Thursday, September 10, 2009

Agin - Why The Oilers Have Sucked and Will Suck Again

The problem with the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season is the same problem they have had every season.

I see three years out of the playoffs with a fourth likely. I also see the following list:

Pronger, Spacek, Smith, Hejda, Tjarnqvist, Bergeron, Tarnstrom, Pitkanen, Greene, Samsonov, Peca, Dvorak, Smyth, Sykora, Winchester, Thoresen, Stoll, Torres, Glencross, Reasoner, Cole, Kotalik, Brodziak.

That is a list of what I would call NHL players that have been moved out since June 19, 2006.

Now in some cases the Oilers did not have a choice and in others they got a nice return and there are others that you can argue whether or not the outgoing players had much value at all.

But here is the problem, its not that they moved guys. Guys get moved all the time. A guy like Marty Reasoner or Kyle Brodziak or Patrick Thoresen can be replaced pretty easily but if you do not do so then what happens? This is the problem. The list of incoming players is a lot shorter than the list of guys heading away.

Two seasons ago the Oilers had a fourth line of Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini. They were terrific. Very effective in the role that they played. Patrick Thoresen and Marty Reasoner were two other fourth liners who are now gone. Brad Winchester too.

So what does the Oilers' fourth line look to be this season? Stortini and then two of Potulny, Jacques, Brule, Pouliot, Reddox, Stone, MacIntyre plus any guy who comes out of nowhere.

Not a lot of experience. Not a lot of anything.

The problem with the franchise's approach to each summer is that there does not appear to be a longterm plan. Instead the same mistakes are made, over and over again.

So in 2006 the Oilers lost three of their top nine forwards - Dvorak, Samsonov, Peca. Moving into those roles were Sykora, Lupul and Moreau. Immediately you see a sacrifice on the defensive side of the ball, so to speak. Sykora is probably an upgrade on Samsonov, Moreau is a downgrade from Dvorak, Lupul is not really a replacement for Peca, he cannot do anything that Peca does but he should be able to score goals. So we see that Lowe is sacrificing defence for offence which might be fine except that Pronger and Spacek are also gone and so two of his top four D spots are open and on top of that its his two best puck movers on the backend who are gone. So both offence and defence take a hit from that standpoint.

To fill their roles he brings in Tjarnqvist and Smid, with Jan Hejda in the wings. I was pretty confident in that club after the heady run in May and June but Lowe left a gaping hole on the back end in terms of defensive and offensive quality and never addressed it. The results, in hindsight, were pretty predictable. Laddy Smid in the top four? Come on.

The idea of a run and gun club is a nice one but if your defencemen are a weak group and they don't have the ability to get the puck to the forwards then there's a big problem.

Each of the following summers brought more of the same. Smyth had been shown the door with a similar return to Pronger (futures) and so it looked like the rebuild was on especially when the club tanked. So now you have some more kids coming in and they ship out Gator along with Lupul who was found wanting and they bring in Pitkanen. Also Bergeron was sent out for Grebeshkov, don't forget. So the rebuilding of the D is moving apace - you now have Pitkanen, Grebeshkov, Gilbert, Greene, Smid - a nice collection, plus a veteran in Staios and a quality cheap tough minutes option in Hejda who wants to sign in Edmonton.

Up front however you have a ton of holes especially with Sykora also moving on. You've gone from the 2006 group - seven tough minutes guys plus Stoll, Hemsky and Samsonov, ten quality players in all - to five tough minute guys plus Stoll, Hemsky, Sykora and Lupul, to four tough minute guys plus Stoll and Hemsky. And Reasoner who slots in as a quality fourth liner is in both of the latter two groups.

Its at this point that it looks like it may be time to go all out and rebuild or at least bring in some cheap vets to augment the kids. With Smyth gone the die has been cast.

Instead Lowe goes the other way. He throws big money at Vanek, a move I liked then and still do. A guy who may only play the butter minutes but who absolutely murders them. It fails so then he invests a ton of money and three picks and takes a flyer on Penner. And then puts a ton of money into Souray. And while all of this is happening Hejda walks.

