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.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

02/28/12 After 62 Games


It's that time again! Let's look at how the Oilers are doing after 62 games and compare it to how they were doing after 62 last year. Are they better this year? Is there a light at the end of this long, long tunnel?

First thing's first: the record. Last year after 62 games the Oilers had a record of 20-34-8 (48 points) and were 30th in the NHL, but this year they're sitting at 25-29-10 (60 points) and 29th. Let's face it, that sucks. But when it comes to the Oilers, it's real, tangible improvement. It's up to the individual to decide whether they're happy that things are better or appalled that it's going to be six straight years out of the playoffs. Considering that the Oilers didn't improve in any meaningful way last year and finished 30th for a second straight season, things appear to be looking up.

The Oilers won just 25 of the 82 games on the schedule last year, but they've already* won 25 of the 62 they've played so far in 2011-12.

So here's the breakdown season over season after 62:

2010-11

- The Oilers scored 155 goals
- Allowed 201 goals
- A goal differential of -46
- Fired 1648 shots on goal
- Allowed 1964 shots on goal
- Scored 30 powerplay goals
- Allowed 57 powerplay goals

2011-12

- The Oilers have scored 164 goals (15th in NHL)
- Allowed 180 goals (21st in NHL)
- A goal differential of -16
- Fired 1673 shots on goal (29th in NHL)
- Allowed 1923 shots on goal (21st in NHL)
- Scored 48 powerplay goals (2nd in NHL)
- Allowed 40 powerplay goals (18th in NHL)

As we've seen all season, the Oilers are better in every facet listed here, but the degree to which they have improved varies widely. Edmonton still isn't shooting enough and they're allowing too many shots on goal. The success of this team going forward looks like it will hinge on the Oilers using their speed to draw penalties and punish the opposition on the powerplay. At least until the kids can also dominate at even strength, that is.

When you frame it that way, it makes a little sense to have acquired a pure shutdown defender at the deadline, because too often this season the good work that has been done by the kids and the powerplay has been undone by poor own-zone play. I'm still not convinced that Schultz is an improvement over Gilbert in any meaningful sense, but as recently as last season he was facing the toughest competition of any Wild defenseman with some very difficult zone starts and managing to flourish.

Ironically, the fact that the Oilers aren't shooting enough is also a measure of their need for a puck moving defender in addition to Schultz. Whitney is very good when he's healthy, and Petry is rounding into one as well, and not a moment too soon. Those two will be a huge part of the back end in the future. There's still a need to add another true number one guy who would push everyone down the depth chart and into positions where they could (theoretically) be more dominant. A strong push for Suter in the off season wouldn't hurt, as long as they don't overpay.

David Staples at the Cult of Hockey wondered aloud if the Oilers are on the rise because of their improvements on the powerplay and in scoring chance plus/minus. The answer is yes, they are on the rise from where they were. How far up the ladder they go remains to be seen.

* "already!" Hahahaha.

02/28/12 Understanding the Gilbert Trade


The Oilers followed up a solid re-signing of Ales Hemsky with a much less popular move on trade deadline day. The return for Gilbert, Nick Schultz, is a solid defender in his own right; but does he make the Oilers better?

The Skinny:


Schultz: 743 NHL games, 26-102-128, plus-8; 0.17 points per game; born August 25th 1982, age 29
Gilbert: 384 NHL games, 33-125-158, minus-29; 0.41 points per game; born January 10th 1983, age 29


We'll delve a lot deeper into the two players later on, but a quick glance at their career stats lines shows us a couple of things. First, Gilbert is a much better offensive defenseman and the Oilers (who already suffer from a less than offensively gifted back end) will miss his prowess in that department. Gilbert already has more goals in his career and he's played 359 fewer games.

Which brings us to the second point. Even though they are only 4 and a half months apart in age, Schultz has played almost twice as many games as Gilbert. That can be both good and bad. It's good because Schultz is depended on to be a shutdown defender who will make good decisions at key times, and that is something that comes with experience. It's bad because a player like Schultz, who blocks shots and plays tough minutes, will wear down more quickly than other players do. For him to have almost double the mileage of Gilbert at the same age has many pitfalls.

So why trade Gilbert for Schultz? The Oilers obviously felt the need to tighten up defensively and Schultz was perceived to be better at accomplishing that than Gilbert. Below is a comparison to see how the two stack up in a few key areas over the last three seasons. To judge Gilbert on seasons before that seems unfair because he's only been in the league for five full years.

