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

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

12/28/14 It's All Wrong


What is Craig MacTavish doing? Either give Todd Nelson the reigns, or don't. This two-headed monster is now just bizarre. It's not translating into wins, as if that really matters, and one presumes that it's keeping MacT from the big-picture type work that the team desperately needs. Is it going to take a win to get the GM out from behind the bench? Why? Why does that matter?

If it's a win that MacTavish is trying to squeeze out of this group, then he's badly exposing how unqualified he is as a general manager. Why? Because if winning matters, a smart hockey person wouldn't construct or deploy the lineup this way.

Brad Hunt, for one glaring example, is not an NHL player. No amount of stubborn force-feeding of minutes (another 19 to go along with a minus-3 against Calgary on HNIC) is going to change that. Simple. Obvious to anyone.

So is it about tanking, then? If that's the case, why not just hand the team over to Nelson and get to scouting the World Juniors? Lowetide pointed out at his blog that if the team doesn't trust the scouts they'd better have the GM watching.

No matter which direction the team is actually attempting to go, they're currently going about it the wrong way. It's funny, really, how wrongly this organization conducts itself without seeing it.

In other news:

Who knew how deeply the lack of center depth was going to cut? Just ask Nail Yakupov. The guy is averaging twelve and a half minutes of ice time at even strength, most often with Draisaitl and Arcobello. Is it any wonder that he isn't scoring?

Ever since MacTavish and Eakins took over the message to this kid has been that he can't be trusted. Ah, yes. If Nail Yakupov was going to be good at anything in the NHL, it was being defensively sound. That's just simply not the player they drafted. That doesn't make him a bad player, it makes the organization bad for not recognizing that he's a scoring winger who needs two quality linemates to free him up to do his best work.

I know everyone says "but he's a first overall pick! He should be making the players around him better!", but guess what? That's not the player the Oilers drafted. He's a scoring winger - that's it, that's all - so use him like one. There's no shame in it.

- For those sick of the negativity, I really do wish there was some good news to write about, but there just isn't. The way the team is conducting itself is now totally indefensible. The Oilers are on pace for their worst season ever and nothing is being done differently except for one of the most unusual coaching changes ever. What was the point of changing the coach if you're going to use the team in more-or-less the same way?

Friday, 26 December 2014

12/26/14 Odds & Ends: Draisaitl, Trade Talk, Eakins, Goaltending


A few thoughts that have been rattling around in my head.

Let's start with Draisaitl. The main argument for keeping him in the NHL was that he had nothing to gain from being sent back to the WHL. It's an argument that Terry Jones and others made when the season started. But even if Draisaitl had nothing to gain, both he and the Oilers had plenty to lose. If the NHL proved to be too much for the young German, as it has, his confidence could suffer greatly. As we've seen with Yakupov, that can be a far-reaching problem. The team, too, lost a valuable year of contractual control over the player as well as what could have been an inexpensive year of tangible production if Draisaitl started his ELC next year.

- I've been thinking about the Oilers' improved possession numbers, even though they can't win. Is it possible that the really bad goaltending is contributing? Only Carolina has spent more time trailing at even strength than the Oilers, and Edmonton is at 47.4% Corsi when not behind in games. 674 of their 1500 Corsi For events at even strength have come while trailing (44.9% of the total). Maybe the awful state of the goaltending is causing Score Effects to make the Oilers look better than they are?

- The Oilers can't make a trade right now because when you're drowning the other GMs would love to throw you an anvil. But that's why the Oilers need to start winning, not tanking for draft position. As long as the team is desperate, they'll be in a terrible spot when trying to negotiate. Almost without fail, the Oilers need trade help more than the team they're in talks with. As long as that continues, they'll have to spend more assets than other teams - maybe so much so that it doesn't make sense to make the trade at all. It's a grim situation. So when a player like Kyle Chipchura comes available for free, the Oilers literally can't afford to pass. Any assets that make the team better today lessens their needs in future trades, and makes them less desperate to find help.

