Granlund could make the team and boost the offense. If Dany Heatley can get back to his 30-50 goal form the Wild could have a decent enough attack, even with Brodziak as a second line center. Much like the Oilers, the defense may be a bit of a question mark, but Minnesota isn't starting from 30th place. Still likely to miss the playoffs.

Columbus: Perhaps the most improved non-playoff team, the Jackets now have a true number one center in Jeff Carter and a very good offensive defenseman in James Wiesniewski. Fairly potent and balanced offensive attack, combined with a decent defense. The Jackets' season will hinge on the play of Steve Mason. If Mason posts numbers that are good enough for an NHL starter, Columbus could easily make the dance.

Colorado: Erik Johnson will need to progress, but the Av's could still make the playoffs. Landeskog will almost certainly make the team, and Jan Hejda will help to improve the defense of the defense. Once again, everything will depend on the goaltending. If the tandem of Giguere and Varlamov is good, consider Colorado a playoff team. If not, consider them toast.

***

Three of the non-playoff teams have a good shot to make it next year. That replaces the three teams that are likely to miss. The question that Oilers fans have to ask is whether or not the Oilers are better than Colorado, Columbus, St. Louis, Nashville, Anaheim or Phoenix.

Edmonton has to be better than four of them to make the playoffs, and right now that's a bit of a stretch.

The thing to keep in mind is that this is still a rebuilding situation. While the Oilers' chances of making the playoffs next year aren't particularly high, missing isn't the worst thing that could happen to them. For instance, the LA Kings selected Brayden Schenn 5th overall in 2009, the year before they made the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02. Schenn eventually turned into Mike Richards, who is going to be a fantastic second line center for that team for years to come.

If the Oilers miss the playoffs next year and do half as well as the Kings did, it will be well worth it in the long run.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

07/12/11 51.0 So Long Cogliano


In the end, Andrew Cogliano was a good sport as always. In his exit interview with Bob Stauffer, Cogliano didn't sound bitter or perturbed at all; despite the fact that he had been on the trade block for the better part of two years. The first sign that this was coming was when Cogliano was part of the package that the Oilers put together for Dany Heatley. Since then it's been hard to say exactly where the undersized center fit on this Oilers team.

Cogliano credits Tom Renney and the Oilers' coaching staff for turning him into the two-way player that he is becoming. While Cogliano deserves some credit for buying in, his development is also a major pat on the back to the coaches. Renney and his staff took a player that came into the league with offense in mind and turned him into a much better defensive asset than he'd ever been before. If Cogliano is any indication, the Oilers are set when it comes to coaches, as the staff clearly should be able to get the most out of players who want to learn.

In many ways, Cogliano was over-qualified for a bottom six role. His most effective time was the early days he spent on the top two lines where his job was to produce offense. He wasn't relied upon too much for defense or even to win draws, which hid some of the blemishes in his game. Unfortunately, he's since been passed in that role by other mostly younger players.

And while Cogliano made strides in his defensive game, he was also under-qualified for a role in the bottom six. Of all Oilers centers, Cogliano was used the most per game on the penalty kill - even more than Shawn Horcoff or Colin Fraser. Only Liam Reddox had more average time on ice shorthanded among all Oilers forwards this past season. With Cogliano eating up an average of 2:43 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game, the Oilers PK finished 29th in the NHL. That finish is certainly not entirely Cogliano's fault (looking at you, Khabibulin), but he didn't make enough of an impact to swing it in another direction, despite a load of shorthanded ice time.

The fact of the matter is that Eric Belanger is a big upgrade over Cogliano as a role player at this moment, which is the reason that the latter was traded. The organization knows the team is going to be a little small up front, and it's making an effort to get bigger in the role playing forward positions. There's no way that the man they call Cogs was going to pass Nugent-Hopkins or even Gagner in the top six, so if he couldn't fit in the bottom six, he couldn't fit.

Having said all that, none of it means that Andrew Cogliano can't continue to grow and develop his game in Anaheim and round into a solid bottom six forward. He's nothing if not up to learning and honing a role that will keep him in the NHL, and that attitude could see him play for a long time. He is still good enough to play in the league, especially once he finds either the right home or the right role for him to have success.



For the Oilers' part, they got 146 points in four completely healthy NHL seasons out of their 25th overall pick in 2005. The fans got a memorable moment when Cogliano got into the Hockey Hall of Fame by scoring three straight overtime winners as a rookie. He's still the only player ever to do so; rookie or not. Stu McGregor gets another bullet for the 2013 draft - and probably a pretty good one. The Ducks made the playoffs this year thanks to a brilliant stretch run, but they haven't done much to show that they are going to get back there. If they lose Teemu Selanne to retirement, it will be that much less likely. If the Ducks miss, the pick the Oilers get will be in the 31- 44 range, which is a fine place to be making a second selection in round two.

Given the fact that the Oilers basically had nowhere for Cogliano to play this year, as well as the need to shed a contract and avoid arbitration, Steve Tambellini did well to scoop a second rounder for Cogliano. The right conditions must not have been in place for the Oilers to make a trade involving Cogliano last year, but the retirement of Todd Marchant opened up a need for the Ducks that an Oiler in limbo could fill. Only time will tell who wins this trade, but for now it's a situation where both sides are happy. If the Magnificent Bastard can work some more magic, it will work out just fine.

