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.

Monday, 30 April 2012

04/30/12 Rookie Report Card: Anton Lander


Coming into the 2011-12 season, Anton Lander was one of the Oilers' top prospects. He still is, despite a season in which he scored just 2-6-8 in 56 games. It's not all Lander's fault that his rookie year didn't exactly go swimmingly, but he didn't manage to overcome unfavorable circumstances. For that reason, he has earned a D+ grade.

Lander's trip to the NHL was at least a year premature. When the Oilers were healthy they had four centers who were perfectly capable of handling the load in Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Horcoff and Belanger. There was no need to rush Lander to the big show, but rushed he was and it showed. Given the adjustment to the smaller North American ice and playing against the best competition in the world, we shouldn't be that surprised.

Was it best for Lander's development to play an average of just 10:36 per game in the NHL? It would have been hard to justify more ice time for the young Swede. 8:53 of that time was spent at even strength, but he proved to be in over his head. Lander faced the second-easiest competition of all the Oilers' regular skaters, and started his shifts in the offensive zone 52.2% of the time, but finished with the second-worst relative Corsi of the group and ended his shifts in the offensive zone only 45.1% of the time.

1:36 of Lander's ice time per game was spent penalty killing, and he was ninth on the Oilers with 90:25 in total PK time. That penalty kill time was one of the main justifications for keeping Lander in the NHL, but he had some very poor results. He did manage to score one of the Oilers' four shorthanded goals, but the overall upside just wasn't there for him this season.

After 56 games of spinning his wheels in a limited role Lander was sent down to Oklahoma City, where he should have been assigned in the first place. He posted 1-4-5 in fourteen games, which nearly matched his output from those 56 NHL appearances. In four playoff games so far he's got a goal and an assist.

Lander's spot on the Oilers is by no means secure heading into next season, and he may in fact have been set back by not spending a development year in the AHL. In all likelihood he'll still need some time in OKC, and will find himself as a first call-up in the event of an injury. Again, it's not Lander's fault that he was rushed to the NHL, but he's a strong enough prospect that it isn't time to panic yet. Lander has never been an offensive powerhouse, but his production increased every year that he spent with Timra of the Swedish Elite League. He has other intangibles that will be valuable going forward, which means it will take a little longer for his presence to be felt with the Oilers.

When that happens he could be a very valuable member of the team, but his 2011-12 showed that he isn't there yet.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

04/25/12 Rookie Report Card: Nugent-Hopkins


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins proved a lot of people wrong in his first NHL season, showing that he could handle the size, strength and speed of the league. It's impossible to know how many points he might have collected if he had stayed healthy, but the early returns from the first overall pick are strong. It's only that injury and our inability as fans to see how he could handle a full 82 games that can be a knock, which is why I'll give him an A- grade.

The ability to understand the quality of Nugent-Hopkins' season requires that we give it some context. Scoring 52 points as a rookie is great, but fourteen other first year players have accomplished that feat since the lockout. What's impressive is how little time it took.

The Nuge is is ninth in points per game by all rookies since the lockout and eighth in assists per game. His name appears on the points list ahead of players like Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Thomas Vanek; and he's right up there with Jonathan Toews. The main difference is that RNH was only 18 years old all season. As I looked at in the Prediction Recaps, Nugent-Hopkins posted the second-highest points per game mark as an 18 year old rookie since the lockout.

Number four on that list is another Oiler: Sam Gagner. Gagner posted 0.62 points per game to Nugent-Hopkins' 0.84, but the differences go beyond that. When comparing their two rookie campaigns we can see the difference between a first and sixth overall pick.

Gagner 2007-08:


- 79 games played, 13G-26A-49PTS
- PP TOI per game: 2:48
- Powerplay points: 6-6-12
- TOI per game: 15:40
- TOI per point: 27:25
- Game winners: 0

Nugent-Hopkins 2011-12:


- 62 games played, 18G-34A-52PTS
- PP TOI per game: 3:00
- Powerplay points: 3-20-23
- TOI per game: 17:36
- TOI per point: 20:59
- Game winners: 2

I threw the game winners in there because it's fun, not because it's an actual measure of the talent of the two players, but the other stats are interesting. Nugent-Hopkins played considerably more at even strength than Gagner at 18, because neither played shorthanded and only 12 seconds is made up in powerplay TOI. But we'll deal with the even strength minutes in a moment; the powerplay points are the interesting part of these stats. With a very similar amount of powerplay ice time per game, Nugent-Hopkins blew Gagner's numbers out of the water. It's even more astounding when you take the games played into account. Gagner played 79 games, and therefore spent 221:38 on the powerplay as a rookie, while in 62 games Nugent-Hopkins collected almost twice as many points in just 186:45.

As for 5x5, both players were sheltered as rookies in zone starts and quality of competition (though RNH was moreso on the former point), but the Nuge had 29 even strength points (0.47/game) to Gagner's 35 (0.44/game). Gagner was minus-21 on a poor team, and RNH was minus-2 on a terrible team.

You might be worried that Nugent-Hopkins could pull a Gagner and never return to the kind of heights that he reached as a rookie, but there's little cause for alarm. Gagner has always been a streaky player who rides waves of unsustainable percentages, as we see even when we look at his rookie scoring by month. During the month of February, Gagner scored 9-9-18 in just 13 games, which padded his final totals enormously. He was a 0.47 p/g player the rest of the year, but in that one month he scored at a clip of 1.38 p/g.

Nugent-Hopkins started strong but his plateau wasn't wildly below the true point total we saw him finish with. He ended with 0.84 points per game, and his worst month (December) saw him collect 0.66 p/g.

But it's not just Gagner who we can compare the Nuge to. What about the other rookies from this 2011-12 crop?

RNH was tied for first in points, fourth in goals, second in assists, 8th in powerplay goals, 7th in shots, and did it all while collecting only 16 PIMs. Those are impressive numbers when you factor in age, games played and the fact that the Oilers were 29th. Fellow rookie Gabriel Landeskog - the player tied for first in points by rookies - not only played 20 more games than Nugent-Hopkins, he also played nearly 460 more minutes. That's more than 40% more total ice time.

What about that sky-high shooting percentage from early in the season? It came down to earth at 13.4%, which is still high but not outlandish. He was on pace for 177 shots, which would make for around 16 goals at league average shooting percentage in 2011-12 (8.94%).

Now he's headed to the Worlds. Nugent-Hopkins is a special player and he showed it all year. It'll be a long wait to see him and the rest of the Oilers' young talent get back at it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

04/24/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap Part Four


Time to wrap up this prediction recap with the final three. Two of these aren't exactly my clearest glimpses through the time fog...

Q: Which Western Conference team is most likely to be worse than the Oilers?


A: Phoenix. Belanger, Upshall and Stempniak are out; The Human Question Mark Daymond Langkow is in. Doan and Whitney are another year older, Jovanovski is gone and the team has no goaltending whatsoever. They might have a better chance with a cardboard cutout of Ilya Bryzgalov in goal than with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera.


Whoa Nelly, this one's a doosey. In my defense: did anyone see this coming?

Lose 59 goals and 130 points (2010-11) from Belanger, Stempniak, Upshall and Turris? Receive 15 goals and 50 points (2011-12) in return from Langkow, Klesla and Rundblad? No biggie.

Ray Whitney is 39 years old, you say? His goal and point totals had declined the previous two seasons? No problem, he'll just score 77 points in all 82 games and finish 13th in the league in that regard.

Speaking of scoring, the Coyotes weren't supposed to have much. Oh no, hang on a minute. Radim Vrbata (whose career-high in goals was 27 back in 2007-08) will outscore Jordan Eberle and pot 35.

Losing Jovanovski hurts though, right? Well as it turns out there's this Ekman-Larsson kid who's doing alright.