- My previous conviction that Dallas Eakins should be fired was based on the notion that he was in control of how much ice time his players got, as well as who played and who didn't. I'll be curious to see how the player usage changes when MacTavish leaves the bench. So far, Brad Hunt is still in the NHL, Schultz is getting ice time and Yakupov isn't, and Perron isn't getting a chance on the top line. We'll see how much poor play will be tolerated before players get benched or a seat in the press box. If it was really MacTavish who dictated the player usage, then Eakins could be another rookie who the Oilers organization managed to ruin.

- Hope you all had a great Christmas! My wife makes enough food for two armies, so I found some time to write this in between plates of leftovers. Enjoy the WJC everyone, and all the best in the New Year!

Monday, 22 December 2014

12/22/14 The Edmonton Oilers Are An Embarrassment


And it's not even because they lose so much.

It's because they continuously do dumb, almost incomprehensible things. Anton Lander got sixteen minutes and thirty-seven seconds to impress the men running this pathetic organization. He had six shots on goal, which was a fifth of all the shots the Oilers managed. He had four hits. He started in the offensive zone once, but pretty much broke even in the possession battle on a night that the Oilers got crushed in Corsi.

Lander certainly didn't play a perfect game, but he did almost everything that he could. And he got demoted again. Why? Apparently so that a German teenager can get playing time in the NHL.

There are plenty of Oilers scouts who are going to lose their jobs soon because the team doesn't have enough depth from the draft. Maybe that has something to do with the terrible way that the team develops players? Maybe they should stop treating useful draftees like lumps of coal?

I don't see how the Oilers can blame scouting for their woes when the team drafted Jarrett Stoll, Matt Greene, Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Cogliano, Devan Dubnyk, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner - all of whom are still playing in the NHL. Former draftees Lander and Jeff Petry will probably be added to that sorry list soon.

Who cares if the Oilers ever win again? It's impossible to cheer for a team this stupid. This rotten organization is an embarrassment and deserves everything it gets.

Friday, 19 December 2014

12/19/14 Another Reason To Remove Lowe


Oilers fans seem to blame Kevin Lowe for everything from the Ryan Smyth trade to global warming (he hasn't publicly declared that he's not the cause of global warming, so who knows). Hell, fans spent almost $6,000 to take out a full page ad in the Sun pleading for Lowe to be fired.

But other than the numerous blunders and a seemingly unending leash, there's another reason to remove Lowe from the Oilers equation.

Because we fans are never going to get inside the real inner workings of the organization, the only way to judge who is in charge is by the additions and subtractions in management. The Oilers have changed coaches, trainers, scouts, general managers and assistant general managers and yet the team continues to make strange decisions.

The way the team develops young players has not changed despite Tambellini's firing. The half-measures in the off season are the same. Trading assets for futures is still going on. But is that culture and organizational philosophy Kevin Lowe's doing? Or is it Katz?

There's a strong belief that Katz was pulling the strings at the 2012 draft, when he overrode the opinion of his scouts. So how far does that influence go? The only way to know for sure would be to gut management - and Lowe in particular - and see if things change.

If we see sweeping changes to the front office in the off season and business carries on as usual, we'll know that there's a deeper problem in the organization.

And its name is Daryl Katz.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Thursday, 11 December 2014

12/11/14 Running In Place


Not long ago, I made the claim that this is the best Edmonton Oilers team in the last five years. And that got me thinking:

Is it? Is it really?

We tend to look at a general manager's transactions in chunks, rather than as a whole picture. When you think of MacTavish's trade history, what's the first thing that comes to mind? David Perron? I don't think that's the proper way to examine things.

Below I've laid out the Oilers' depth chart from the last year of Tambellini's reign (2012-13) and that of today. This way, you can see for yourself the players that have gone out and come in, and decide for yourself if enough has been done in the last 20 months. The depth charts are listed by position and total ice time, not by line combinations.

