Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Fer - The Oilers Will Be Better

Player movement this summer was pretty minimal. Khabibulin replaced Roloson. Kotalik and Brodziak are gone.

On paper then the roster is weaker than last season's club. They are short a reasonable fourth liner who could win draws, PK and score a little and a guy who could play in their top nine, hold his own and score some. And Khabibulin may have a ring but he won it five years ago. You might argue that he is an upgrade over Roloson but goaltending was hardly an issue last year and Roloson was durable. Khabibulin, not so much.

So if there are no further roster upgrades coming then its pretty clear that Tambellini has put his eggs into the Pat Quinn/Tom Renney basket.

And a lot of fans have done the same.

There are some who believe that MacTavish was an awful coach and there are those who loved him and then there is the vast in between. That is where you could count me until last season when I felt that MacTavish went off of the rails.

Now he was handed a mediocre roster but as the season wore on it became clear that the coach was part of the problem. A long litany of strange decisions and some disturbing trends emerged and while there were some smart folks who disagreed I was one of many who believed that a different coach might have gotten enough out of the roster to squeak into the playoffs.

The PK was terrible. There was a lack of aggression and pressure down ice, there seemed to be a directive to not get into the shooting lanes and the use of Penner and Gagner in place of some more reasonable options made little sense.

The team played not to lose rather than to win. One game in particular I remember was tied with thirty seconds left with the draw in the opposition zone. MacT sent out Moreau and Pisani. Then in OT he sent Strudwick out (he did this numerous times). Playing for the shootout isn't too bright, imo, and the Oilers lost plenty of OT games as they sat back and played rope a dope.

There were far too many games where the club came out flat. I know that a few weeks ago Tyler Dellow debunked the myth of the slow start (apparently they suffered from slow starts, slow middles and slow finishes!) but I watched enough games last season to see the Oilers come out flat game after game. They would be playing a divisional rival or a team that they should have taken to the woodshed or in a game that they had to win and they would come out not skating, not hitting, not doing anything. If a team is not prepared that falls on the coach.

The team lacked tenacity, they weren't hard on the puck, they weren't tough enough. Some of that is the players but I've seen enough small "soft" players through the years play tough to know that a coach can get it out a player. Detroit has small skilled players by the bushel but they're hard on that puck.

Throw in the weird lineup decisions - Pisani at centre, Smid at LW, Cole at LW and then playing alongside Moreau and Brodziak (hmm, I wonder why he didn't produce more offence?), Reddox playing on the top line, the refusal to try Pouliot as a tough minutes centre, the goaltending situation and the in game mistakes such as throwing out the fourth line late in games that were in hand. And of course the short leash given to many players - Penner, Nilsson, Brodziak, Pouliot - while others were allowed all kinds of rope to hang themselves and their teammates with.

It was a bit of a running joke, MacTavish losing the room, but this team did not play as well as they could, I believe, and up and down the lineup nearly every single player underperformed with the exception of the top four D, Roloson and Ethan Moreau. Ales Hemsky was excellent until the break and Gagner, Stortini and Cole had good second halves but kids and veterans alike had off years all across the board.

And yes that does fall on the coach.

Now changing coaches doesn't have a lot of cachet with some as a way of turning a ship around. In some cases they point to a change in luck as being the actual cause of the turnaround. Now I can't prove that a new coach will help but I do think that it can, Ottawa and Pittsburgh being two clear examples from last season. Of course in both cases the guys getting canned were terrible coaches, in my opinion.

Is there a lot to choose from between coaches? Is Dan Bylsma a better coach than Andy Murray for example? He has one more Cup on his resume.

I don't know. I think that to say that coaching does not have an effect is, well, I don't know what to call that. I think if you look at Ken Hitchcock or Andy Murray, two of my favourites, or Babcock or Julien or Lemaire, well I think these guys are top notch. I think its like players, to be honest. You have your best guys, you have your middle and then you have your Wayne Cashmans and Bryan Trottiers (as head coaches anyways).

Two posts previous, commenter Deano made an interesting point:

What I think you are overlooking with the 'coaching makes little difference' position is that coaching is pass-fail. When it passes, the difference is minimal. When it fails, the difference becomes significant.

I think that is a great point. I liked MacTavish as a coach. I know that there are plenty who never liked him but I thought he was pretty solid. There is no doubt in my mind though that he was a big part of the problem last year and that a, lets say, normal MacT performance might have garnered this club some more points in the standings.

Can I prove this in any way? Nope. But you can talk about youth and inexperience and square pegs all you like but when the try isn't there then there is something else going on.

