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

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Monday, 23 April 2012

04/23/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap Part Three

Another day, another set of questions to look back on. A lot can change from the pre-season onward, but so far these predictions have been fairly close. In the crystal ball today:

Q: Which player with less than 30 NHL games will play the most in 2011-12?

A: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Simple, and to the point. Nugent-Hopkins had a terrific 62 game rookie season. His 0.84 points per game is second among all 18 year old rookies since the lockout. Only Sidney Crosby was better at such a young age. The next-closest player, Jeff Skinner, scored 0.77 points per game as an 18 year old, but RNH is well clear of him. It's worth noting also that Crosby's number (1.26 points per game) puts him well clear of absolutely everyone else.

There were some surprises in this category, too. Corey Potter, Lennart Petrell, and Anton Lander all saw significant action this past season despite an extreme lack of experience from all three. In fact, only Potter had any NHL games under his belt at all, but they combined for 178 games with the Oilers in 2011-12. Potter and Lander figure to be part of the future, and Petrell was fine in his role. Colten Teubert got into 24 games as well, which is one shy of this qualifying as his rookie year.

Q: Which of the PP and PK is most likely to improve?

A: The powerplay will improve because all of the Oilers' offensive contributors will be a year more experienced and thus faster in their decision making. Also, the best players that have been added over the last number of years are all offensive-minded. Getting Hemsky and Whitney back healthy will help a lot, and so will Nugent-Hopkins if he makes the team. Penalty killing is a bit more cerebral, since it's play away from the puck. The Oilers don't have enough experience to be very good at it just yet.

This one is interesting, because both special teams improved by leaps and bounds over the 2010-11 season. The PK went from 29th at 77% (74 goals against) to 14th at 82.8% (52 goals against). They allowed 22 less goals while killing penalties season over season, despite the fact that Devan Dubnyk's shorthanded save pecentage (0.862) was 63rd in the league and Khabibulin's 0.889 was 53rd.

The top eight penalty killers were Smid, Horcoff, Schultz/Gilbert, Jones, Belanger, Petry, Smyth and Peckham; which was quite different than the group they used in 2010-11. That year the eight most oft used penalty killers were Gilbert, Cogliano, Smid, Peckham, Fraser, Jones, Reddox and Vandermeer. Not one of the 2010-11 group had a faceoff winning percentage north of 50%, and Cogliano led the team in draws taken but won just 41.6% of them. Smyth, Petry and especially Belanger and Horcoff made a big difference here. I personally never saw it coming that Smyth would have such an impact on the PK because he wasn't used as a penalty killer at all in LA. His veteran savvy helped with some of the decision making that occurred while down a man.

As for the powerplay, it improved from 27th at 14.5% (44 goals for) to 3rd at 20.6% (54 goals for). Like the PK, a six percent increase in powerplay efficiency is huge, and it probably should have contributed to more wins than it did. The top ten players used on the powerplay were Eberle, Horcoff, Smyth, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Potter, Hemsky, Whitney and Petry. Tom Gilbert was also a fixture on the PP before being traded. Last year the powerplay men were Foster, Gilbert, Gagner, Hall, Eberle, Hemsky, Whitney, Paajarvi, Omark and Horcoff.

Gone was the wildly ineffective Kurtis Foster, while Paajarvi and Omark lost their spots to powerplay whiz Nugent-Hopkins and wily veteran Ryan Smyth. RNH added 23 powerplay points in just 62 games, which put him in a tie with ten players for 24th in the NHL. More than anything, the emergence of Hall (21 pp points) and Eberle (20 pp points) as well as adding the Nuge put the powerplay over the top.

The powerplay improved by 24 spots in the overall standings, while the penalty kill climbed 15 spots. Both were much better, but the edge goes to the powerplay.

Q: How many games will Yann Danis start?

A: Three; the same as Martin Gerber. Even if one of Dubnyk or Khabibulin suffers a ten-to-fifteen game injury, Danis won't be pushed ahead of the $3.75 million man or the youngster who needs experience.

Actually, Danis didn't start any games this season, but he did play 32 minutes in a relief effort on February 29th. Two goals got past him on 12 shots, good for a 0.833 Sv%. Once the goaltending was back to full strength Danis was sent back to the farm, where he's been the best goalie in the AHL this season.

Q: Will Khabibulin spend any time in OKC this season or next?

A: If Khabibulin spends any time in OKC it will be next year. If the Oilers were to sign a goalie like Vokoun or Rinne after the season then Khabibulin will be headed south for the winter. Otherwise, management will probably ride it out and wait for Bunz.

Obviously, Khabibulin didn't spend any time in Oklahoma City this year even though his numbers in the latter half of the season were bad enough that he probably deserved to. Pekka Rinne is off the market, which is probably a good thing considering that he got a huge extension at $7 million per year. That kind of contract would be ugly in Edmonton. Tomas Vokoun had a decidedly underwhelming season in Washington, posting his worst save percentage since before the lockout. On the other hand, that save percentage (0.917) is right in line with his career number and it's still better than what the Oilers got from either of their two goalies this year. Signing him in the off season would be extremely risky, however, as he is over 35.

One last year of Khabibulin would seem to be in the cards, so he'll need to be in a greatly reduced role. If he somehow stays respectable, maybe he can be traded at the deadline. Either way the odyssey is almost over.

Next time:

Which Western Conference team is most likely to be worse than the Oilers in 2011-12?
Where do you think the Oilers will finish this season?
Will Ales Hemsky be traded, or will the Oilers re-sign him?

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