And Ilya Bryzgalov? He posted save percentages at or above 0.920 in three of his four seasons with the Coyotes and he has a 0.915 Sv% for his career. Mike Smith, meanwhile, had a career mark of 0.906 in 162 NHL games, and had never had a save percentage at or above 0.920 in a season at any professional level except for five games he spent with the Norfolk Admirals in 2010-11. This year Smith was dramatically better. He posted a 0.930 Sv% and 2.21 GAA in 67 appearances for Phoenix, and won round one of the playoffs almost single-handedly with a 0.950 Sv%.

Frankly, just for this team to have made the playoffs is a shock, but for them to finally win a round is mindblowing. There were plenty of reasons to have doubts about the 'Yotes this season, but they rolled them all up and shoved them sideways up the backsides of their critics (as Brownlee would say). I have a doubt removal procedure booked for later in the summer.

Q: Where do you think the Oilers will finish this season?


A: 13th in the West and 26th overall in the NHL. The Oilers have a shot at being better than Colorado and Phoenix in the West, as well as Winnipeg and Ottawa in the East.


The Oilers finished six points out of 26th this year, and they were actually four Regulation/OT losses behind Toronto. It's not so far off to guess 26th and end in 29th, but again the teams I picked to be bad were dead wrong.

We've covered Phoenix, but the Colorado Avalanche found a way to get up to 20th in the NHL after finishing 29th in 2010-11. Everything was incrementally better for them except for their scoring. They were inside the top eleven of the league in both shots for and against per game, so they controlled the play fairly well even though they didn't always have the finish.

Almost everyone had written off the Senators after last year's debacle of a season, but they got key offensive contributions from Spezza, Alfredsson and Michalek; as well as a potential Norris-worthy season from Erik Karlsson. Nine Senators had at least ten goals, two had 30+ and Karlsson was one shy of giving that team four 20 goal men. Being fourth in the league in goals per game and some improved goaltending can take you a long way.

The Jets flirted with the playoffs for a while but ended up being not that great at 22nd overall. The Hurricanes, Islanders, Leafs and Habs just happened to be worse, and the Jets went 14-6-4 against their lame duck division. Never bet against the enthusiasm of having a team back in Winnipeg...

Q: Will Ales Hemsky be traded this season, or will the Oilers re-sign him?


A: The time for trading Ales Hemsky has more than likely passed. If the Oilers haven't got a package that they liked for him yet, they probably aren't going to get one now that his contract is about to expire. Aside from that, Hemsky is an asset that will need to be replaced on right wing, so Tambellini will probably try to lock him up.


At least we can end on a stronger note. Being a rental hurt Hemsky's value, but his injury history made it ill-advised to trade him for a mediocre package of futures. Oilers management also realized that they would have to replace Hemsky, but of course they didn't yet know that Nail Yakupov was going to drop into their laps. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with locking up a known commodity and hoping that he will bounce back after another summer of rest and training. It took long enough, but the Oilers managed to find a deal that worked for both the player and the team.

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?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

04/22/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap Part Two


We continue our look back at some 2011-12 pre-season predictions with three more questions and answers:
What expectations should fans have of the Oilers this year?
If the team doesn't meet those expectations is anyone's job in jeopardy? And
Which Oilers will score at least forty points? Who will get the most?


I answered the first question this way:

"Fans should expect the Oilers to be a lot like they were in 2010-11. They will be ridiculously good at times, and ridiculously bad as well. There will be nights when the Oilers catch teams off guard when they aren't taken seriously, and there is enough firepower to do some damage to the unprepared. Still, the Oilers will be digging a lot of pucks out of their own net this season unless the goaltending is outstanding. If the team stays healthy they should hover a few games below .500 for much of the year, but that's nowhere near good enough to get a sniff of the playoffs. On the other hand, it's good enough to keep things interesting into February and it should be a season where the fans don't want to claw their own eyes out quite so much of the time."


There were improvements in the goals against department, but the Oilers still finished 23rd with 232 pucks getting by their goalies. That's 28 goals better than 2010-11, when Edmonton was 28th in the NHL in goals allowed. They improved by a modest 16 goals for as a team, but offensive outbursts from Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins put exclamation points on it in much bolder fashion than in 2010-11, when Eberle led the team with just 43 points.

The Oilers scored five or more goals in a game nine times in 2011-12, which is up slightly from seven occasions in 2010-11. They scored at least four goals 15 times, which is actually down from 19 times in 2010-11. The 9-2 and 8-4 shellackings of Chicago qualify as games in which the Oil did serious damage to a team that didn't take them seriously (and didn't get good goaltending).

The team basically hovered below .500 as expected, but that wasn't enough to keep things interesting into February. Their early winning streak was erased in a December 15th loss to Phoenix, after which they fell to .500 for the first and only time at 14-14-3. After that game the Oilers went 18-26-7, which is a few losses poorer than anticipated but still within tolerance. That mark is a little misleading, however, as the Oilers lost 25 of 33 games from November 10th to January 21st. That's a heck of a lot worse than a few games below .500 and it was a streak of almost half the season.

As to whether or not anyone could lose their job if the Oilers don't live up to expectations, I had this to say:

"For the moment everyone's job is secure. Pretty much everyone who could be fired already has been, and the replacements each deserve some time to make it work. There aren't a lot of expectations wrapped up in this team, and the only way that the Oilers will fall completely flat is if they are overwhelmed by injuries. If that happens it won't really be the fault of anyone who could lose their job. If things go south next season, it will be a different story."


A 29th-place finish is lower than what most were expecting, and it now appears that Tom Renney is in real danger of not being brought back. The coach has been on board for 30th, 30th and 29th-place finishes, so it may be time for a new voice behind the bench; especially if early playoff exits result in other coaching options becoming available.

The Oilers were indeed struck hard by injuries once again, as Taylor Hall, Tom Gilbert and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed significant chunks of time. Most damaging, though, was the fact that Ryan Whitney was never 100%. Whitney is unlikely to be a 60+ point player every year as he was on pace for before being injured in 2010-11, but his ability to move the puck, be capable defensively and eat up 25:20 of ice time was sorely missed even when he was in the lineup.

Oilers management is no doubt aware of the need to start winning pronto, and they may see changing the coach as the jab in the ribs the team needs to get going. Despite improvements in virtually every facet of the game, Tom Renney may have needed more wins to keep his job.

Which Oilers players will score at least 40 points? Who will lead the team?


"Hall, Hemsky, Gagner, Paajarvi, Eberle, Smyth and Whitney will crack the 40 point plateau; provided that each stays relatively healthy. Taylor Hall has Hemsky or Eberle on the opposite wing, which means he'll rack up a load of points. It works both ways, which is why it's tempting to pick Hemsky to lead the team in scoring, but at 35 Ryan Smyth is not quite the same linemate that he once  was. Hall will lead the way."


Not quite. Jordan Eberle had a monster of a season and led the team in scoring by a mile. Had Taylor Hall played the same 78 games as Eberle did, he was still on pace to be eight points back of the former Regina Pat. The last Oiler to score 34 or more goals was a 29 year old Ryan Smyth back in 2005-06. Hall, Gagner, Smyth, and Eberle did indeed reach 40 points, and Hemsky was just shy at 36 in 69 games.

Notable here is the lack of production from Paajarvi and the aforementioned Whitney. Before this past season Whitney posted 0.58 points per game over his career, but his hobbled ankle saw him get into just 51 games and score 0.39 points per game with 20. The lack of a true offensive contributor on the back end really hurt the Oilers in 2011-12.