Tom Gilbert has:

- averaged around 23:14 in ice time over the last three years
- a minus-28 rating
- 413 blocked shots
- 178 hits
- 208 giveaways
- faced the second-toughest competition among Oilers defensemen at even strength
- started his shifts an average of 50.5% of the time in the offensive zone at even strength
- the fourth, second and third best relative Corsi of Oilers defensemen at even strength

Nick Schultz has:

- averaged around 20:15 in ice time over the last three years
- a minus-22 rating
- 411 blocked shots
- 222 hits
- 72 giveaways
- faced the 5th, 1st, and 3rd toughest competition among Wild defensemen at even strength
- started his shifts an average of 42.1% of the time in the offensive zone at even strength
- the worst relative Corsi among Wild defensemen (20 or more GP) in two of the last three years, and the third-best two years ago

The two main differences here are that Schultz is leaned on much more outside the offensive zone, which is obviously having a negative effect on his Corsi. He's also less prone to giving away the puck. Considering that the Oilers are last in the NHL in giveaways, that must be something they valued.

Tom Gilbert is more dynamic, however, in that he can be used on the powerplay while Schultz is not. If the Oilers intend to tighten up defensively, they must expect more from Schultz on the penalty kill than they were getting from Gilbert. How have their results been?

Schultz has spent 147:54 killing penalties for the Wild this season. With that said, he's been on the ice for 6.99 goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time.

Gilbert has spent 153:38 killing penalties for the Oilers this season. He's been on the ice for 4.85 goals against per 60 minutes of shorthanded ice time.

So, Gilbert has spent more time killing penalties this season and has had better results. The numbers from one season do not tell the whole story, but based on those numbers Schultz is not an upgrade over Gilbert on the penalty kill, and certainly not on the powerplay. Schultz can handle himself at even strength against tough competition and zone starts, but not so much so that he is a massive upgrade over Tom Gilbert.

Unless the Oilers see something that I don't, I have a hard time counting this trade as a win.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

02/25/12 Khabibulin and Toronto


The Maple Leafs may be looking to solidify their goaltending situation and they have been linked to the Oilers and Khabibulin recently. If a trade were to occur between the two teams, what would the Leafs give up in exchange for an aging goalie with another year left on his contract?

As mentioned above, Khabibulin's contract - $3.75 million with another year remaining - is an albatross that is getting in the way of moving him just about anywhere. In order to move it the Oilers would probably need to take a bad contract back. Do the Leafs have any of those? You bet!

The Oilers don't need to add another forward, and certainly not another expensive one, which leaves defensemen. Toronto would like to shed Mike Komisarek's salary at $4.5 million per season; a deal which goes on for another two years after this one. Komisarek, 30, has been a healthy scratch several times this season, which is certainly not what you want from a player with that price tag. He's appeared in 29 games and posted 1-3-4 and a minus-2 with 30 penalty minutes.

According to Behindthenet, Komisarek has had the toughest even strength zone starts of any Toronto blueliner, starting his shifts in the the offensive zone 42% of the time. He also seems to face some of the easiest competition, but has the second-worst relative Corsi of all Leafs defenders at -10.4 at even strength. Komisarek plays an average of 16:28 per game, which is third-least of Leafs defensemen. He's used on the second penalty kill unit, but not at all on the powerplay.

In short, he's not a solution for the Oilers. Komisarek is basically a much more expensive version of Andy Sutton, and the Oilers already have one of those that many fans and analysts feel will be overpaid next year at a $1.75 million cap hit. If the Oilers must take on Komisarek to do a deal with Toronto, they're better off standing pat.

There are other options (Chicago or Tampa Bay perhaps) for a trade involving Khabibulin, but don't be surprised if he isn't moved. The veteran goaltender's contract is a bad one, but it's less onerous than what the Oilers may need to take back to get him gone.

Friday, 24 February 2012

02/24/12 Fans... Happy! Hemsky Stays


Ales Hemsky decided to forgo free agency and sign a new two year deal with the Oilers worth $10 million. This is a very positive move for the organization, and after taking a lot of flak from the media and fans, Tambellini got it right.

Some in the media, like Scott Burnside, don't believe the deal was a good one. Burnside tweeted: "Ales Hemsky; two years $10 million just goes to show you $10 million doesn't get you too far in the NHL these days does it?"

CapGeek posted their list of comparable contracts to the deal Hemsky just signed, and only 6 of the 20 names listed have averaged more points per game over their careers than Hemsky. Of those players, the average points per game pace is 0.74. Ales Hemsky has posted 0.79 points per game since he entered the NHL. So, for better or worse injury-wise, the Oilers signed their man to a contract that pretty much fits with Hemsky's value.

It's fantastic to see the Oilers realize that replacing Hemsky would have been much more difficult than re-signing him, and it may have come at a greater cost anyway. Considering the chemistry Hemsky has shown with Hall, it's better to stick with the devil you know than the one you don't.