Monday, 11 July 2011

07/11/11 50.0 By the Numbers: Can The Oilers Make the Playoffs?

Hemsky scores series winning goal in 2006

Remember when Hemsky scored that goal? Remember that jubilation? Of course you do. The Edmonton Oilers are hoping to give their fans that feeling again sooner rather than later, and it will all start with making the playoffs next season for the first time since 2006.

Is it possible? One way to quantify the amount of improvement the Oilers will need is to look at the statistics of playoff teams and compare them to what our boys managed last year. Not surprisingly, the Oilers are at or near the bottom of the league in almost every meaningful category, so this comparison will try to illustrate the minimum amount of improvement necessary to grab a playoff spot.

The five categories we will focus on are Powerplay (PP%), Penalty Kill (PK%), Goals For per Game (G/G), Goals Against per Game (GA/G) and Faceoff Winning Percentage (FOW%).



The Phoenix Coyotes got themselves a playoff berth despite a poor showing statistically. They finished 23rd in powerplay efficiency (15.9%) and 26th in penalty killing (78.4%). They were also mediocre in Goals For (2.76) and Goals Against per game (2.68), finishing at 14th and 13th in the league respectively. One area of strength for the Yotes was in faceoffs, where as a team they finished 7th in the NHL (51.5%). Most of the teams that made the playoffs last year were strong on draws, and the ones that weren't generally got ousted in the first round.

(As an aside: Nashville reached the second round and won 50.2% of their draws during the regular season. Every team below that winning percentage mark went out in round one: the Sabres (47.7%), Ducks (47.7%), Rangers (47.7%), Canadiens (49.0%) and Penguins (49.2%). However, we'll deal with getting the Oilers past round one once they finally make the dance.)

Because of all that mediocrity in Phoenix, the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov and the games he stole them will be felt deeply in the win/loss columns next season. The Coyotes will probably miss the playoffs this coming year, and the Oilers could steal their spot.


However, the Oilers have a bit of a climb even to reach Phoenix's numbers. The Oilers were 27th on the powerplay at 14.5%, 29th on the penalty kill at 77.0%, 28th in Goals For per Game at 2.33, and 28th in Goals Against per Game at 3.17. The Oilers were dead last in faceoffs won, at just 44.2% for the team.

To get to Phoenix's totals the Oilers would have needed to score roughly 4 more powerplay goals, and allow roughly 5 fewer goals while shorthanded. Not bad at all, and definitely doable. But keep in mind that the Coyotes were one of the weakest statistical teams in the playoffs and it showed in their first round sweep by Detroit.

Phoenix scored 38 more goals than the Oilers, and the Oilers allowed 43 more than the Coyotes, for a differential of 81 goals. This stat won't be so easy for Edmonton to swing.

The Rest of the West:

No team in the Western Conference made the playoffs last year without:

- Scoring at least 219 goals (26 more than the Oilers scored)
- Allowing no more than 241 goals (28 less than the Oilers allowed)
- Winning at least 47.7% of their faceoffs (3.5% more than the Oilers won)
- A powerplay clicking at no less than 15.2% (0.7% better than the Oilers)
- A penalty kill that was effective no less than 78.4% (1.4% better than the Oilers)


The emergence of Taylor Hall and the other youngsters should help the Oilers to score at least 26 more goals, particularly if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can make an impact. The same is true for the powerplay; which was much maligned last year but should be able to make up the 0.7% difference between the Oilers and the weakest playoff powerplay in the West.

Replacing Colin Fraser's faceoff numbers among the Oilers' regular centerman with Eric Belanger also makes a difference. If we assume that the Oilers' centers last year were most often Gagner, Horcoff, Cogliano and Fraser, those four combine for a winning percentage of 44.6%. Simply by removing Fraser and inserting Belanger the overall winning percentage for the regular centers jumps to 47.3%. If Gagner can take a step forward and Horcoff can bounce back, the Oilers shouldn't have any problem winning faceoffs at least 47.7% of the time.

Having control of the puck will also help on the PK, which should improve enough to at least match the worst powerplay in the Western Conference Playoffs this year.

On the Other Hand

All of the teams that were bad statistically and still made the playoffs either had spectacular goaltending (Nashville and Phoenix), or they excelled in another area. For example, the Detroit Red Wings were 17th on the PK and 23rd in GA/G, but they were 5th on the PP and 2nd in G/G.

The Oilers probably do not have the ability to make a leap into the top five or ten in any one of these categories next year, and their goaltending is suspect to say the least. Because of that, it's still highly unlikely that the team will make next year's playoffs.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Management has made changes that will help this team with all of its weaknesses, save goaltending. If the team picks up steam and is in contention for a spot in February, the Oilers could be buyers at the deadline and add a piece or two to get over the top. If not, one more season of picking in the top 14 won't hurt the prospect cupboard, and will make for even more flexibility in future trades when the Oilers are right on the cusp.

Don't hold your breath for the post season, but get ready to watch more winning hockey than this town has seen in the last several years.