The Forwards

2012-13

Taylor Hall Sam Gagner Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Nail Yakupov
Magnus Paajarvi Shawn Horcoff Ales Hemsky
Lennart Petrell Eric Belanger Teemu Hartikainen
Ryan Jones Anton Lander Mike Brown
Ben Eager Jerred Smithson
Darcy Hordichuk Chris VandeVelde

Mark Arcobello

Now let's look at today's forwards:

2014-15

David Perron Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall Mark Arcobello Teddy Purcell
Benoit Pouliot Boyd Gordon Nail Yakupov
Matt Hendricks Leon Draisaitl Jesse Joensuu
Luke Gazdic Will Acton Steve Pinizzotto

Bogdan Yakimov Tyler Pitlick


Iiro Pakarinen



Is that better? The left wing certainly is, though the Oilers are spending $15,662,500 on their top four left wingers (23.7% of their cap expenditure). You could make a good case that both center and right wing are weaker than before.

The Defense

2012-13

Ladislav Smid Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz Justin Schultz
Ryan Whitney Corey Potter
Mark Fistric
Theo Peckham

And the new-and-improved:

2014-15

Andrew Ference Justin Schultz
Nikita Nikitin Jeff Petry
Martin Marincin Mark Fayne
Oscar Klefbom
Keith Aulie
Brad Hunt

The right defense is upside-down, but improved. That is, of course, as long as MacTavish doesn't trade Petry this season, which would most probably negate the Mark Fayne addition (depending on the return). The significant portions of the left side are a combination of players from the Tambellini era who are now NHL-ready, along with Nikitin and Ference. Nikitin is the new Ryan Whitney, and a buyout candidate in the off season. Ference is an upgrade on Smid but not an extreme one, and not a top pair defenseman on a good team.

We can't blame MacTavish for using the good players who were coming up in the system. This organization may yet be saved by the players they've drafted. But when it comes to the defense, everything depends on what happens with Petry. If he gets re-signed then we're moving in the right direction and this is a better group; if he gets traded then it's basically more of the same, outside of the draftees.

Below is a comparison of the goaltenders. I ranked them by games played, but I also have their career save percentages in brackets. Goalie performance is so up-and-down that listing their single season Sv% would be too misleading.

The Goaltenders

2012-13

Devan Dubnyk (0.909)
Nikolai Khabibulin (0.907)
Yann Danis (0.910)

2014-15

Ben Scivens (0.911)
Viktor Fasth (0.910)

The Conclusions
 
If you want a reason why the Oilers continue to run in place: This. Is. It.
There have been upgrades here and there, and downgrades too. Interestingly, MacTavish said in his recent press conference that he wouldn't be "fixing one hole and exposing another", except that's exactly what he did when he traded Sam Gagner and arguably Devan Dubnyk (0.918 Sv% this year) as well.

If you think of individual moves in a vacuum, like the Perron trade, it's easy to say MacTavish has done some good things. And he has. But this team really isn't that much stronger than the one he inherited, especially in key positions.

That's my own opinion, of course. What do you think? Is this team significantly better? Should we expect more after almost two years?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

12/07/14 In Defense of the Scouts... Again


Last time, I went over the Oilers' recent drafting history and compared the performance of the scouts to what is average in the NHL. Now let's go a little deeper.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

12/04/14 Thoughts On Where We Go From Here


By now it's clear to everyone that things need to change in Edmonton. Here are nine thoughts about what could be done.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

12/3/14 Good Corsi and Losing


Many people - even advanced stats folk - have had a difficult time understanding why the Oilers' possession numbers could be so much better, but the team could be so bad. Let's dive in! (I promise to try to do this without getting too numbery on you.)



Corsi has been taking a beating in Edmonton because the team sucks. Like any stat, it requires context and it can't just be viewed by itself.

For those who don't know, a Corsi event happens when a there's a shot that is stopped, blocked, misses the net or goes into the net at even strength. If you've got more Corsi events, it typically means that you spent more time in the other team's end, which is why we're interested in it.