So there is a part of me that thinks that Quinn and Renney will make a difference. Renney is known as a PK guy and that area is what cost the Oilers last season pretty well and MacT's PP cost this club the Cup in 2006, imo, so I think that Quinn will make things better in that regard.

There will be the usual bump in enthusiasm that comes with new coaches and for some guys this is their last chance - was MacT the problem with Pouliot and Penner and Nilsson? I guess we'll see. The latter two weren't favourites with their last clubs' coaches either.

So that's my argument. On paper this is a weaker club imo but the new coaches are going to make a difference.
Does it hold water? I'm not even sure if it does but if the Oilers are going to have a good year I had better be right.

And if this club tears it up then you're going to have a lot of MacT bashers saying I told you so.


hunter1909 said...

"Can I prove this in any way?"

Well, if/when the team comes out flying, it will be obvious to all but his most ardent supporters that MacT was the problem.

hunter1909 said...

Sun Tsu in his Art of War states that moral factors come into the equation of good generalship(coaching).

MacT's incredibly arrogant and at the same time mediocre coaching, playing pet favourites, whining to the press about his own fucking players, refusing to take responsibility all the while having nothing to do with paying attention to the strengths and weaknesses of his team, all add up to a classically incompetant coach.

Like the cubmaster who's fat coke bottle glasses wearing son somehow becomes a senior sixer/ bully, MacT shows nothing other than the fact that he's completely out to lunch.

Maybe, despite the propaganda that stated what a genius he was, and how he would be instantly snapped up the second he was out of work, he never works again in the NHL. That wouldn't surprise me at all.

Smytty777 said...

BDHS: I think this year will be incredibly interesting given that the club is nearly identical (if not worse) than last year's squad.

If the Oilers come out flying and have a great year last year hangs on MacT, nothing else will have changed.

I think the Oilers could have finished 6th last year (they were there with 11 games to go, finish 3-8 down the stretch) and I would expect them to finish near 6th this year. We'll see how it all unfolds. I'm so ready for hockey season to start.

Good Muckin' Tonite said...

This is your "Fer"? Yowch. I think that MacT tried too often to fit the square pegs in the round holes although he may have had too many square pegs to work with. Quinn seems to be a role-defining type of coach and I'm pretty sure he'll add pressure on managment to continue tweaking. My pluses would include two arguably strong 2nd lines (though no true 1st), a relatively decent top 4 D, and a signed starting goalie for under $4M/year. PP should have fire power too. By the way, just noticed Sillinger hired as Director of Player Development. Maybe he can pull a Reg Dunlop and go take face-offs?

Black Dog said...

GMT - I like the D, not sure about the goaltending.

They need some big steps forward from a lot of the kids up front though and rebounds from some vets as well. The coaches might get that out of them, we'd better hope so.

rpk said...

Sure , new coaching will make a difference, but will it make THE difference, methinks not...another season out of the playoffs looks to be unfortunately upon us without some tweaks by say Grey Cup weekend...the kids are just not ready for primetime, and I am not counting on the Bulin Wall for much in a non-contract renewal year....

spOILer said...

To paraphrase a reporter and Joe Torres:

Reporter> Joe, why is there such a difference between your win-loss record prior to the Yankees and now?

Torres> Players.

The management traded for Cole to play LW. Why would MacT not try him there? He's a LH shot, what coach, given the 1LW weakness, wouldn't try him there? When that didn't work he had a serious unbalance uncorrected by management further aggravated by a lack of a vet 3C/PKer. MacT knew his job was on the line and playoffs a must, why would he waste wins teaching Pouliot to play in a role he will only have if MacT is no longer coach? I think a lot of last year was MacT fighting management, and he showing them the absurdity of the situation they had given him (yet again).

As far as the under the bus stuff, we don't know what else was tried before it went public and how much of a last resort that move was. We do know that one of Penner's other coaches commented on how difficult it was to light his fire.

I think MC is right on his debunking the slow start and I think too in the same post he showed how good the Oil actually was at holding the lead too.

And we know MacT's systems work when competent personnel are executing them (PP excepted).

But I am okay with the change. Partly because some fresh ideas and perspective are required from time to time, partly because it emphasizes the need for accountability to the players, partly because there is a chance he lost the room, and partly because they have hired excellent replacements.

And I'm sick and tired of watching the world's most inept powerplay night in and night out.

But I don't see coaching as the difference between playoffs or not, unless the new PP system just rockets along. I think that difference will be mostly decided by who the players are and how well they play. Hopefully this year they hande the pressure down the stretch better. But this is not a deep team, except in waterbugs. If there is any kind of key injury (1st and 3rd lines, top 4 D, starting G), we're in deep trouble.

spOILer said...

