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

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Saturday, 17 March 2012

03/17/12 Rake

It's been so long since the Oilers were in the playoffs that it's easy to forget what Chris Pronger meant to the team. If Edmonton is ever going to see playoff hockey again, they're going to need a player on the back end that can fill the role that the Human Rake did night after night.

During the 2005-06 regular season Pronger was a beast. He led the Oilers in ice time by a wide margin, averaging 27:59(!) per game. Here is how his ice time broke down:

Even Strength: 16:08
Powerplay: 6:40
Penalty Kill: 5:11

Yes, Pronger was Mr. Everything for the Oilers that season. He was averaging about a minute or better on both special teams more than any other Oiler, and comfortably led 5x5 as well. Through all that, Pronger managed to put up 12-44-56 in 80 games, with a plus-2 rating. 42 of Pronger's points came on the powerplay, which was tied for first on the team with Ales Hemsky, but Hemsky played 81 games. Pronger was third on the team in blocked shots and takeaways, although the nature of his game (ie: first pass, lots of minutes, lots of touches) meant that he also gave the puck away the second-most. He was 9th among NHL defensemen in scoring, and 5th on the Oilers overall.

In the playoffs he was even more prolific. He was third in playoff scoring for the entire league with 5-16-21 in 24 games and led the Oilers offensively. He also averaged a staggering 30:57 of ice time for the Oilers, which was second in the NHL behind Nicklas Lidstrom, who only played 6 games. In the grinding, attritional battle that is the NHL post season, Pronger was the best.

This year there isn't a player in the league that is averaging the kind of ice time that Pronger did during the regular season for the Oilers. However, the third-highest average of all NHL skaters belongs to pending UFA Ryan Suter, who is on the ice for 26:41 per game. Suter is 22nd in the league in powerplay TOI per game at 3:47, and he's averaging 2:26 on the penalty kill as well. In last year's playoffs, Suter led the league in ice time per game at 28:51, and he was 7th in powerplay time with 4:51.

7-34-41 in 67 games puts him on pace for around 48 points this year, as he has missed three games.

The Nashville Predators have a good team this season, and a deep run into the playoffs will go a long way toward convincing Suter to re-sign in the Music City. But there will be fans around the NHL cheering for whatever team Nashville is up against in the playoffs just so that their team will have a crack at signing this stud defenseman. If they get the chance, the Edmonton Oilers should be one such team.

Despite their impressive collection of young talent, the Oilers are still a long shot to land Suter, and that might be putting it mildly. However, there is little doubt that the team should have interest in this player, based on the range of skills he possesses, and his ability to be a minute-muncher than can handle himself against anyone. Along with Shea Weber, Suter is facing far and away the toughest competition of Predators deensemen, with just 45% offensive zone starts at even strength.

The Oilers may never be able to replace Chris Pronger, but they should make a very strong push to find a way. Since losing the Rake the team has never been the same, and the numbers above illustrate exactly why that is so. Ryan Suter would go a long way toward correcting the problem, but signing him will be a tall order.

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