Paajarvi fell off a cliff rather than taking a step forward offensively. The former 10th overall pick finished behind names like Petrell, Eager, Sutton and even Ladislav Smid in goals and points with just 2-6-8 in 41 games. Statistically speaking, there's no evidence to suggest that his rookie season was a fluke, but by eye he seemed to attack the net far less in 2011-12. He'll need to get some of that fearlessness back if he wants to be successful offensively at the NHL level, and his totals in the AHL (7-18-25 in 34) suggest that he might be coming around. As it is, he always has his defensive tools to fall back on and should still be a useful role player if the offense never comes.

Next time:

Which player with less than 30 NHL games will play the most?
Which of the PP and PK is most likely to improve?
How many games will Yann Danis start?
Will Khabibulin spend any time in OKC?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

04/21/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap


Before the 2011-12 NHL season began, a group of bloggers from around the 'Sphere made predictions about how the season would go on The Copper and Blue. As a matter of full disclosure, let's see how I did.

Question One:

"Many fans and of course all of the Edmonton mainstream media have called Steve Tambellini's non-draft off-season a success. Do you agree?"

To paraphrase a long answer:

Yes, because:


- Overpaying a player like Erhoff would have been a bad way to fix the defense, and signing aging free agents would take playing time away from young prospects who need time to develop


- The goaltending situation was left alone so that Devan Dubnyk could get more playing time


- The bottom two lines received a much needed overhaul


- Ryan Smyth was brought back


Most of the panelists agreed that the off season was relatively successful, but also that not enough was done to make the Oilers a playoff team. Last June I argued against signing Cam Barker because he brought less to the table offensively than Tom Gilbert and having been bought out made him risky, but I held out hope that Barker could justify his overly large contract once it was signed. Obviously, he did not.

Christian Erhoff dipped to 32 points in 66 games for Buffalo (0.48 p/g), which is closer to his career total (0.46 p/g) than what he had the year before signing his ten year deal (0.63 p/g). The Sabres paid Erhoff $562,500 per point this season and he didn't put them over the top. The fact that the Oilers didn't go after a big fish like Erhoff or a veteran like Hannan meant that Jeff Petry got into 73 games for the Oilers and developed into a key contributor.

Devan Dubnyk did get into more games this year - 12 more, to be exact (11 starts) - and performed exceedingly well given the circumstances, but I was wrong about keeping Khabibulin. Although his overall save percentage rebounded from 0.890 to 0.910, Khabibulin was atrocious after his early hot streak. After winning 7 of his first 9 games, he went on to win just 5 more all year in 31 starts. Count me among the people who didn't think Khabibulin could continue to be as bad as he was in 2010-11, but he proved that crowd wrong and then some. The workload should have been divided 60-22 in favor of Dubnyk and wasn't, which would have made more sense for a goalie who is 39 years old and had played 743 games before 2011-12.

The removal of Stortini, MacIntyre, Jacques and Fraser were no-brainers, as only one (Fraser) is still in the NHL. Andrew Cogliano's production dipped to 26 points from 35 in 2010-11, and he did it with a new $2.39 million cap hit. His replacement, Eric Belanger, picked up just 16 points for $1.75 million, but at least he was able to win a faceoff. Cogliano was 42% in the dot this year, while Belanger won 55.3% of the time and was a key PK contributor. Nobody could have predicted that Belanger, the personification of consistency, would have such a sub-par season, and he should bounce back next year. Hordichuk did what he does but wasn't very useful, and Eager chipped in 8 goals. Ryan Jones also had a good season, setting a new career high with 33 points and adding 17 goals; earning every bit of his $1.5 million.

Finally, even though Ryan Smyth's return fell flat in the latter half of the season, the Oilers still acquired 19 goals and 46 points in exchange for Fraser and a late pick. That the trade happened can't be credited to Tambellini at all, but the parts that went the other way can. In 67 games for the Kings, Fraser scored just twice and added six assists. That's actually one less goal than he scored in his only year as an Oiler.

***

I became a fan of the full tear-down, scorched earth style rebuild on December 12th of 2009. Ironically, the Oilers had just won a franchise record five straight road games. The trouble was that they left for that road trip in 14th place in the West, and returned from it in 11th place. There was no way that the Oilers were going to continue to win like they just had on the road, so it looked like another year of spinning their wheels. The Oilers went on to lose seven straight and nine of their next ten games, which put them out of the hunt for good.

Since then, I haven't been too perplexed that the team was losing, and so the moves Tambellini made in the 2011 off season made sense from the standpoint that they were going to develop a team from within that would be terrible for a while. That meant playing young players rather than paying veterans, and suffering through some growing pains.

What the Oilers do this off season will be much more heavily scrutinized by everyone, and rightfully so. It's time to start winning in Edmonton.

The recap of predictions will continue throughout the week and we'll revisit the following questions next time:

What expectations should fans have for the Oilers?
If the team doesn't meet those expectations, is anyone's job in jeopardy?
Which Oiler will score at least 40 points? Who will get the most?
Which player will less than 30 NHL games will play the most this season?
Which of the PP and PK is most likely to improve?
How many games will Yann Danis start?
Will Khabibulin spend any time in OKC?
Which Western Conference team is most likely to be worse than the Oilers?
Where will the Oilers finish?
Will Ales Hemsky be traded or signed?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

04/19/12 Oilers Prospects Shine In Playoff Action


The Edmonton Oil Kings will make their first appearance in a Conference Final since 1973 on Friday night, and Oilers prospects are helping to lead them there. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Barons are up one to nothing in their first round series against the Houston Aeros after a dominant performance in game one, which was spearheaded by some young Oilers.

Oil Kings

Kristians Pelss: The first pick of the seventh round in 2010 (181st overall) has four goals, two assists and a plus-5 rating in the Oil Kings' eight playoff games before Friday's action; good for fourth on the team in points. One of his goals was a game winner. Pelss had a fine season this year, notching 28 goals and 50 points in 63 games, which is double his goal output from 2010-11.

Travis Ewanyk: The Oilers selected Ewanyk in the third round of the 2011 draft with the pick they received from Calgary in exchange for Steve Staios. He missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, but he has picked up 3-2-5 and a plus-5 in Edmonton's eight games.

Martin Gernat: The 122nd overall pick in the 2011 draft has 2-2-4 and a plus-5 so far in the playoffs. Gernat had a strong rookie season in the WHL, scoring 9-46-55 and a whopping plus-41 in just 60 games. Not too shabby for a defenseman.

The Oil Kings are playing some fantastic hockey and Oilers prospects are right in the middle of it. They'll have a tougher test against Moose Jaw, and a full preview of the series can be found here.

Thunder

Olivier Roy: The young goaltender has a 0.933 Sv% and 2.11 GAA in six playoff games for Stockton. His save percentage is fourth in the ECHL playoffs among goalies who have played at least six games. He had a very strong season for the Thunder, posting a 0.925 Sv% and 2.49 GAA in 40 games.

Barons

Tyler Pitlick: Pitlick came on strong in the latter part of the AHL season. After a slow start, he finished with 7-16-23 in 62 games with a minus-1. He scored the first goal - only goal the Barons needed - in a 5-0 drubbing of the Houston Aeros in game one.

Teemu Hartikainen: The Oilers found a hidden gem in Hartikainen, who is a former 6th round pick from 2008 (163rd overall). He scored the Barons' second goal in game one and finished the evening with five shots on net.

Anton Lander: During the regular season Lander scored a goal and four assists for the Barons in 14 games after being sent down. He scored the fifth goal in game one on a breakaway with four minutes left in the third period, and had five shots on the evening.

Magnus Paajarvi: Going down to the farm helped Paajarvi regain some of his scoring touch. He scored 7-18-25 in 34 games with the Barons during the regular season, and tallied an assist and two shots in game one.

Hunter Tremblay: The Oilers signed Tremblay to a two-way contract last March after an impressive university career. The pending RFA had a goal, an assist, a plus-3 and four shots in game one and is making a case to stay in the organization.

