Saturday, August 30, 2008

Tough Minutes

Poor Radek Dvorak. Not a goal in the spring of 2006.
Guy played an important role though. Wonder why that 2006 club went far - look at the list of guys who could handle the tough sledding:
Horcoff, Smyth, Pisani, Peca, Torres, Moreau, Dvorak, Pronger, Smith, Spacek, Staios
Playing a Detroit team that had three lines that could score the Oilers caught some luck, sure, but they had the horses that could outscore the big boys or hold their own against them. San Jose had Thornton and Cheechoo and they were outplayed by Horcoff and Smyth, Pisani's line took care of Marleau. When Anaheim came in with Selanne and a bunch of pluggers and kids we could all breathe pretty easily.
The Northwest has been bleeding some pretty good players over the past few years and the Oilers were ahead of the curve. Between June 19th 2006 and last year's training camp the Oilers said goodbye to six of the players on that list above. On top of that two Dmen they brought in who showed they could handle the tough stuff - Hejda and Tjarnqvist - came and went. Coming back - Joni Pitkanen and a youth movement. Other then that you had two soft minutes guys who came and went (Sykora and Lupul) and coming in a guy who got murdered playing the easy stuff in a weaker conference - Sheldon Souray - and another soft minutes guy in Penner.
In the comments section of this great post Vic refers to a point I made earlier this summer about this club's D.
Now I am cautiously optimistic about this year's club. I think the NW is good for two, maybe three playoff clubs and likely these teams may be the ones that stay healthy, simple as that. The good news is that the Oilers have clawed their way back into the mix after a season and a half in the dumpster. Even better news is that two of their divison mates look to be in decline and on the other two this looks to be Sakic's swan song and if Gaborik walks the Wild are going to take a fall. So the future is bright. The bad news is that the Oilers aren't the Wings - in no way are they free and clear of the division.
Back to point. 2006/2007 saw the Oilers short Pronger, Spacek, Peca and Dvorak from that list of tough minute guys. Tjarnqvist came in to play with Smith which gave them three guys on the back end rather then four to take on the Iginlas and Sakics of the world. And up front they had Smyth, Horcoff, Pisani, Torres and Moreau. Note there is just one centre there.
The Oilers held their own that autumn and were in first as late as early December iirc. Moreau had gone down early on but Pisani and Torres drove a line with Stoll so up front they had two solid lines. Tjarnqvist went down but Hejda replaced him and did the same job, maybe even better. And then Staios went down. And then that was that. Smith and Hejda and not much else on the back and then Smyth was next to go and then the summer saw Smith traded as well.
So last season the Oilers had Horcoff, Torres, Pisani and Moreau up front who could reasonably be expected to take on the toughies. And Pisani got sick and Moreau went down before a shot was fired in anger. And on the back end they had a whack of threes through fives - Staios, Pitkanen and Souray looked to be the best of them. And a bunch of kids. The results, especially early on, were to be expected but a funny thing happened on the way to Brian Burke picking up Steve Stamkos. Tom Gilbert stepped in early on and took on the tough stuff and survived. Pitkanen, a disappointment in some areas, did the job in his own end. Shootout victories kept them going and then Gagner, Nilsson and Grebeshkov began to make things happen in a positive way. The kids stepped up and they got a number of bounces and they survived.
So going into this season who can handle the tough stuff? The good news is that the Flames said goodbye to Tanguay, Huselius and Nolan and brought in Cammelleri and Bertuzzi. The Wild let Demitra and Rolston go and brought Brunette in. The Avs lost Brunette, Sauer, Finger and Theodore and brought in nobody of note. The Canucks replaced Morrision and Naslund with Demitra and Bernier. Everyone took a step back.
I feel pretty good about running out what the Oilers have against what the Flames have with one exception - as Vic pointed out - game 78 of the season, trying to get to the playoffs, leading by one with two minutes left and Iginla comes over the boards. Who do you send out to stop him? Remember last season when the Avs knocked the Oilers out? Jarret Stoll losing own zone draw after own zone draw. Kids everywhere trying to stop Joe Sakic.
So there's good news and bad news - good news is top through bottom the Oilers have depth up front and on the back end. Even the 2006 club had the old Chinese fire drill going on in their own end when Bergeron and Greene and got out there. This year's club is likely going to have Smid and Visnovsky as their third option at evens to start - pretty solid. And up front they are one player away from having a solid half dozen to run out there - maybe it will be Brodziak or Pouliot or Cogliano down the road but this season its going to get dicey at times. The problem is who gets the Iginlas, Sakics, Datsyuks etc on the back end.
That's the question.


uni said...

Demitra didn't hurt as much as people think, dude is too injury prone to be counted on and they survived without him before. Brunette is a good replacement.

Rolston's the one who really hurt them, but you forgot that Minnie also got Zidlicky, and that guy is still a helluva player, regardless of what people think he's like defencesively.

Remember when 4 out of 6 D men changed over for the Wild a little while back and everyone was waiting for the train wreck? No disaster, the Wild are a machine, the cogs change over and they just keep on moving ahead without a hitch.

Also I know Raycroft is a bloody stretch, but dude did win high 30's in games on a very pourous Leafs team...I like the guy and wish him well, just not against the Oil =).

HBomb said...