However, teams go into a defensive shell when they are leading in games, which means that they don't press as hard to get into the offensive zone. That shows up in their Corsi - and it's as true in Edmonton as anywhere else.  Last season, all but four teams gave up more shot attempts than they generated while leading. That's what we call score effects.

DESCRIBE WHAT MARCELLUS WALLACE SCORE EFFECTS LOOKS LIKE


That's a visualization of the Corsi battle from the game against Chicago - you remember, the game where the Oilers got destroyed. This image shows the Oilers winning the Corsi battle (the Oilers are the blue line). At the end of the first period it was 3-0, Chicago eased off the gas pedal even though they scored four more goals, and on paper the Oilers' Corsi is improved.

The most common game state for the Oilers this year has been trailing by at least a goal. They're getting 53.6% of the shot attempts while trailing, but that's still 21st in the league. To try to compensate for score effects, I removed the Oilers' Corsi when they're trailing and found that they're sitting at 48.9%. Betterish than last year, but still not good. And there's another problem.

The Oilers haven't led often this season, but when they have the lead they get only 40.7% of the shot attempts, which is really bad - 27th in the league, in fact. Combine that with the bad goaltending they've received, and the Oilers are giving up more 5x5 goals per 60 while leading than all but three teams.

So either the Oilers are taking it easy on other teams while they have the lead, or they're not capable of coping with the push back, or both.

There are some encouraging signs, not least of which is that the Oilers are winning the even strength possession battle while tied this season. But the special teams and goaltending have been so bad that the positives are easily overwhelmed. The special teams dip and the team taking their feet off the gas while leading both strike me as being related to coaching, but I can't say for sure. 

If the Oilers had average goaltending we'd be looking at a couple more wins, but the goalies would have to steal a game or two given the team's results with the lead.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Saturday, 22 November 2014

11/22/14 Skip A Period For Change


Have a gander at that picture above. That's what's going to cause change in this Oilers organization. Nothing else. Only empty seats have that power.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

11/19/14 Replace Draisaitl With Anyone


At the beginning of the season, the words on everybody's lips were "you can't send Draisaitl down because there's nobody who could take his place on the team". I like Draisaitl, just like everybody else, but right now he could be replaced by almost any actual NHL center.

11/18/14 The East Effect


Yesterday I looked at the Oilers' underlying statistics so far this season to see if they're any better than last year. They're not. Well, except when it comes to their Corsi. How is this possible?

Monday, 17 November 2014

11/17/14 How Do You Measure Improvement?


After 18 games last season the Oilers were 4-12-2, last in the West, having scored 44 goals while they allowed 70. How are things looking now?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

11/14/14 Keith Aulie's Fists Turn The Tide!


It's strange that we could be having this conversation, but let's do it anyway: Keith Aulie's two fights against Ottawa did not change the game in favor of the Oilers - score effects did.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

11/05/14 Start The Clock


By finishing 30th last year, the Buffalo Sabres kicked off the next Oilers-style scorched earth rebuild. It comes complete with a fanboy billionaire owner and everything! This actually presents an interesting opportunity for Oilers fans.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

11/04/14 Keep Mashing!


If at first you don't succeed, keep making the same decisions forever! That's how it goes, right?

Monday, 3 November 2014

11/03/14 Positioning Players To Succeed


Move over, Jeff Petry. If the Justin Schultz hate from the fans seems like it's getting louder all the time, just wait until Petry is out the door.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

09/03/14 Forecasting the Oilers' 2014-15


It's prediction time! I reserved my judgement on the Oilers' off season movements until this late time in order to evaluate the full picture. Here's yet another writer's predictions for what's in store for the Oilers in the coming year.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sunday, 2 February 2014

02/02/14 The Case Against Lowe


Despite the years of Edmonton Oilers ineptitude, there are still some corners of "Oil Country" that don't believe that Kevin Lowe is the problem. Here are the reasons why Lowe really does need to go.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

01/26/14 It's Wayne Gretzky's 53rd Birthday!



53 years ago today, the greatest hockey player ever was born. Here are some amazing facts about his life and career.