Tanner House: The Oilers gave House a two year contract worth $105,000 per year in the AHL a few days before they signed Tremblay. The former Best Defensive Forward in Hockey East with the University of Maine Black Bears had a goal, three shots and a plus-1 in game one.

You may be noticing a pattern when it comes to the amount of shots the Barons players each had. Plante, Teubert, Vande Velde and Cornet had no points in game one, but combined for ten shots on goal. In fact, the Barons dominated in shots by a margin of 48-14. Game two goes Friday.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

04/18/12 Tobias Rieder: Emerging Force


In reading the name Tobias Rieder, many people will ask themselves this: who? Lost in the shuffle of high draft picks and high-end prospects that the Oilers have collected is the young German, Rieder, who had a breakout season with the Kitchener Rangers this year. He's continuing it into the playoffs, where he's been even better.

Oilers fans couldn't stop talking about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins after last year's draft. Other 2011 selections like Oscar Klefbom as well as current Western League players Martin Gernat, David Musil and Travis Ewanyk have ended up getting the most ink. But quietly, Tobias Rieder has established himself as one of the top scorers in the OHL.

With 42-43-85 in just 60 games, the 5'11" and 190 pound former 4th round pick was tenth in the OHL in scoring. He was fifth in the league in goals, second in game winners with 8, and third in short handed goals with 7 in just his second OHL season. Rieder led his team in scoring by a comfortable margin, as the player in second had 69 points, and projected first round pick Radek Faksa was third with 66.

Rieder helped the Rangers to finish in third place in the OHL's Western Conference with a record of 42-24-1-1, and they faced the 6th-seeded Owen Sound Attack in the first round of the playoffs. There, Rieder took over.

He lit the lamp seven times and added six assists while dispatching the Attack in five games, good for 2.6 points per game. He didn't slow down much in the second round either, where the Rangers came up against the OHL's second-best team, the Plymouth Whalers. In a back-and-forth seven game series, Rieder tallied 3-7-10, including a goal and two assists in the deciding game, which Kitchener took 6-3. He is currently leading all OHL playoff scorers with 23 points in 12 games.

Rieder didn't crack the Oilers' top ten prospects in the 2012 Hockey News Future Watch, but after the season he has had it's going to be tough to keep him below players like Ryan Martindale and Curtis Hamilton. The likelihood of his being able to contribute at the NHL level is climbing, but it's going to be tough for him to climb all the way with Edmonton. The Oilers already have more forwards than they know what to do with, and adding Yakupov and another slough of high picks in each round will make things that much more muddled.

The good news for Rieder is that there's no rush. He will turn 20 on January 10th, which means that he just missed the December 31st cutoff for AHL eligibility next season. Another year of Junior won't hurt him, and due to his smaller stature it's better if he isn't rushed along. By the time Rieder is close enough to the NHL to even think about making it, the situation in Edmonton could be very different. And even if the Oilers never use him, his increasing value could make him an attractive trade asset down the line.

Right now, Tobias Rieder looks like a steal at 114th overall. He's a long way from a sure thing, but his progress has been impressive. Way to go, Stu.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

04/17/12 Hemmer and Nail


Assuming that something wacky doesn't happen at the draft in June, the Oilers will be putting the finishing touches on the second line by drafting Nail Yakupov. Aside from the obvious symmetry of having two players on a line with names like Hemmer and Nail, this combination could make sense offensively as well.

It seems to have been written in the stars that Taylor Hall would play with Jordan Eberle. The two were linemates at the WJC, and the Oilers dropped all the way to 30th to get Hall that same year. Ironically, the Oilers had been searching for a left winger to play with Hemsky ever since Ryan Smyth left, but by the time Hall came onto the scene Eberle was the right winger of the future. In Yakupov, the Oilers might have Hemsky's wingman.

Fans have been begging Hemsky to shoot more virtually from the moment he first pulled on the jersey, but now he may not have to. Yakupov is a pure goal-scorer, and a linemate like Hemsky could be just what he needs to transition smoothly to the NHL. It will all depend on how the Oilers use them.

Tom Renney gave Hemsky some difficult assignments this year, so the workload will have to even out a little if the Oilers are going to use Yakupov with #83. Fortunately for the Oilers, Taylor Hall is already capable of holding his own, and one would hope that being in his third NHL season would mean the same for Eberle. Shawn Horcoff will still (always) be thrown to the wolves for the sake of his teammates, and if Ryan Smyth is back he should be as well. We won't know how capable Yakupov is until he gets here, but the state of the 2012-13 team is such that the Oilers shouldn't have to shelter the young Russian in the extreme.

That opens the door for Yakupov on the second line. Though he has played right wing in Sarnia, he should still be young enough not to be too set in his ways, and skilled enough to transition to a slightly different position. Yakupov is a left handed shot, just like natural left wingers Hall, Paajarvi, Omark, Hartikainen and Smyth. One potential problem with playing the left side is that one-timers will have to come across his body before reaching his stick, but there's no rule while playing the wing that says he can't roam a little when he's on the ice.


This kid is an absolute force out there, and he's all over the ice. And that was his rookie season with Sarnia. Notably, he scored from virtually everywhere around the net and a few times attacked from the left side. Note also the early part of the video where Yakupov lays some heavy hits. The Oilers need a forward in their top six who's not only big, but who plays big. Yakupov fits the latter bill better than a bigger man like, for example, Dustin Penner. This is Junior hockey, which is a far cry from the NHL, but the tools are all in place.

One of the main criticisms of Yakupov is that he doesn't use his linemates enough, which is the reason that Hemsky is a better fit than Eberle or Hall would be as his wingers. In fact, a line with two pass-first players in Hemsky and Gagner might be the best possible combination for Nail. Those two are also experienced enough to help carry the young man as he learns the NHL game, assuming that he needs to be carried at all. With any luck, their complimentary styles of play will make up for positional imbalance.

In the very near future, it's possible that the Oilers will have one of the most potent top-six groups in the Western Conference. If Yakupov and Hemsky click, watch out.

Monday, 16 April 2012

04/16/12 Can The Predators Afford Suter?


Alexander Radulov wasn't brought back to Nashville to play defense, but his return - among other things - will have some interesting consequences for the Predators. There could be some real difficulty in keeping that stud defense together.

The Predators are near the bottom of the league in payroll at the moment, despite the massive $7.5 million contract they gave Shea Weber. Things appear to be even better for the Preds after this season, as more than $32 million in cap space will be open. The trouble is that only 12 players are under contract for next season, and there are some players on the roster who will need big raises. Assuming that Radulov stays in Nashville, his presence creates a whole new wrinkle.

Part of the reason that Radulov bolted for the KHL was that he was giving the Predators some quality hockey for just $918,578 on his entry level deal - a deal that is still valid until the end of this year. He still has a contract for next season in the KHL that is worth $5 million, so the Predators are going to have to compete with that salary if they expect to keep him in the NHL. For a team lacking any real offensive stars, retaining Radulov is likely to be a priority.

So what's the big deal?

CapGeek projects the Predators to have $32,330,833 in space next season, which includes Pekka Rinne's new $7 million deal. Shea Weber will once again need a new contract, and because he is an RFA his Qualifying Offer can be no less than the $7.5 million he brought in this year. That leaves $24,830,833 in space. Alexander Radulov will need a contract of at least $5 million, which leaves $19,830,833. Ryan Suter actually played more than Shea Weber this season, and it will be a relatively simple matter for his agent to argue that he is just as important to the team as Weber is. Even if his contract comes in at $6 million per season (a $2.5M raise and $1.5M less than Weber's cap hit), that leaves Nashville with $13,830,833 in cap space.