I like Souray a lot but the problem with this move is that Lowe doesn't follow it up. He ends up with a D that is pretty green but ends up being a surprising strength of the club, even when Souray gets hurt early. The issue now is up front. There are too many kids and when Moreau and Pisani go down with injury and illness the result is predictable because there is nobody to step into the breach at all. This is further compounded when they lose Thoresen and while this may seem minimal (I know I know the guy isn't even in the NHL now), the Norwegian was a young role player who could PK, protect the puck, win puck battles and was pretty low event. If you are rebuilding then you want to have young players who can do different things, right? Anyways he is lost on waivers.

And then we get to last summer. Now remember that this club was green as hell up front the previous season, right? So what do they do? They again try and have it both ways. They move Pitkanen for Cole and they move Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky. And they let Torres and Glencross and Reasoner go, for Brule and for nothing. So two vets in but again the outgoing guys outnumber those coming in.

Now I make that Visnovsky trade again for sure and I liked the move for Cole but once again the issue is not what Lowe does its what he does not do. I have no argument with getting rid of guys like Stoll and Torres and Reasoner. You can argue why each had to go pretty convincingly. But then you don't replace them.

So they move out Thoresen, Stoll, Torres, Reasoner and Glencross and bring in Cole.

Can you see where there might be a problem? Five out, one in.

At least on the D there is some balance. You have three kids and three vets.

But up front for another season you have holes everywhere and from 06 you have three tough minute guys left plus Cole and Hemsky and then you have kids. Everywhere.

Why invest all of the money in Souray and two young players and money in Visnovsky if you're not going to complete the puzzle? As Bruce McCurdy has pointed out a number of times, you have a handful of guys in their thirties and a whack of guys under twenty five and barely anyone in between.

So why this long litany of complaints and examples?

Because this summer they did it all again and on top of it they committed the sin of creating a bigger issue with the salary cap with Gagner, Cogliano and Grebeshkov up for renewal next summer.

Again they invested big money, this time in Khabibulin, and again they ignored the fact that they have holes up front. Indeed they have made things worse if anything by moving out Kotalik and Brodziak, one of the few veterans and a kid who could do what none of the other kids could do, that is play a role. Is Brodziak replaceable? I guess so. People look at last season and say he was crap but here's a kid who took defensive zone draws and PK'd and spent a lot of shifts dragging guys like MacIntyre and Boulerice around. As a rookie he had a pretty decent run. I'd say he was worth keeping around. But now he's gone too.

A lot of commenters argue that the kids like Brule and Pouliot and Jacques need their at bats and that's fair enough except this is going to cost this club wins, again.

And you might say to me, well hey there what are you arguing - what gives - and my response is that I want my pie and to eat it to. Lowe never had to blow this club up. He could have augmented what he had with the right choices and let some kids spend a little more time in junior and the club would have been more competitive to boot. Now we've wasted three years and we're still betwixt and between. Maybe we can compete for eighth but a summer from now we'll have a bunch of guys closer to the glue factory and once again a bunch of holes on the roster plus we'll be scrambling for cap space to sign three big parts of the club's future.

Think about that - Grebeshkov or Gagner or Cogliano gone because of the money invested in a guy who'll be long retired before any of them hit their prime. The absolute height of stupidity.

On top of all of the guys that we have let go for nothing we still have the same problem we've had for three years running now. And every summer everyone says things are going to be different and every summer this team falls flat.

The Oilers have a hugely expensive injury prone goalie who doesn't even have a proven backup.

What happens if Khabibulin goes down for fifteen games and JDD and Dubnyk cannot do the job?

What happens if he goes down for thirty games?

Who is going to kill penalties? Who is going to take faceoffs and win them? Nobody could do it last season and there's nobody new in the mix.

Can the kids finally kill the soft parade?

What if it wasn't MacT? What if Nilsson and Penner and Pouliot are just a bunch of dog fuckers?