Fans should be very happy with this signing. The money is right, and the term (Hemsky's deal expires at the same time as that of Nugent-Hopkins) is right as well. It's an encouraging sign from management, and almost everyone will agree that for once they deserve to be praised.

02/24/12 Thoughts On Improvement


24 wins. The Oilers achieved them in 60 games this year, after taking 78 games to win that many last year. As bleak as things have seemed at times this season, when the Oil win one more game they'll have matched their win output from all of last year. They have 22 more games to win 27, which would tie their total from the entire 2009-10 season.

The Oilers have earned a positive review after dismantling the Flames and shutting out the league's most potent offense from Philadelphia, so the rest of this article will be devoted to something that has become popularized on Twitter: Oilerspositives. ... But not sarcastic ones.

- Jordan Eberle scored his 60th point of the season on Thursday, and he's now on pace for 84 total. The last Oiler to have 80 or more points was Doug Weight back in 2000-01 when he put up 90. That's also the last time the Oilers had a player who scored at a point-per-game pace or better. Taylor Hall is on pace for 65 points as well, and the last time the Oilers had two players score 60+ points was back in 2005-06. That year they had four players who surpassed sixty points, including Hemsky (77), Horcoff (73), Stoll (68), and Smyth (66).

- Ales Hemsky has six points in 10 games in February. Not huge numbers by his standards, but there are signs everywhere that his game is coming around. Hemsky has shown considerable chemistry with Taylor Hall over the last couple of games. When Ryan Smyth was traded, a gaping hole was left on Hemsky's left wing that the Oilers never really managed to fill. After trying to fit Erik Cole in that slot, and failing to acquire Marian Hossa and Dany Heatley, the Oilers finally found their man at the draft in Hall. Now that the Oilers have their sniper to compliment Hemsky on a line, they would be extremely unwise to trade #83. Happily, there are reports all over Twitter that the Oilers may finally be making a real push to re-sign Hemsky. That would give them two very dynamic scoring lines going forward. Hall and Hemsky could form one tandem, with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle on the other.

- Ryan Whitney has put up 8 points in his last 11 games since January 31st. That's more like the Whitney that the Oilers and their fans are used to, and were expecting at the start of the season. That's a 60 point pace over a full 82 game season. 60 points aren't necessarily demanded of Whitney, but to see him start to make an impact on the scoresheet is a major positive.

- Losing part of the pre-season and the first few games of the year can take a lot away from a player. In his first 13 games, Sam Gagner had 2 points. Since then, however, he's put up 14-24-38 in 40 games and been very nearly a point-per-game player. Of course one cannot discount the fact that Gagner wasn't producing at the beginning of the year, but since November 22nd he's been on pace for 29-49-78 over an 82 game schedule.

- How about that Jeff Petry fella? Since the beginning of January he's got 1-11-12 in 23 games and he's really been coming into his own both offensively and defensively. Say what you will about plus/minus, but Petry - who has played 20+ minutes in every game this month - has been a plus-1 in February. You have to go all the way back to December 31st to find a game that Petry participated in and didn't play a minimum of 20 minutes. He's becoming a go-to guy for the Oil.

- The Oilers are a .500 team since Nugent-Hopkins went down again with injury at 3-3-1. How will they be when he returns?

- Including one shootout goal, Taylor Hall now has seven game winners on the season. Even if you're a purist and don't count the shootout, that means that Hall has scored one quarter of the goals that resulted in Oilers wins in 2011-12.

***

Oil Acumen turns one year old today (ain't it cute!?). 12 months, 157 posts and nearly 28,000 page views later, I'd like to thank all the people who have helped this blog to grow. There have been lots (and none have gone unnoticed), but particular thanks are owed to Wanye from OilersNation, Derek Zona and the Copper and Blue, Raine from Oilogosphere.com, and most importantly to every single person who has ever read this blog. I sincerely hope that it's been as enjoyable for you to read as it was for me to write, and I look forward to continuing to give you my best. Hopefully the next year(s) will see even better things to come.

- Jake

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

02/22/12 The Rivalry


That felt good, didn't it? It's hard to believe that the last time the Oilers beat Calgary was the first game of last season when Eberle scored The Goal. Despite the difference between the two in Tuesday's game and over the past two seasons, they aren't so far apart.

The Flames have had one heck of a run in the month of February, with a 5-0-3 record coming into Tuesday's action. Over those eight games Calgary scored just 20 goals (2.5 per game, which would be 22nd in the NHL) and scored 3 powerplay goals on 26 opportunities (11.5%). How on earth were they winning? Miikka Kiprusoff sported a 0.947 Sv% during those eight games. Oilers fans are familiar with a winning streak stemming from unsustainably high goaltending performance, and know that there is a gap between results and the actual quality of the team during that time.