Forwards Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, as well as Paul Gaustad, Colin Wilson, and Jordin Tootoo would still be unsigned and they combined for $11,025,000 in cap hits this year. Defensemen Hal Gill, Francis Bouillion and Jack Hillen each need new deals, as does backup goaltender Anders Lindback. Together, the unsigned forwards, defense and goaltender listed here account for $16,150,000, and that number is based on their current salaries and not bringing any potential raises into the picture.

Just to keep it all together the Predators are going to have to do some maneuvering, and even then they'll be a very high spending team. Their internal budget is thought to be in the mid-$50 million range, so for them to get up to $64 million in spending would be a stretch.

It seems unlikely that the Nashville Predators will be able to spend such a huge amount on two defenders next season, especially with youngsters Jon Blum, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm all on inexpensive entry level deals, along with Alexander Radulov requiring a raise. It would therefore be surprising if the Predators don't see some movement on the back end. Every attempt will be made to lock up Shea Weber long term, but if they can't do that it wouldn't be out of the question to move him for a massive return. More likely, though, would be for the Preds to trade Ryan Suter's rights to a team that is interested in signing him. Would the Oilers be such a team?

Regardless of the outcome of these playoffs, it would be very surprising to see both Ryan Suter and Shea Weber back in Nashville next season.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

04/15/12 From The Outhouse To The Penthouse


The Pittsburgh Penguins may be down 3-0 in their series against the Flyers, but no one can argue with how far they have come. After finishing one point out of 30th in 2005-06 the Pens improved by 25 wins the following year and ended up 5th in the East. And they aren't the only team to make major gains in one season. Below is a brief examination of one of the recent examples of a team that has made the transition, and more importantly: why. Could the Oilers follow suit?

2005-06 and 2006-07 Pittsburgh Penguins


The 2005-06 Penguins are barely recognizable when compared to what we know today. Their leading scorer was Sidney Crosby with 102 points in 81 games, but next was Sergei Gonchar with 58 points in 75 games. Evgeni Malkin had yet to leave Russia, and Jordan Staal was as yet undrafted by Pittsburgh.

The Penguins were unremarkable in scoring in 2005-06, finishing 18th in the NHL. Malkin and Staal added 62 goals and 127 points in 2006-07, and with Crosby's help Pittsburgh rocketed up to 3rd in the NHL in goals per game at 3.26.

Interestingly, the Penguins were 6th on the powerplay in 2005-06, and finished 29th. In 2006-07 they finished 5th with the man advantage and made the playoffs.

After being atrocious defensively in 2005-06, the Penguins improved from 30th to 14th in goals against per game in 2006-07, which is the really interesting area. Major contributors to the defense (Orpik, Scuderi, Gonchar, Whitney, Melichar) were all returnees from the previous season in which the Penguins finished 29th. Letang played just 7 games for them that year. The team went from 27th in shots against with 33.2 per game to 22nd with 30.9. Improvement, certainly, but not leaps and bounds.

The big difference in goals against is the goaltending.

In 2005-06 Pittsburgh used four goalies, and none of them - including Marc-Andre Fleury - had a save percentage on the positive side of .900. Combined, the four goalies faced 2716 shots and stopped 2413 of them (0.888 Sv%). Fleury's 0.898 Sv% was best on the team, and he made 50 appearances that year.

In 2006-07 Pittsburgh used two goalies, and both were above .900 in Sv%. Fleury's was 0.906, and Jocelyn Thibault had a 0.909 Sv%. In all, they faced 2526 shots (190 less than the year before) and stopped 2290 of them (a 0.906 Sv%). Those numbers still might not be good enough on a less offensively gifted team, but in Pittsburgh they were plenty in the regular season.

Pittsburgh's penalty killing went from 29th in 2005-06 (78.8%) to 17th (82.1%), which reduced the overall goals against by a whopping 38 goals. At even strength the Penguins reduced their goals against by 16 - from 155 to 139 season over season.

In total, Pittsburgh improved by 70 goals against in 2006-07 (from 310 to 240), and they scored 24 more goals in total (from 243 to 267).

The Difference

Sidney Crosby, Ryan Whitney and Marc-Andre Fleury were all part of the team that finished in second last, but they were also key reasons that the Penguins turned it around. The defense was not massively overhauled, and the team actually got younger with Malkin and Staal replacing veterans like Palffy, Lemieux and LeClair. Despite their biggest additions coming up front, the real improvements were in the defensive department.

The Oilers


Edmonton finished 20th in goals per game and 23rd in goals against per game, so there's work to be done in both areas. Like Pittsburgh, if the Oilers had even average goaltending over the length of a full season (that is, if they got it from Khabibulin or got rid of Khabibulin), they would be much improved in goals against. The Penguins also prove that it's not unprecedented to have a good powerplay and finish at the bottom of the league, but the Oilers have the advantage of a slighty above-average penalty kill going into next season.

The Oilers don't have three number-one centers like the Penguins (arguably) do, but a player like Yakupov will help tip the scales offensively. More maturity from a player like Jeff Petry and another possible addition on the back end will make the comparison to the Penguins one that's not incredibly far off. Devan Dubnyk is as good or better than what Fleury was in 2006-07, and Fleury's career stats (.909 Sv% and 2.68 GAA) compare well with Dubnyk (0.910 Sv%, 2.85 GAA). Although the sample size is smaller with Dubnyk, he has played on some pretty terrible Oilers teams and the Oilers didn't have to use a first overall pick on him like Pittsburgh did with Fleury.

For the most part, the Penguins showed some signs of life in 2005-06, but still managed to finish at the bottom of the league. The Oilers are in a similar position. Adding Yakupov and [Dear God, please] getting healthy seasons from Hall and Nugent-Hopkins will be extemely impactful, just as Staal and Malkin were for the Pens. There's still no Sergei Gonchar in Edmonton, but if this off season is successful there will be some facsimile. That is one of the most glaring differences at this point.

The Oilers don't have Sidney Crosby either, but neither do 29 other teams; and most teams don't have an assortment of talent up front that can compare to Pittsburgh or Edmonton. The Oilers aren't the Penguins, but the Penguins are proof that things can turn around in a hurry in the NHL.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

04/14/12 Oilers/Leafs Wheeling and Dealing


A National Post article appeared today with the headline "Maple Leafs need to make deal with Oilers for top pick in 2012 NHL entry draft." There are some ideas in the article of how to get this deal done, and reasons that it would be good for Toronto. Let's go through and see if there's anything to them for the Oilers.

The article suggests that the Oilers could flip picks with Toronto in exchange for a package that included some combination of Cody Franson or Luke Schenn, a second round pick, as well as one of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, or Carter Ashton. That's a pretty substantial package, but is it worth Yakupov? First we'll have to understand the pieces involved.

Schenn: At one time Luke Schenn would have been a prized acquisition for the Oilers or any team, but he had a miserable 2011-12. His average ice time per game dropped to last on the team out of all Leafs defensemen; down from second in 2010-11. The dip was substantial - from 22:22 per game last year to just 16:02 per game this time around. He faced relatively average competition at even strength (which constituted the bulk of his ice time), but had very poor results. He was better last year though, so it's a little tricky to nail down how good he will be. Defensive development is not always a linear upward path, so there's a chance that the 22-year old will still be a high end talent. As it is, his value is at an all-time low. He shoots right, which is good for the Oilers, and his 6'2", 220 pound body would help make them bigger. Schenn also led all NHL defensemen in hits this season with 270. He has four more years on his current contract, at a $3.6 million cap hit.

Franson: The Leafs had a ton of NHL-calibre defensemen this season, and Franson was a bit lost in the shuffle. 1:31 of his 16:11 of ice time  (second-lowest of their defense; just ahead of Schenn), was on the powerplay, and he didn't spend any time penalty killing. Another right handed shot, the 6'5", 213 pound defender picked up 5-16-21 in 57 games this year. His competition was soft and he had 52% offensive zone starts, but at least he did an exceptional job of moving the puck in the right direction. Franson is an RFA who made just $800,000 in 2011-12, so his price point will be very manageable. At this point it's safe to say he's a good, but not spectacular player.