Can the fourth line do anything worthwhile or will they need to be stapled to the bench? Would you rather a line of Jacques/Brule/Stortini or Glencross (or Moreau)/Brodziak/Stortini? A line that murdered the other team's dregs. A line that got that puck moving the right way.

Who can play the tough minutes? If Penner/Horcoff/Hemsky are one tough minutes line then who centres Pisani and Moreau on the other and what happens if either of those guys or Horcoff goes down?

Can you see the problem here? If the Oilers are up one with three minutes left and Quenneville sends Kane and Toews over the boards and Quinn sends out Horcoff you might get a saw off. Then Quenneville sends out Sharpe and Hossa. Quinn responds with Moreau, Pisani and who? Pouliot? Feeling as confident? What if Horcoff is out? Is Gagner taking on Datsyuk? Or Pisani goes down? Is it Stortini out there protecting the lead against a line led by Zetterberg?

This club is riddled with holes, absolutely riddled, and its pretty well all management's fault. Look at St. Louis or Columbus or the Kings, two clubs that made the playoffs last year and a third that is a pretty good bet to do it this year. A lot of kids on all of these clubs but on the first two a nice set of vets to act as the spine for the kids, guys who can saw off with the other team's vets. And the Kings heading that way as well.

The coaching move was inspired but far too many things have to go right for the Oilers this year. People speak about how this team was in good shape last season but they also forget that they had pretty nice luck with injuries. A few injuries to the wrong people and this club, too thin up front and in goal, will be in lottery territory. Absolutely healthy they still fall short. Too many holes. They just aren't good enough.

Next we'll enter fantasy land and I'll talk about what I would have done both this summer and since 2006. None of this - oh I traded Pronger for Bouwmeester or I signed Zetterberg to an offer sheet shit. I'll work within reasonable parameters and this club will be more competitive, cheaper and a playoff team. Guaranteed. ;)


Kent W. said...

Watching Glencross play last year, it absolutely stunned me that the Oilers let him walk over what was probably a couple hundred grand. Penny wise and a pound foolish.

Chappy said...

"What if it wasn't MacT? What if Nilsson and Penner and Pouliot are just a bunch of dog fuckers?"


this is why i come here.

hunter1909 said...

Dog fuckers?

Oilers have stunk since the day Messier was traded. That's now a very long time ago.

Hopefully they are idiots enough to bring Mike Comrie back. Then I will finally have my excuse to stick my interest in the team in the toilet where it really belongs, and pull the chain. Hard.

Donald said...

"Grebeshkov, Smid, Gilbert...a nice collection." Come on buddy, maybe the start of a "nice collection" NOW, but 2 years ago? Grebs was defensive disaster, Gilbert had played part of a season, and Smid? Still had soaking wet feet, and couldn't find an offensive player in his end with a roadmap. No way anyone could say all three would turn out the way they have now. Hindsight is such a powerful ally.....

Mr DeBakey said...

I used to comment here often
I don't so much anymore
How many ways can a guy type "I Agree"?

I remember suggesting late summer two years ago
that the Oilers should sign JP Vigier
a minimum salary veteran, low-event, up & down winger

He ended up in Geneva instead of here filling for Pisani [and his colitis]

He is the guy that the Team Canada coach put out in the last minute to defend a one-goal lead against the Russians at the Spengler Cup.

Meanwhile the Oilers were missing the play-offs by how many points?

Black Dog said...

Donald - read what I wrote, eh? Not sure how hindsight fits into this at all - what I said was at this point they had a nice collection of young D - five, in fact

Were they green? Absolutely. Did they have faults? Absolutely.

But the point is that four of them two years later are top four defencemen in the league and Smid is at least a bottom pairing guy. Unlike the mess up front they managed to collect a bunch of young D men quickly and run with them.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Mr. D.

You too Chappy.

Kent - yeah I mean speaking of hindsight I guess, at the time it was not a huge deal, there was not a big hue and cry to be honest, but its like death by a thousand cuts, wrong over and over again

LittleFury said...

I hope the Oilers bring in Comrie if only so hunter will finally follow through on his oft-repeated threat to pull the plug. Christ, man, we get it. Enough. Just go.