The Flames have now been outshot in all but one of their games in the month of February (and 8 straight), and if Kiprusoff doesn't stand on his head, his team doesn't have a realistic chance to win. Kiprusoff had a 0.933 Sv% in 2003-04 when the Flames went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but that was over a span of just 38 games. 0.947 is not a sustainable level of performance, just like Khabibulin's early season performance wasn't.

With 2.66 Goals For per Game the Flames are 26th in the NHL. The Oilers are 15th in that regard. Calgary is 12th in Goals Against per Game at 2.62, while the Oilers are 24th at 2.95. Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum; both good at one end and bad at the other.

Both teams are near the bottom of the league in Shots per Game, and in the bottom-third in Shots Against per Game. Calgary is 30th in team faceoff percentage and the Oilers are 26th. The 5x5 Goals For/Against Ratio of the two teams are virtually dead even at 0.88 (Calgary) and 0.87 (Edmonton). Less than one percent separates the PK% of the two, but the Oilers are superior on the powerplay at 21% while Calgary is sitting at 16.8%.

The Oilers are 29th in the NHL, while the Flames are fighting for a playoff spot, but that's somewhat surprising given how little separates Alberta's teams. With equal goaltending it's not a stretch to say that Edmonton and Calgary would both be in lottery position.

It may sound ridiculous given how much Kiprusoff means to Calgary's success, but now would be the time to trade him. He's playing some of the best hockey of his career, and there are teams out there (Tampa Bay and Columbus come to mind) that may be willing to give up a lot in exchange for Kipper that could actually help turn the Flames around in the long term. Of course that won't happen, and Oilers fans are happier for it.

There was a time when little separated the Oilers and Flames because both teams were the elite of the NHL, but things are on the other side of that coin now. Without major changes in Calgary, is it out of the question to think the Oilers will pass them next year?

Saturday, 18 February 2012

02/18/12 Hemsky A Shark?


With the increasing likelihood of Ales Hemsky being traded, it doesn't hurt to glance around the league and see what potential return the Oilers could get for their skilled winger. Though his value is at its lowest ever, the San Jose Sharks could have some interest in him.

It's premature to suggest that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are old enough to have lost their competitive edge, but with both now 32 years old that time is coming. The window for winning a Stanley Cup is closing for the Sharks, and with Martin Havlat injured and underperforming even when he's in the lineup, there is a need for a right winger in San Jose.

The one thing the Oilers have going for them is that the number of wingers that are available is small, so they may still get a decent price for Hemsky. A quick glance at San Jose's system shows that they still have a few prospects that may be of interest to Edmonton.

Taylor Doherty is a 6'7", 235 pound behemoth of a defenseman with a right handed shot, who projects to be a solid stay-at-homer. The Sharks took him in the second round (57th overall) of the Paajarvi draft (2009), and this year he's playing in his first full season for Worcester of the AHL. His size and shutdown ability would both be appealing to the Oilers, and the long development period for this type of player may make him expendable for the Sharks, as their time is now. Unfortunately, the Oilers are in need of a defenseman that can step in as early as next season, and Doherty isn't that player.

One possible man for that job is Nick Petrecki, who is 6'3", 230 pounds and is another shut-down type. Petrecki is a product of the Gagner draft (2007), having gone 28th overall to the Sharks. He has a mean streak and brings toughness with him, but that is a skill set already filled by Colten Teubert. However, Petrecki is in his third full year in the AHL, and to this point he has played 178 games there. He doesn't bring much offense, but he's accumulated a whopping 303 penalty minutes in that time.

Also a product of the 2007 draft is Justin Braun, who has earned a spot in the Sharks' lineup this season. It's an impressive achievement, considering that Braun (6'2", 200 lbs) was selected 201st overall in the seventh round. Braun is reported to have decent offensive capabilities and collected 24 points in 43 career AHL games, and 4-15-19 in 70 games with San Jose.

Any of these three could be part of the conversation when it comes to a deal for Hemsky, but none of them offer a real solution to the Oilers' defensive woes. At the end of the day the Oilers would be better off keeping Hemsky rather than trading him for third-pairing defensive types, but a trade is probably inevitable.

Another consideration is that some the the Oilers' own property like Martin Marincin, or perhaps even Klefbom, Musil, Davidson and Blain will be ready for the AHL next season, so adding another tweener is not necessarily in Edmonton's interest at the moment. But if Hemsky is not going to be extended, he must be traded somewhere for something that could potentially be useful. At least building defensive depth would help if the Oilers ever wanted to make a trade for a defender that could make an impact at the NHL level.

Friday, 17 February 2012

02/17/12 Quite Quiet


The good people over at TSN and SportsNet may be disappointed this February 27th, as the NHL trade deadline could prove to be somewhat uneventful. They'll start their coverage before the sun is up and some of you will be watching, but will anything major happen?