Kadri: The former 7th overall pick was quite sheltered this year, but he moved the play forward. The sample size is small at just 21 games, and when it comes to overall offense Kadri hasn't exactly been prolific. In 51 NHL games over parts of three seasons, he has collected just 8-11-19. Kadri will be 22 years old at the start of next season, so it's getting down to crunch time for him. At 6 feet tall and 185 pounds, he probably won't be an NHL player unless he can start to bring more offensively. Brian Burke said he is committed to making the Leafs a bigger team, so expect Kadri to be in play this summer whether the Oilers are involved or not.

Colborne: In ten games with the Leafs this season, Colborne picked up a goal and four assists to go with a plus-2 rating. He's a former 16th overall pick from the Eberle draft (2008), and stands at 6'5" and 219 pounds. He scored 16-22-38 in 64 AHL games with the Marlies in 2011-12, so offense may not be his calling card at the next level even though he has the tools. Those who follow the Oilers know that they could use a forward in the top six who has size, so Colborne is probably a better fit than Kadri.

Ashton: 29th overall pick in the Paajarvi draft (2009), Ashton is 6'3" and 200 pounds. He got into 15 games with the Leafs after coming over from Tampa Bay, but had no points and was a minus-10. For a man who always likes to win trades, Brian Burke looks to have stepped in it by trading Keith Aulie for Ashton. This should be a player with little value to the Oilers.

It's important to remember that the article is suggesting that the Leafs use some combination of these assets along with the 5th overall pick in order to move up, so it's not like the Oilers would be trading Yakupov for Schenn. But is there enough here to convince the Oilers to move down? Another small, skilled forward is not what the Oilers need, so Kadri is out. Ashton is not in the conversation for the first overall pick, so he's out. Would fans be happy with the 5th pick plus Colborne, Schenn and a second rounder? What if Yakupov turns into a 50 goal scorer?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

04/12/12 Is P.K. Subban The Guy?


P.K. Subban has a bit of a cocky reputation around the NHL, and not everyone likes his style. Perhaps it's just that type of personality that the Oilers could use on their defense. Just how good is Subban? And is he the kind of player that would be worth the first overall pick?

The answer to the first question is that Subban is very good already, and he's likely to get better as he ages and earns more experience. He's a right-handed shot and has collected 76 points in 160 NHL games of his young career, but the points are only part of the story.

At even strength, Subban faced the second-toughest competition among Canadiens blueliners this season, and the drop-off after him and Josh Gorges is substantial. Despite that, his relative Corsi number is second only to Andrei Markov, who played just 13 games this year. That number isn't inflated by cushiony zone starts either, as he has started his shifts in the offensive zone just 46.3% of the time 5x5. He's had some bounces go his way, but the underlying arrows are all pointing in the right direction.

It's easy to believe that Subban regressed a little this season because he posted 36 points after a 38-point rookie campaign, but the workload that he was shouldered with this year was much heavier than what it was in 2010-11. He went from being a minus-8 as a rookie while facing average competition to a plus-9 facing the toughs. He also led the Canadiens in ice time with a massive 24:18 per game, broken down thusly:

Even strength: 18:19 (1st)
Powerplay: 3:29 (3rd)
Penalty Kill: 2:36 (3rd)

At just 22 years old, P.K. Subban is a major contributor to every discipline. So why would Montreal trade him?

There are a variety of reasons. If the Oilers were to offer that first overall pick as part of a deal, Nail Yakupov would be a perfect fit for Montreal. Beyond 33-year-old Erik Cole, the Canadiens don't have a lot in the way of right wingers, and the cupboards are bare when it comes to potential reinforcements. Aaron Palushaj got into 38 games this year, but he tallied just five points.

That's a symptom of a larger problem. The Canadiens were ranked 28th in The 2012 Hockey News Future Watch, and there is very little offense coming through the organization. Adding to the attack at the top of the draft would be a boon for Montreal, but by the time the they make the third selection the two most potent offensive threats are likely to be gone.

What will be available at number 3 is a highly rated defenseman.

Would Montreal accept a bit of a downgrade on defense in order to add an elite scoring threat? Time will tell.  The Oilers may want more than just Subban for a player like Yakupov, but if a trade presents itself they could probably do worse.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

04/10/12 Yakupov or Trade?

Poor Scott Howson.
Now that the order is set and the Oilers lucked into their third straight first overall pick, the question becomes whether they should use it or trade it for help. Let's see who might be interested in the pick, what they might be willing to part with, or if keeping the pick is the best course.

The List

When compiling a list of teams that might be interested in the first overall pick, we have to set some guidelines. First, the consensus number one prospect is Nail Yakupov, and we can approach trading the first overall pick with the mindset that the Oilers are essentially trading Yakupov to another team. Yakupov is a right winger, and after two years in Junior where he collected 170 points in 107 games (80 goals), we can assume that he's going to be in the NHL next season. That means a trading partner should probably need a boost on the right wing, but they should definitely be a team in need of scoring help next year.

Minnesota: Lowest scoring team in a decade, and their second-highest scoring right winger was Cal Clutterbuck. They would love to add Yakupov, but the Oilers would be taking an awful risk trading him within the division. Minnesota's second best prospect is Jonas Brodin, a very highly rated shutdown defenseman from Sweden who is 12th in 2012 The Hockey News Future Watch top 50 prospects outside the NHL. Minnesota picks 7th in this year's draft, so the Oilers might consider trading down. Or the Oilers could ask for Tom Gilbert back. Ha-ha...

Los Angeles: The Kings were the second-lowest scoring team in the NHL this year, but their problem is on the left side. The Kings are extremely rich in defensive prospects but the Oilers need help for next year. Much talked-about rearguard Slava Voynov (8-12-20 in 54 NHL games) may be available, but he would just be the start of a deal.

Florida: This team had trouble putting the puck in the net this year, and they might be interested in a forward who wears #10 because of former Panther Pavel Bure. For the first time in a long time the Panthers won't be picking at the top of the draft, and after making the playoffs this season they'll surely want to continue that success next season. Goalie Jacob Markstrom had a 0.923 Sv%  and 2.66 GAA in 7 games with Florida this year, and will push for a starting job in 2012-13. The Oilers might also have interest in defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, whose points per game have increased every year since he was a rookie in 2009-10.

Colorado: The Av's were 25th in scoring and they could use a high end replacement for the aging Milan Hejduk at right wing. However, Colorado doesn't have what the Oilers need on defense to make a trade worth while. Matt Duchene could be available, but the Oilers would probably rather roll the dice with Yakupov. Also, Colorado doesn't control its own first round pick thanks to the Varlamov trade. Unlikely to be a deal here.

Anaheim: Two words: Cam Fowler. The Ducks were 23rd in scoring despite Selanne, Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan, and there's every chance that the Finnish Flash won't be back. Fowler is unpolished defensively, but he's got offensive tools that the Oilers lack. However, the role that Fowler would fill on the Oilers could potentially be filled by another player whose time as Ducks property may be nearing its end: Justin Schultz. Schultz may become an unrestricted free agent, and another high end forward combined with a lacking defense would make Edmonton an attractive destination for defender like Schultz. Anaheim picks 6th, but it's not clear if they have any assets that would entice Edmonton to trade down.

Phoenix: 18th in scoring, with Ray Whitney and Shane Doan both UFAs at season's end. One way to encourage fan interest in the desert would be to add a young potential superstar into the mix to replace their aging core. Oliver Ekman-Larsson would be the target here. He picked up 13-19-32 in 82 games this season, and played over 22 minutes per game. Ekman-Larsson may not be enough on his own for a player like Yakupov, but he's a very good start.