"Can I prove this in any way?"

Well, if/when the team comes out flying, it will be obvious to all but his most ardent supporters that MacT was the problem.

There's that new-fangled logic again, lol.

hunter1909 said...

If the players give their all and don't make the playoffs, at least we know they've tried.

Under MacT, that simply isn't the case.

Black Dog said...

rpk - oh I'm about to do the 'agin' which is the direction I'm leaning, believe me

spOILer - yeah the whole coaching as issue thing is hard to prove, I know but I do tend to believe that it was a problem last season. Of course if MacT had a better club they would have had better results but I think that he could have had better results with what he was given.

LT argued last year that young players never develop in a straight line but when they all hit the skids then I think there's an issue.

To me its one of those things - you can argue point by point and do it well but the body of work is just too overwhelming.

Its like the slow start issue - is Tyler's argument a good one? of course but as I said I saw enough games where they came out flat as hell to be able to say that there was something there, imo

Halfwise said...

I understand the "was MacT the problem?" debate but the debate is futile. He is gone, and whatever happens this year, for better or for worse, will happen whether or not we agree on MacT's role in what everyone agrees was widespread Oiler futility.

The better question is "how might the new coaching make a difference?" followed by "when would we expect to notice?". Might be tough for this year's team to start 4 - 0, for example.

I have no useful brain for this, but if we could see a more creative powerplay, more aggressive play to regain the puck, and a responsible PK that gave minutes to people that might not otherwise get minutes, I think we could get more from the same personnel.

Then if the front office dealt for a big RH centre who wins faceoffs, Mathieu Garon for a backup and a Glencross clone, we could have a top-third team.

Marc said...

Black Dog:

To say that this team is the same or worse than last year rests on an assumption that the forwards will all play the same or worse than last year. As Gregor points out on ON, whilst most of the D can be reasonably pleased with their production last season and hope for something similar this year, only Stortini and maybe Cogliano can do the same from the forwards.

Now if last year was an aberation for some or all of the forwards - and given the young age of many of the forwards, it is not unreasonable to think that it was, then the team is better than last year if they have average as opposed to below average seasons.

If last year wasn't an aberation, then these guys aren't nearly as good as we thought they were and adding Malhotra or Betts won't change the fact that most of our forwards suck. It won't be the lack of moves this summer that makes the team miss the playoffs, but the fact that management has drafted and assembled a collection of shitty players.

I think the former scenario is more likely than the latter, in part because I'm an optimist and in part because I know that young players generally don't develop in a straight line, but rather in fits and starts.

BUt I think this idea that adding a third line centre and a veteran D will somehow fix the team is a delusion. Either the kids are good players, in which case we shouldn't be giving up on them for a couple of old men on one year contracts. Or they are not, in which case a couple of old men on one year contracts aren't really going to help.

boopronger said...

Does a healthy lubo get this team into the playoffs last year? If so, you gotta think that a healthy team with competent coaching can get it done this year. Guess that just means the Oil cant have any injuries or they are toast.

Black Dog said...

boopronger - what are the chances that they are healthy though? last season they had two key injuries - Visnovsky and Pisani, that's about it

that's pretty good luck with injuries as far as I am concerned

halfwise - agreed - I think a better PP is likely and a better PK as well, also a more aggressive overall team in terms of puck pursuit

and I think guys will benefit from a new voice

as for MacT's faults, well I list them for a reason, there were a lot of things that went wrong last season

Black Dog said...

marc - well that's what we have to hope for, right? I would hope that everyone has bounceback years and if they do, then things will look better

as for bringing in a couple of old guys I must disagree, I'm not talking about taking icetime away from Gagner or Cogliano, I'm talking about guys who are iffy - if making the playoffs means less atbats for guys like Jacques and Brule then so be it,same for bringing in a backup goalie

a couple of veterans would make a difference

boopronger said...

BD - hence my last sentance, they are toast :)

Black Dog said...

Damn I have to learn how to read.

Bruce said...

last season they had two key injuries - Visnovsky and Pisani, that's about it

Hemsky? Ales "only" missed 10 games but was on Strange Street down the stretch.

Black Dog said...

True Bruce but that's still getting off pretty easy, imo. I would bet their total man games lost to injury would be relatively low.

Bruce said...

Man games, schman games. You lose your best forward and best defenceman, you're in trouble. The team desperately needs a healthy season from Ales Hemsky, something he hasn't had since 2005-06.