For the Oilers' part, it appears that Ales Hemsky is the only name that is actually on the market, and his value is at an all-time low. If he does get traded, it won't be for the stud defenseman that the Oilers so desperately need. If and when a trade like that comes to pass, it will be in the off season. Right now teams won't want to mess around too much with their chemistry as they gear up for a playoff run, which eliminates plenty of options from Edmonton's sights at the moment. Aside from that, the biggest movable asset that the Oilers have at their disposal is this year's first round pick, and teams won't want to make a major play for it until the draft order is set.

Rick Nash and Jeff Carter are the two biggest names that could move at the deadline, but the amount of cap space that will have to be shifted around will severely limit potential deals. In order to take on Nash's $7.8 million hit a team would have to move a significant amount of roster players, and that's unlikely to be desirable for clubs that are already good enough to be inside the playoff picture. The same goes for Carter, who carries a $5.272 million cap hit, but that two-and-a-half million dollar savings over Nash may make it more possible that he'll be in a new home before the end of this month. There will be major changes in Columbus, but they could be later rather than sooner.

If the Leafs weren't in the thick of the playoff race out East, the rumblings around Luke Schenn would probably be even louder than they are now. Having not made the playoffs since before the lockout, even Old Stony himself, Brian Burke, will be feeling the pressure to get his team in. Unless a deal knocks his socks off there probably won't be major changes in Toronto before the end of the year.

Players that would normally be heavily involved in trade talks like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter happen to be on teams that are comfortably inside the playoff picture, which puts the big ol' kibosh on any movement. In addition to that their current clubs will do whatever they can to re-sign them, and probably believe that they still can. Making the playoffs and potentially going on a run would help New Jersey and Nashville convince two of the game's best to stay put.

If the 9th-place Washington Capitals miss the playoffs they may engage in a major shakeup, but Mike Green probably won't be available. There are a lot of factors at work on the Caps this year, but they won seven straight out of the gate with Green in the lineup and as soon as he got hurt they started to lose. With Green playing this season Washington is 9-1-0.

Earlier in the year it seemed to be almost a certainty that there would be major developments in Anaheim, with Bobby Ryan a popular name in the rumor mill. Lubomir Visnovsky is another player that could have been relocated at the deadline, but the Ducks have put serious doubt in the belief that they were dead. How good have they been lately? Well, they've only gone 14-3-3 in their last 20 games and collected 31 of a possible 40 points. They're not quite in the middle of things yet, but they are doing enough to convince just about anyone that the kind of wholesale changes that were being discussed this year are unnecessary.

Teemu Selanne might have been an attractive rental player for some team at the deadline, and so too would Ryan Smyth, but those two seem intent on staying with their current teams. Both have No-Move Clauses in their contracts, which means they control their own fate anyway.

There are some major trades bubbling under the surface in the NHL, but many of them may be too radical to happen right away. Sure, guys like Ryan O'Marra, Nicklas Grossman, Pavel Kubina and even Ales Hemsky have been or may get moved, but the really earth-shattering stuff is more plausible after the Stanley Cup has been won.

But deadline day is fun, so I hope that I'm wrong.

Monday, 13 February 2012

02/13/12 Fixing This Mess


The time before the NHL trade deadline is shrinking and so is the confidence of Oilers fans that Steve Tambellini can make something big happen. As has been covered at great length, Ales Hemsky appears to be a mishandled asset, but there may still be a way to navigate these troubled times.

David Shoalts from The Globe and Mail wrote that the Chicago Blackhawks are in need of an experienced goaltender to help push them over the top for the rest of the season and the playoffs, and that Nikolai Khabibulin may be the only man available. It's unclear whether the Hawks would want to add an aging goalie with another year left on his contract, but they do have some experience with Khabibulin.

If the Oilers can move Khabibulin to the Blackhawks - or any team for that matter - they'd be well advised to do it. As Jonathan Willis wrote at OilersNation, there really is no need to spend a huge amount of money on goaltending in order to get reasonable results unless you're talking about the absolute elite. Devan Dubnyk could have done worse than Khabibulin as a goaltending mentor for this part of his career, and Khabibulin has certainly redeemed himself with his play in the eyes of many, but it may be time for he and the Oilers to part ways. If Khabby doesn't get traded his cap hit will still come off the books when the Oilers' rookies need new contracts, but freeing up a goalie spot allows the Oilers to make another move now.

Darren Dreger said that a deal between the Oilers and Kings involving Ales Hemsky and Jonathan Bernier might make some sense. With the market for top-six forwards as thin as it's ever been at deadline time, the asking price for a player like Hemsky will be relatively high. Whether Hemsky still has enough value to snatch a player like Bernier away from the Kings is unknown, but there are other goalies out there.