Buffalo: Oilers fans would probably like to see Tyler Myers come to Edmonton, but with the Sabres having added Cody Hodgson at the deadline they may be hesitant to make a major deal. However, there is an ambitious owner in that city who may want to make something happen. Myers is a former rookie of the year, but his point totals have declined in the two years since then.

Carolina: Could use some help on the wing, and will be picking 8th this year. May consider trading up by using defensive prospect Ryan Murphy, who is an assist machine with Kitchener. Murphy is small, however, which doesn't necessarily make him a fit in Edmonton.

Washington: For all their scoring prowess, the Caps are fairly weak at right wing, and would probably love to add another Russian sniper; especially with Alexander Semin set to become a UFA. If John Carlson could be had the Oilers might listen, but it will take more to land the Yak. Mike Green is a name that might seem attractive, but his injury history and $5.25 million cap hit will spook just about anyone.

Winnipeg: Lacking a game breaker on the right side, like a lot of teams. Right handed shooting defenseman Zach Bogosian would be a nice addition, especially coming off a career-high 30 points in 65 games. These rumors were out there last summer as well, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them crop up again or even for something to get done this time.

***

Having said all that, trading the first overall pick would mean passing on a player who scored 80 goals in 107 OHL games. That's a better rate than Taylor Hall scored at with Windsor and we all know how he turned out. Not quite at Stamkos' level with Sarnia when he was there, but close. Can they afford to pass?

If Ales Hemsky has a bounce-back year he could once again become trade bait and the Oilers will be comfortably set at right wing with Eberle and Yakupov. A lot of things can happen between now and the start of next season, let alone the end. Imagine two or three years down the road. And if it's a matter of adding a defenseman, the Oilers may be able to do it by trading other pieces or by signing UFAs. Having a forward group as lethal as this one will be can be nothing but attractive to the league's best defensemen.

It's a nice problem to have. Either way, the Oilers should be very much improved in the near future.

Monday, 9 April 2012

04/08/12 The Big Breakdown


Now that the season is officially, mercifully, at its end, we can have a look at all the measures of a team and see if the Oilers have improved over their last two 30th place finishes. And, more importantly, how far are they away from being a playoff team?

Record


2009-10: 27-47-8
2010-11: 25-45-12
2011-12: 32-40-10

Meh. The Oilers improved in the win column about as much as we expected. One could argue that injuries and bad luck played their part in the Oilers' losing ways, but there are still holes on the team. It was fun to watch them win seven more times than they did last year, and five more than the year before that, but they'll need 8-10 more than what they achieved this season in order to make the playoffs in 2012-13. If the world ends in December, Oilers fans will be some of the most upset people going. All that rebuilding just to die before finally making the dance...

Goals For


2009-10: 206 (27th)
2010-11: 191 (27th)
2011-12: 207 (19th)

Sixteen more goals than last year, but only one more than the first year the Oilers finished 30th. However, the Oilers improved in their league standing because the bottom teams were scoring less than previous seasons. In 2009-10 just four teams scored less than 210 goals, in 2010-11 there were six teams, and this year there were 12. Again injuries played their part, especially key ones to Taylor Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, but the Oilers also need more from their bottom-six forwards and defense. The average number of goals scored by WC playoff teams this year was 222, which is a total that should be easily within striking distance of a healthy Oilers squad next season.

Goals Against


2009-10: 278 (30th)
2010-11: 260 (28th)
2011-12: 232 (23rd)

The improvements here are a little more tangible. The Oilers went from 30th to 27th to 20th in goals against at even strength over the last three seasons. Overall they went from 278 goals against to 260 goals against to 232. The average goals against of WC playoff teams was 194, so the Oilers still have plenty of work to do. However, that number is a bit skewed by St. Louis' very impressive (and perhaps a bit lucky) 155 goals against.

Goal Differential


2009-10: -78
2010-11: -69
2011-12: -25

Again, we've seen improvements but there wasn't a playoff team in the West this year with a minus goal differential, which should come as a surprise to no one. The Oilers don't have that far to go to be average in Goals For, so it will take some big time improvements in Goals Against to get them into the black in goal differential.

Shots For


2009-10: 2321 total (28th), 28.3 per game
2010-11: 2188 total (29th), 26.7 per game
2011-12: 2186 total (29th), 26.7 per game

No improvements in this category, which is extremely alarming. The Oilers benefitted from some better shooting percentages than last season, so unless they start to get more pucks to the net it's hard to think that they won't regress in the goal department. Broken record: injuries also hindered this area. Taylor Hall led the team in shots with 207 in just 61 games, and if he'd seen a full year he would have been on pace for around another 70 shots on his own. Nugent-Hopkins could have had another 40 shots or so if he had been healthy all year, and Magnus Paajarvi was on pace for about another 80 if he hadn't been demoted due to his lack of production. Had all of that actually occurred, the Oilers would have been up around 19th in the league with this roster, but there will need to be upgrades to get them into the upper echelon. WC playoff team average: 2536 (30.9 per game).

Shots Against


2009-10: 2716 total (27th), 33.1 per game
2010-11: 2597 total (21st), 31.7 per game
2011-12: 2518 total (19th), 30.7 per game

Improvement year over year, but there's still work to be done. 2372 is the WC playoff team average, which is  28.9 per game. Preventing two more shots against per game doesn't sound like a lot, but the margins in this category are thin. Averaging just one less shot per game would jump the Oilers up seven spots to 12th in the NHL. It can be done, but it will take a more experienced defense and maturation from the forwards. The encouraging thing is how far the Oilers have already come in the least few seasons, having improved by 2.4 per game since 2009-10.

Powerplay


2009-10: 17.3% (18th), 52 goals for
2010-11: 14.5% (27th), 44 goals for
2011-12: 20.6% (3rd), 54 goals for

The Oilers had a fairly steady amount of powerplay opportunities in the first two years listed, at 301 and 304, but converted 20.6% of the time on just 262 opportunities this season. The Oilers were 19th in total powerplay chances in the league in 2011-12, but they were very good at finding the back of the net. There are some powerplay whizzes on this team now, but will they be as good next season? Time will tell. Every Western playoff team was worse on the powerplay except San Jose.

Penalty Kill


2009-10: 78% (26th), 67 goals against
2010-11: 77% (29th), 74 goals against
2011-12: 82.4% (14th), 52 goals against

The Oilers were right in the middle of the pack in terms of PK percentage this season, which is incredible improvement over previous years, and reasonably acceptable going forward. Three Western playoff teams were below the Oilers in PK% (San Jose, Chicago, Detroit).

That's A Lot Of Data


Considering the hole the Oilers had dug themselves in 2010-11, it's not unreasonable to have expected them to improve in every category here. And they did. In fact, they aren't as far away in many of these categories as the standings reflect. They'll need to be healthy and upgraded if they're going to make the post season in 2012-13, but there's a foundation here that can be worked with.

Plenty more dissection of this season to come.

Friday, 6 April 2012

04/06/12 Linus Omark: Oops!


The Edmonton Oilers have squandered an asset in Linus Omark. If they didn't want to use the crafty Swede, they could easily have tried to showcase him during another wasted season for a potential trade. Instead of that, they sent a signal to the entire league that he isn't a worthwhile player.

This article popped up on Wednesday, and asked a very valid question: what was the point of recalling Omark if the Oilers weren't going to play him? On a healthy team it would be understandable, but a fairly high profile winger just had season ending surgery. Omark's season never really had a chance to get off the ground, and leaving him in the AHL would have been more flattering to his value.

In order to retain Omark, the Oilers will be required to make him a Qualifying Offer of at least 105% of his 2011-12 salary, starting on July 1st. In Omark's case that salary will be no less than $918,750. But it probably won't come to that, because the Oilers appear to be utterly disinterested.

