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.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

01/15/13 Odds and Ends: Redden, Horcoff, Powerplay, Road Trip


Lots in the news today, highlighted by the new compliance buyout rules. Now that teams can buy out players this off season without it counting against the cap, some are wondering if the Oilers would be interested in the soon-to-be-bought-out services of Wade Redden.

Redden hasn't played in the NHL in two years, and is coming off a season shortened to just 49 games due to a knee injury. Overall in the AHL, the 6'2" 210 pound defender has picked up 12-50-62 in 119 games (0.52 p/g). Decent, despite the fact that it's the AHL.

In his last NHL season (2009-10), Redden collected just 2-12-14 in 75 games with the Rangers. However, he was respectable in terms of possession, and managed to finish his shifts in the offensive zone 49.1% of the time while starting there just 48.7% of the time. We're two seasons and a major injury removed from that time, but he could still be useful to some team at a greatly reduced price.

But the Oilers? Naw.

Redden is a left-handed shot, so unless he's going to push one of Whitney, N. Schultz or Smid down the depth chart, he's not going to fit. He's still got to contend with lefties Theo Peckham and Mark Fistric (though the latter can play either side). At 35 years old, Redden is basically a stop-gap, which the Oilers don't really need. At least not yet. Hail to the mighty NHL injury Gods. Glory be to them.

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Some will say that Shawn Horcoff doesn't belong on the powerplay, but those people are wrong. And there's an even better and more subtle reason than the fact that he averaged 2:52 of PP time per game on the third-best unit in the league last year. He was also fourth on the team in powerplay points with 13, by the way.

But he also took 227 faceoffs with the man advantage and won 114 of them (50.2%). He wasn't the only Oiler to be above 50% in the dot on the powerplay, but his sample size is huge compared to the others. Ryan Smyth won 60.8% of his draws on the PP, but he only took 46. Next-closest to Horcoff in sheer number of draws taken was Sam Gagner, who went 38/84 (45.2%).

Horcoff took more powerplay draws than the rest of the team combined. He also won more powerplay draws than the rest of the team combined. Considering the fact that every powerplay starts in the offensive zone, being able to win draws is critical to effectively using those 2 minutes.

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Finally, everyone get out your calendars and mark down the period from February 25th to March 12th, wherein the Oilers will play a stretch of nine straight games on the road in sixteen days. That's where the season will most likely be decided.

Those nine games represent almost 20% of the season, and 18 possible points in the standings. Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago and Colorado is the order.

Let's hope the Oilers have the same kind of success in 2013 against Chicago that they did last season. Some more Sam Gagner mojo wouldn't hurt. In fact, the mojo is going to have to spread around the lineup a little bit. Aside from Columbus, these are all teams that should be competitive in the Western Conference, including the much-improved Minnesota Wild, who are a division rival. That game, and the one against Colorado, will be four-point outings.

The Oilers play 10 of their first 17 games at home, and a further 14 home games in the 22 that come after the road trip, so there's a little room to catch up if they lag behind. But as is proven time and again in the race for a playoff spot, once teams get behind it's very difficult to make up ground. Sixteen days could determine the fortunes of the next four months.

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