St. Louis prospect Ben Bishop was just named MVP of the AHL All Star Game and has posted a solid season for Peoria this season with a 2.30 GAA, a 0.926 Sv% and a 22-13-0 record. Unless he gets into 17 NHL games this year it appears that he will become an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer. If the Oilers were to trade Hemsky for a package that included Bishop they could try to play him in the required number of games and retain his rights as a Restricted Free Agent.

Trades that send Khabibulin and Hemsky away for a goaltender with potential sound like an improvement if you frame them right, but they would be no more than a lateral move at best. These trades would simply help to undo the mess that has already been made. It would allow the Oilers to part ways with Khabibulin a year early without buying him out, and actually get something they need in exchange for Hemsky. Not exactly earth-shattering, but that's the situation we're faced with.

Friday, 10 February 2012

02/10/12 Tambellini Botched the Hemsky Situation



Robin Brownlee wrote an article that appeared on OilersNation today which encapsulates all of the most frustrating feelings when it comes to the Ales Hemsky situation. We're at the point now where none of the moves that are possible make sense. No matter what happens, this issue will help fan the flames of hatred toward Steve Tambellini.

In the past I've been quick to point out that not all of the problems with the Oilers are the result of Tambellini's work in Edmonton, but the way Ales Hemsky has been handled is unquestionably a glaring wart on the General Manager's resume. Hemsky's play of late hasn't made things easy, but regardless of that there were better options.

As yet, there appears to be very little interest on Oilers management's side in signing the enigmatic winger to a contract extension, which implies that they knew they were going to trade him all along. If that is the case, why not move him at the deadline last year? Hemsky was healthy for the month of February last season, and posted 4-8-12 in 13 games. March 1st was his last game of 2010-11. Tambellini may have thought that Hemsky's value would increase this season if he successfully returned from injury and played like he was in a contract year, but that hasn't been the case. In any event, Hemsky is still just a rental player this year, which means the ceiling for his value is only so high no matter how well he plays. Whatever deals Tambellini walked away from in February or back in June at the draft are going to look pretty sweet when compared to the current value of #83.

With that said, there's always the option of signing the player to an extension, which management seems to think is not an option. There are only so many top six wingers out there and the Oilers are about to let one slip through their fingers. Barring some kind of amazing turnaround, the situation is an embarrassment.



Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford is making the Oilers look even worse. Realizing how difficult it would be to replace the players he already has, Rutherford locked up Tim Gleason to a four year contract extension and has expressed a desire to sign Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu was supposed to be the first big shoe to drop and set the market value for a top-six forward, but he may not be moved at all. The Hurricanes will no doubt try very hard over the next couple of weeks to come to an agreement with Ruutu, and failing that they still have the option to trade him. That's how you handle your players properly and with respect.

By comparison, what the Oilers appear to be doing is just bizarre. If management fails to show any commitment to Hemsky, what possible reason would he have for wanting to stay in Edmonton?

An asset that was once valuable enough to be in the conversation of a Brayden Schenn trade is now at risk of leaving this city forever for next to nothing. Unless one of the teams that is in the market for a top-six forward overpays at the deadline, this gross miscalculation will be one of the worst of Tambellini's tenure.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

02/08/12 Odds & Ends: Gagner Facts


Sam Gagner continued his ridiculous scoring streak on Wednesday against Detroit. Despite the fact that he has missed 7 games this season due to injury, he is now on pace to set new career highs in goals (21) and points (57). This was the year he was supposed to take a step forward, and he may just be doing it.

Before this season Gagner had collected 173 points in 291 games, which is good for 0.59 points per game on average. He set a career high for goals as a sophomore with 16 and a career high for assists as a rookie with 36, but the last two injury-plagued seasons have seen his production drop off. Right now he's averaging 0.77 points per game and he needs just two more goals to match his output in the last two seasons.

Is this the shiny, new-and-improved Sam Gagner, or an anomaly?

It took Sam 64 games to score 13 goals last season, while this year he's done it in 47. There's some room for debate about whether or not he'll reach 20 goals this year, but unless his production falls off a cliff he should at least set a new career mark in that regard. With 13 goals on just 97 shots, Gagner has a shooting percentage of 13.4%. That's the highest of his career, but it's not outrageous for an NHL player.

As of this writing, Sam Gagner is a plus-2 on the season. If he manages to finish the year with a positive plus/minus it will be the first time in his career. His rookie season was the worst at minus-21, and last year he was minus-17. At least part of that has to do with the quality of team that he was on, but it's not like the Oilers are a playoff team right now. There's still plenty of hockey to be played though, and a plus-2 is too precarious to say that Gagner is absolutely going to be a plus player this year.