BD: the scenarios vs Chicago scare the shit out of me and really underscore how well and truly fucked they are. Not much to work with on this lineup.

Anonymous said...

Reading posts like this makes me wonder why Oilers management can't get it together. You're spot on, man. What makes it even more depressing is that the holes are so damn easy to fill right now but the Oilers brass is chasing Comrie for crying out loud. Now, I would like to see Comrie on the team for $1.3 million, but there are many other things management should be concentrating on right now. As of right now, these guys are still on the market:

Manny Malhotra
Dominic Moore
Rob Niedermayer
Blair Betts
Dean McAmmond
Mike Zigomanis
Chris Gratton
Michael Peca

These are all veteran guys who know where their end of the rink is and can win a faceoff. They're guys who are out of work and must be desperate to get a contract, meaning they'll come cheap on short-term deals. They'll also come highly-motivated, as they are fighting for their NHL careers after all. So there are many guys on the market who would come cheap and fill a huge, gaping hole on the team that if left unfilled will spell the Oilers' demise. Is management pursuing them? Hell no! We have Marc Pouliot, man!

Sign three of them (two centers preferably), trade Nilsson and Staios to make room, and reap the benefits. It's not that hard.

Deano said...

Good recap Pat.

This team makes roster decisions based on off-ice reasons.

What all the alternatives to Comrie can't bring is Mike's dad, Bill. The new areaa is more important than the product.

In hindsight, I think letting GlenX walk was equal parts whale-hunting for Hossa and equal parts protecting Moreau's spot on the third line.

'Replaceable' only matters if you do it.

Why do these guys have to always rush in to be first? Can't they 'walk down and [have] them all'?

Go with my theory for a minute: it was MacT last season and they really were an under-achieving 6th-place team. How much ground have our opponents gained on us this offseason?

Calgary landed the wholesome, curvy girl next door (while we were getting rejected by the pretty, superficial, needy, high-maintenance, stuck-up one) and made a couple other interesting ones (Nigel Dawes for free.) I expect Chicago, Columbus, St. Louis and LA to be better because their young players will be a year older. Do you folks think anyone else in the West got much better?

Is clawing for 8th (again) realistic?

Loxy said...

The Oilers don't often have a better first or second line. But they could fight back with a third line and with guys like Reasoner on the fourth line, it was probably better than any fourth line in the league. (Obviously I have a bias, but there are stats to back me up.)

Holes just aren't being filled.

(That's what she said)

YKOil said...

I did a fantasy land post a month or so ago. Fun and depressing all at teh same time.

ANY kind of a solid plan and this team would be killer right now.

Not dead.

RiversQ said...

I've had no faith since the Smyth deal and I don't see much changing anytime soon. I was willing to wait on Tambellini but he already burnt all his goodwill from me on that mindnumbing Khabibulin deal. (Speaking of the Smyth deal - how bad does that package look now? Ted Nolan said it best at the time I think)

Black Dog said...

YK - yes I read that, good stuff, I should really comment more at your site, its really terrific. Anyhow I've gone fairly detailed and will try and post it over the next few days, its fun to try and figure out how they could have done things differently

Rivers - yeah, same old I'm afraid, I really can't believe that this team spends this much money and is going to be in tough to make the playoffs, very very poor really

Black Dog said...

Little Fury - the guys that OF talks about and Loxy refers to are the guys this club lacks again, its fine and dandy to have the sexy young guys who look good and put up the points (although they didn't even do that last year) but someone has to stop the other guys too.

Again they don't have those guys. Very poor.

Deano - well they were in the mix last season and I suspect that they will get a bump from the new coach but as you said there is a lot of tough competition in the west. Minnesota will be there and if Phoenix can put office distractions behind them they will be competitive.

A few injuries to the wrong people, most notably Khabibulin, and they are fucked I say.

Bruce said...

What if Horcoff is out? Is Gagner taking on Datsyuk? Or Pisani goes down? Is it Stortini out there protecting the lead against a line led by Zetterberg?

Nah ... if Horcoff is out, we would never get the lead in the first place.