Defense: I'd damn the torpedoes and run out Visnovsky/Gilbert against the tough matchup (with the Horcoff line up front) and use Staios/Souray as the 2nd option. What I worry is that we'll see 24/44 getting the other team's top lines, and given Souray's deficiencies and Staios potentially losing a step, that's a recipe for disaster.

Forward: There's a big question mark at 3C. Could Bryan Smolinski be the answer, short-term?

Deficiencies, yes, but I think this is a playoff team. They'll need to add a couple pieces to take the step from being a speed-bump for Detroit to the status of "team that can cause damage if goaltender is on his game".

doritogrande said...

Staios and Smid at Evens. Throw Grebeshkov/Gilbert out against the seconds.

Staios and Souray at SH. Gilbert and Smid to take the 2nd liners.

And for interest's sake, Gilbert/Vish first PP option, Souray/Grebeshkov 2nd option. It's a bit of a waste of 5.5M to have Souray on the 2-line PP, but I'd rather have a disher and a shooter on both lines, and Vishnovsky's better than Souray IMO.

Anyone know what Strudwick can bring to the defense besides fisticuffs? I'd like to know.

Black Dog said...

uni - I remember that well - they're like Jersey and Dallas - pretty well always in the mix regardless. I figure the Wild to be the favourite for the division title; I think Koivu and Burns are real difference makers; Avs must figure that the magic that they worked on Jose will work on Raycroft, I guess, but I can't see it. Still the Avs have the personnel no doubt.

hbomb - yeah they are a playoff team I think and likely I would run the D that way too; if Grebs takes another big step forward he will likely be in the mix too

Smolinski is a nice player but he is slow - I'd rather see a kid get a shot at it for starters

dg - I think Strudwick is a rich man's Rourke - steady, chip it out, clear the front of the net, a solid guy who isn't going to add offence but he's a safe bet against the other team's bottom six

dstaples said...


I agree with most of your post, but I can't agree with your characterization of Gilbert and Pitkanen doing their job in their own end. Both struggled like hell, Pitkanen pretty much all the time, which is why he was traded, and Gilbert certainly at the end of the year when he faced up against the toughest opposing players.

I know that I'm pretty much alone in saying this, but I'll say it anyway: the best Oiler combo against top forwards last season was Souray and Staios.

Now, both are old guys, and the main issue with them is injury, but if they can play 60 or 70 games games together like they played the 15 or so where they were partners last December/January, the Oil will have a combo capable of handling tough forwards on other teams.

That said, I don't expect Souray will be healthy for much of the year, at least not healthy enough to play at a high level.

So the Oil will need someone else to partner with Staios against the toughest opponents, and they will need Staios to play like he did in the final 50 games, not the first 30, where he looked a step slow and took a number of bad penalties as a result.

I have no idea who will get the call with Staios, but a number of them will get auditions, if Souray is hurt or hampered, that is.

therealdeal said...

BDHS - I agree with you after looking through the defensive group. All the guys are pretty good and some may develop into the role but there is not a prototypical elite shutdown defenceman in the group.

IMO I think Staples may be right - Staios is MacT's go to guy and Souray actually did alright next year. Aside from that I think Gilbert is the next logical step.

HBomb said...

David Staples: here's how I see it with 24/44: Lean on them heavily on special teams: Souray on both the PP and PK, Staios on the PK only (he should NEVER see the ice with the man advantage).

I had it explained to me like this by a friend, and I thought it made perfect sense: use your d-men situationally to match their strengths - don't get pigeon-holed into thinking the same guys have to play together all the time. So....


1st pair: Visnovsky-Gilbert
2nd pair: Souray-Staios
3rd pair: Smid/Grebeshkov/Strudwick

Powerplay D-men: Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov

Penalty Kill D-men: Staios, Souray, Gilbert, one of Smid/Strudwick.

Visually, Souray/Staios weren't that bad, but there's also numbers out there suggesting Pitkanen and Gilbert were the guys doing the best job last year. It's up for debate.

The more I look at it though, the more I think another solid ES veteran is needed (someone, as Lowetide suggested, out of the Phillips/Volchenkov tree). My belief is that you send out one of Grebeshkov or Smid to get "that guy" at some point.

And the cadillac upgrade for this blue-line remains Souray++ for Boumeester. Dare to dream!

Black Dog said...

staples - underlying numbers show that Pitkanen especially drove the play the other way - by the error stat that you espouse both he and Gilbert were in the red so to speak but a guy who can move the puck is going to make more "errors" then a guy who chips it out on the glass

Gilbert definitely wore down as the year progressed, no surprise there

as for Souray, well I'll pull out the small sample size card - having said that he definitely was better then I expected - not 5.4 worth but oh well

we'll have to agree to disagree but that's ok

any coach is going to throw the vets when possible and I expect we'll see Staios and Souray early on - Gilbert is the future here and I expect he and Grebs to get their fair share of the heavy stuff

hbomb has it right in terms of situations and if Souray produces on special teams without getting killed at ES then his contract is not so ugly.

volchenkov/phillips type is what they need, no doubt

Gord said...

When Peckham came up in March & played his 13 minutes against Columbus; Grebeshkov was his partner...

Yes, the same Grebeshkov who was +8 since February 1st & who was +12 (2nd highest among defensemen; 3rd highest +/- of all players) at the World Championships...

I'll put Grebeshkov against Iginla any time...