Omark hasn't played since March 25th against Columbus. Five games have passed since, and there's no indication that he's going to be put back into the lineup for the last one. Over the last five games that Omark did play, he was lucky to see eleven minutes of ice time, and he averaged a little under 16 shifts per game. Surprisingly, he still had two goals, nine shots and an even rating in that time, but the Oilers clearly have no use for him. The top six is enough of a logjam without Omark in the mix, and he doesn't bring enough to break in.

If Omark can't force the issue on the 29th-place Oilers, what chance is there that he would have had value around the league?

Every NHL team is not as rich in top-six forwards as the Oilers are currently. The Hurricanes, Kings,, Rangers, Ducks and Panthers are not exactly flush in left wingers, just to name a few teams. Omark is a better bet than a draft pick, because he has already shown some ability in the NHL. His shootout spin move alone is enough for him to be known around the league, but he's got some offensive tools in him as well. So if the Oilers didn't want Omark, they probably could have got an asset of some kind for him. Could it have been better than the fourth round pick the Oilers used to select Omark in the first place? Maybe.

But now all teams across the league will be aware that the Oilers aren't going to qualify Omark, and could take a crack at him as a free agent. If some team does want to trade for him, whatever the Oilers get back will be less valuable than if they had given him a chance to excel. It seems like the decision not to give him that shot was made before the season even started. Five games without a point and he was on a plane to OKC. Magnus Paajarvi got 25 games with 3 assists. What was Omark worth at the end of last season when he had 27 points in 51 games?

So what was the point of bringing Omark back? Is it a disconnect between management and the coaching staff? Is it some petty attempt to punish him? It's asset management at its worst.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

04/04/12 Edmonton: Desirable Free Agent Destination?


For some, the idea that major free agents would ever choose Edmonton is as ridiculous as a Steve Tambellini stand-up comedy hour. Those people might be right. Our city, fair though it may be, is no New York or Los Angeles. What chance do the Oilers have of landing a big fish in the off season? Now that the rebuild is [hopefully] nearing its end, Edmonton does have some advantages.

Suppose for a second that you are a player approaching Unrestricted Free Agency. You're old enough that the chances of you having a family in tow are pretty fair, and you probably want to put down roots somewhere. But that's not all you want. The team you go to is going to have to pay you handsomely for your services, and that team must have a chance to win both in the immediate and long-term future.

In this off season, the Oilers might be able to sell someone on all of those things.

Before I continue, it should be said that all 30 NHL teams will be glad to sign the big fish if they can, so the Oilers face an uphill battle as it is. However, only certain teams will be able to fit all the criteria that a free agent will be looking for in order to make a long commitment. Edmonton's status as a winter hell wonderland works against the Oilers, but now there are some advantages to braving the snow.

Money

For the time being, the Oilers have some cap space. Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins will all be in line for substantial raises in the next two years, but if they aren't wildly overpaid there shouldn't be too much difficulty squeezing them under the cap. After this season almost $1.5 million in cap space will be freed up after Brule's contract and Nilsson's buyout come off the books. Sheldon Souray's buyout cap hit will decrease from $2.4 million to $1.5 million next season before finally disappearing altogether. If Ryan Smyth is brought back his cap hit will certainly fall from its current $6.25 million. Cam Barker and Theo Peckham probably won't be back, which opens up another ~$3.3 million. Additionally, Eberle is the only one of the big three who can expect a raise that's north of $2 million beyond what he's currently taking home (a mere $1,158,333 this year).

More than $21 million in space opens up after this season, with key cogs Dubnyk, Petry, Gagner and Smyth to be signed. The money that doesn't go to Smyth will help to pay for the raises of other three, and dropping Barker and Peckham should cover the rest. So there's a little wiggle room to add a big name on defense, and unlike some teams on internal budgets the Oilers are free to spend to the cap. If a player is good enough it would be worth shoehorning them in, even if the contract is a big one.

Term

The Oilers will be perfectly willing to lay down a lot of years for a big name free agent. Stability is something that every team could potentially offer, however, which begs the question of why a major player would want to roll the dice in Edmonton of all places.

A chance to win?

It seems strange, but in the future the Oilers will be able to offer a chance to win. And it won't just be a chance to win right now; it will be better than that.

The Stanley Cup is probably the most difficult trophy in sports to win - just ask Marian Hossa. Sometimes you need multiple cracks at it to finally get your name engraved. If you've already decided that you are going to commit to one team for a lot of years, that team better give you a chance to win every year. The Oilers are a long way from being a Stanley Cup contender, but they have a lot of rare and quality pieces in place, and should be adding another at this year's draft.

Some players - like Hossa - have been rewarded by going to up-and-coming teams that are not yet any good. Other recent examples include Brian Campbell in Chicago, Sergei Gonchar in Pittsburgh, and Zdeno Chara in Boston.

Naturally, a player like pending UFA Ryan Suter could choose to sign in Detroit where he would eventually replace Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstom. That does have its pitfalls, however. Pavel Datsyuk is still a great player, but he will turn 34 in July. Zetterberg will be 32 at the start of next season, and Franzen will be 33 in December. They are the core of a very strong team currently, but how will the Red Wings fare as those players age over the life of a long contract for a player like Suter? It's a question that every free agent will have to start asking as they mull over their choice of destination.

There are other teams out there with as much or more cap flexibility as the Oilers, some of which are also up-and-coming teams with loads of potential. The point is not so much that Edmonton has become the best option for NHL free agents, but that it shouldn't be at as much of a disadvantage as it once was. If the rebuild is to have any chance of success, that may be pivotal.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

04/03/12 Worth Getting Excited About


While the NHL off season might not get you as amped as our friend here, there should be a lot of activity that will create buzz and excitement among Oilers fans. That's because the time for the Oilers to start winning has finally arrived, and steps should be made to move them in that direction.

I know what you're thinking.

"But Steve Tambellini is still at the helm!" At least until further notice, that is. "The Oilers will never be able to win with that bungler in charge!"


There's enough Tambellini bashing among the fans to last him a lifetime, and in many cases it's deserved. And it's for precisely that reason that he will have to make something happen this summer. Leading a team to the bottom of the league is not a practice that will go unpunished forever, and hopefully no one is more keenly aware of that than Tambellini. It would be in his best interest to shed the "Mr. Dithers" moniker during the off season and make some bold moves to push this team toward the playoffs.

The free agent crop is not especially deep this summer, but there is some help out there. The really interesting time for Oilers fans will be the draft. If the only event from that day is that Edmonton uses their first round pick, it will still mean adding another high quality young player to the team. But considering the somewhat tenuous position Tambellini is in, and the fact that every team's General Manager will be in the same room looking to deal, there could be a lot more happening than that.

Watch the playoffs carefully as teams are eliminated - and more importantly, the reason they are eliminated. The Oilers could control the second overall pick heading into the draft, and a very potent offensive player will be available in that slot. There will be teams out there who have interest in adding offense if that's what they are lacking, and they may be willing to part with an established defenseman to do it.

This summer could be a win-win for Oilers fans. If Tambellini is still leading the team, he should be motivated to make things happen to significantly improve it. Minor moves (Barker, Fraser, Foster, Eager, etc.) will no longer cut the mustard. If Tambellini isn't the GM, many fans will jump for joy. It's a little early to speculate on how improved Oilers management would be - if at all - because we don't know who the new head honcho would be. But some new blood could provide the push that helps get the team over the hump. As Jonathan Willis said here, Tambellini doesn't have to go for the Oilers be successful, but he does not need to stay.

On the whole, Oilers fans should expect an active off season as management must realize that this team's time to win is fast approaching. It's safe to predict some improvement from the players the Oilers already have, but if some major upgrades aren't made, it should be considered a disappointing summer. Jobs will be on the line, so it should be eventful.