Gagner's faceoff percentage is better this year too; currently sitting at 48.8%. So far in his career Gagner's best year in the dot saw him win 47.4% of the time. That was two years ago. He regressed a little last season after taking a career high 935 draws and winning 43.8% of them, which is a reminder that we won't know the real story about the faceoff ability of #89 until the season is over. So far in 2011-12 he's taken only 324 draws.

Being a pending Restricted Free Agent means that Gagner is playing for a new contract. He won't keep up the pace he's currently at (8-7-15 in his last 5 games), but if he manages to keep scoring at his 0.77 p/g clip and finishes with 57 points he will be in some elite company. 57 points would have been good for the top 64 in points in the NHL last year. Among the players who scored 57 points:

Ray Whitney, Tuomo Ruutu, Justin Williams, Jason Spezza, Paul Stastny, Patrice Bergeron, Tomas Plekanec, RJ Umberger, Marian Hossa, Dustin Brown and Nikolai Kulemin

Average salary of those players: $4.53 million.

That's too high for Gagner at this point in his career. Many of those names listed above are established NHL veterans and Sam isn't there yet, but he's definitely in line for a raise. His number will probably fall in the $3 million to $4 million range, but it will be interesting to see how much term the Oilers commit.

Right now a lot of fans are probably looking for a deal that's somewhere in the order of 10 years.

Monday, 6 February 2012

02/06/12 I Hate Losing To Toronto

Ha!
That picture is funny, but losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs isn't. I know there are people out there who will say that Toronto is their second favorite team from back in the day when you could only either cheer for the Leafs or Habs, but damnit, things are different now.

Toronto is now the home of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel and Brian Burke. Say what you will about them being good at what they do, but losing to them just plain sucks.

Ralph Kreuger has a bit of a hill to climb if he ever wants to be an NHL head coach. Of all Oilers forwards, only the magnificent and exulted Sam Gagner played more than Ales Hemsky (not so much exulted). Hemsky finished as a minus-4 with no points and one shot on goal. Remember that tired old expression about the definition of insanity? That may be a little harsh, except that we kept seeing Cam Barker and Tom Gilbert as a tandem after it was clear that experiment had failed miserably. Gilbert hasn't played since January second, you say? Pair him up with Mr. Unreliable and have at 'er! Barker and Gilbert finished up at minus-3 and minus-2 respectively.

There were calls on Twitter for Gilbert and Smid to be reunited during the game, and that may not have been a bad idea. If Barker is Mr. Unreliable, then Laddy is Old Faithful (minus the geyser part). Smid came in at plus-3 on the evening in a 6-3 loss where there were no powerplay opportunities! His partner Petry was then free to play a more offensive style, which worked out well for him as he banked a goal and an assist. Petry led all Oilers in ice time with 22:59, and made pretty good use of it.

Horcoff and Belanger didn't get a thing accomplished offensively, but they managed to keep the opposition off the scoreboard as well. Both were even on the night, so take from that whatever it's worth. Ryan Smyth, on the other hand, finished as a minus-3 and really could have used that goal of his if it had counted. He's sitting on just 4 goals in his last 31 games played, stretching all the way back to November 26th. In case you're wondering, he potted 12 goals in the 22 games previous to that.

Nugent-Hopkins is in a similar position. He left the game as a precautionary measure to protect his shoulder, but collected a minus-3 in his 15 minutes of ice time. The last goal the Nuge scored was back on December 7th against Carolina. He's been out with injury, but that's still a span of 12 games without lighting the lamp. It's easy to say that if he comes back he should be paired with Hall and Eberle, but having those two with the more mature Gagner seems to have helped them.

Not only has Gagner been other-wordly offensively in the last several games, he's also managed to bring his faceoff win percentage up to a respectable level. After 310 tries in the dot Gagner has won 151 times (48.7% of the time), which is not far off of Shawn Horcoff's total of 49.6%. In a perfect world we'd all like to see Gagner get up to Belanger-like levels of effectiveness, but the leap he's taken means he's becoming a solid all-around option for a second line center. As if you didn't already know. That means the Oilers don't have to send out Horcoff on the powerplay just to win a draw and set up the play, which is a huge boon for the team as a whole.

The powerplay would probably have helped the Oilers against Toronto. The Leaf's penalty kill works its magic just 75.9% of the time. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets are worse killing penalties. Toronto is also tied for 29th with Ottawa for most powerplay goals allowed at 41. Being third-best in the NHL on the powerplay, a game without penalties was not what the Oilers wanted to see.

But that up tempo style of play sure was exciting to watch. Even though the Oilers lost, a fan could watch an entire season of hockey like that and be wildly entertained. I just can't watch it happen against Toronto. So Oilers, do us all a favor and take it to them on the 15th.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

02/05/12 Signs of Progress?


There are 30 games left on the schedule for the Oilers' 2011-12 season, and plenty of questions to be asked about how things are going. There have been a lot of criticisms, and long stretches of the year have been a struggle. But are things getting better? Below is a look at a few key areas after 52 games.

Let's start with the team record. The Oilers are currently sitting at 21-26-5 with 47 points. After 52 games in 2010-11 they were 15-29-8 with 38 points. The Oilers had 38 points after 52 games in 2009-10 as well, with a record of 16-30-6. That's 38 of a possible 104 points, while this year they've collected 47 of a possible 104.

The improvement isn't staggering, and it isn't going to cause anyone to jump out of their seats, but isn't that exactly the kind of marginal push forward that we all expected?

The Oilers' worst stretch of games this season were from November 26th to January 21st, where they went 5-18-2 in a 25 game span. They were without Ryan Whitney, Cam Barker, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Corey Potter for all or part of that time. Hall was the quickest of the group to return, having missed 8 games including the one against Colorado where the injury occurred. Jordan Eberle was also out for 5 games in that downswing for the Oilers (including the one against Dallas), and in those games the Oil were 1-3-1. Without Hall the Oilers were 2-5-1.

It's a familiar tune from me at this point, but the Oilers aren't deep enough to be able to sustain those kinds of injuries at once at still remain competitive. Is there any team that could?

After 52 games last year the Oilers had:

- scored 113 goals
- allowed 173 goals against
- a goal differential of -60
- scored 23 powerplay goals
- allowed 50 powerplay goals against

Despite the injuries, this year they have:

- scored 135 goals (+22 over last year)
- allowed 148 goals against (+25 over last year)
- a goal differential of -13 (+47 over last year)
- scored 43 powerplay goals (+20 over last year)
- allowed 34 powerplay goals against (+16 over last year)

Obviously there's also the offensive strides taken by the Oilers' young, talented stars. Jordan Eberle has already eclipsed his team-leading 43 points from last season and is on pace for a lot more. It stands to reason that no fewer than five Oilers players will put up more than 43 points; including Gagner, Smyth, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle.

This is still a team in 28th place in the NHL and there are still plenty of holes to fill, but there are signs that this thing has started to come around. When you're starting at the bottom that's not an especially difficult goal to accomplish, however. What this data shows is only that the team is improving, but there's a long way to go before we can think about Stanley.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

02/01/12 Shea Weber Offer Sheet


If there's one team that knows a thing or two about offer sheets, it's the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have had six of their own players signed to offer sheets since 1988, which is more than any other team in the league. And, of course, there were the two offer sheets tendered to Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner back in 2007. But would the Oilers be interested in extending such an offer to Shea Weber?

As a pending Restricted Free Agent, any offer to Shea Weber cannot be less than his current salary of $7.5 million. If the offer sheet is for $7,835,219 or more, the team that tenders it must surrender four first round draft picks to the original team. In this case, the Oilers would give up four first rounders to Nashville.

That's a hell of a gamble for a team that has been at the top end of the draft for four straight years including this one. The good news is that the Oilers will already have made their selection in 2012 in this scenario, so if the team manages to be respectable from next season on the picks they gave up wouldn't be so high. Also, you could go through four full drafts and never find a defenseman that is as complete or as NHL-ready as Weber.

On the other hand, some of the Oilers' current depth is eventually going to either graduate or be moved on, which means that it will be difficult to replenish the system when lacking first round picks for four years. This isn't a practice that winning teams usually get involved in, and beyond that it may be unnecessary.

If the Oilers want to back a dump truck full of money onto a defenseman's lawn in the off season, they could always do so with Weber's teammate Ryan Suter, who is a UFA. Signing him would require no compensation for Nashville. The Oilers may want to keep that dump truck in the driveway, however, because contract extensions for Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are right around the corner. So too is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for the NHL, which could also have an impact on big money contracts and what is (and isn't) allowed. Failing all that, the Oilers could also wait until Weber enters unrestricted free agency himself, as it appears that he is unwilling to stay in the music city long term.

And if that's the case, it wouldn't make sense for Weber to sign an offer sheet at all. Does a contract exist that the Predators wouldn't match if they were given the chance? Probably not. The trouble with extending Weber seems to be the term, not the amount of cash he's after. Like Suter, the Predators' captain wants to make sure that his team is committed to winning a Stanley Cup. If he doesn't feel that Nashville is the place to win, he'll bolt for greener pastures. So with that said, why would Weber sign a long term offer sheet (which is the only kind that would be worthwhile) knowing that his current team could simply match it and lock him up for the long haul?

He probably wouldn't, and the Oilers almost certainly won't give him the chance. Neither will any other NHL team, as the whole league salivates over the possibility of another one year contract for Weber in Nashville and then a stab at him in unrestricted free agency.