Monday, September 07, 2009

Oh, Those Oilers


The wife has been working all weekend and this week is going to be hectic with school starting but I wanted to talk a little bit about the upcoming season with training camp about to start. Its pretty funny that my last post spoke about a general malaise amongst Oiler fans this summer and then yesterday Lowetide wrote about the Oilers' lack of quality NHL players and folks came pouring out of the woodwork chastising him for being such a negative nellie.

By golly, they said, this is going to be the year.

Now anyone who has been around the sphere for any length of time know that LT is the most optimistic guy here. Its his nature and this is reflected in his writing. And they would also know that the second most optimistic guy would be me. Can't help myself. Again, its my nature.

So why the negativity?

The first thirteen years of their existence the Oilers made the playoffs every season. They won five Cups and lost one final. Even as the dynasty was being dismantled they made it to the conference finals in 1991 and 1992.

An amazing run. Probably the greatest team ever assembled, in my opinion, considering the number of teams in the league and the fact that they had to break up the core of the team far too early. If this were a six team league and the players had no freedom of movement how many Cups would they have won?

Then a four year period where the club was poor and missed the playoffs every season. To be expected considering they were moving out players to contenders for prospects and draft picks for the most part and the team drafted very poorly after they hit the home runs that set up the dynasty. Four years out of the playoffs. Remember that number because these were the darkest days in franchise history.

You know what's interesting? You know the team that some commenters deride as being a bunch of pluggers and palookas? Those little clubs that could between 96/97 and the 05/06 (well that last club wasn't so much an underdog anymore but its core was made up of the holdovers from those years).

Those lousy clubs.

Out of nine seasons they made the playoffs seven times. And one year that they did not they had 92 points.

Seven times in the playoffs. They won series in three of those years.

Those teams sure were rotten.

And since 2006, with three clubs that can (and pretty well have) spent to the cap.

No playoffs.

If they miss this year then they will equal the darkest point in club history.

So forgive me if I am a little cranky. I'm kind of tired of the losing. I'm funny like that.

So I am going to write a few pieces in the next few days. In one I'm going to look at why this club should be better than last year and how and why they will make the playoffs. I want them to make the playoffs and I think they have a shot at it but considering that once again they have holes that have not been filled this summer I think that they are not in as good a position as they should be.

In another I will look at why they are going to equal the franchise record for futility.

In the third I will talk about what I would have done this summer if I was Oilers' GM and why I would have done it.

The ultimate goal of an NHL club is to win the Stanley Cup and in 2006 the Oilers came as close as you can without doing it. The best way to win the Cup is by putting together a club that is competitive more years than not. There are years where you are going to have injuries and years where you have bad luck and years where you just get plain beaten but the more years that you are quality, the better your chances of winning it all. If you suck year after year then you aren't going to win a goddamned thing.

Now, unless you are Detroit (seventeen years and counting) you cannot compete for the Cup every year but you sure don't have a shot at it if you're not even making the spring tournament. Some will argue that just scraping in means nothing. They will say that its a zero sum game. They will say that the Flames have not won the Cup in the last five seasons either - the fact that they have made the playoffs each of those seasons is irrelevant. I believe on the other hand that at least they have made it to the dance and if you don't make it then you haven't a shot at it. Put it this way. I'm far more impressed with the Flames over the past five seasons then the Oilers.

Others will point to the Oilers' young talent and say that the future is bright and we have to take our lumps now, one argument being made that signing a guy like Malholtra means less reps for a guy like Pouliot.

I think that the goal of club management is to put together a plan that ensures that the team is as competitive as it can be each and every year. Young players have to come into the system and there are going to be times that the team's core may be too young but these players have to be supplemented with veterans where possible so that the team does not throw away points in the standings.

Eighth place is not the goal every year but if the difference between eighth and tenth is adding a couple of veterans in order to win some more games then you add those veterans.

If the difference is between thirteenth and eighth then that's another story.

The failure of this club's management since 2006 is in not replacing veteran players and young role players who have moved along. Its very apparent that there has been no plan. The club is rebuilding and yet it is right up against the cap due to longterm contracts doled out to veterans. Folks think that Pouliot and Brule need to get their at bats so there is no need to bring in guys like Malholtra or Dominic Moore yet they applaud overpaying a 35 year old goalie because he won a Stanley Cup five seasons ago. They talk about rebuilding with youth and yet when youngsters who can fill a specific role like Glencross, Brodziak or Thoresen come along, guys who can PK, who are hard on the puck, who can score a little (remember that terrific fourth line of two seasons ago), they too are moved along and holes that were filled are opened up again.

There is a serious disconnect here folks.

Remember. Three years out of the playoffs. One more year and this club has equalled the club of the early nineties.

Shouldn't we expect better than this? Aren't you tired of the excuses and the spin? You can argue with me on each single move this club has made or has not made why it was the right one. This is what management's apologists do.

But its pretty clear that the sum of all of these moves has been relentless mediocrity.

So for this club, I, a glass half full guy if there ever was one, am seeing half empty until I am proven wrong.

30 comments:

OF17 said...

The way I see it, all the team needs to do is make a few relatively small moves to bring themselves into the playoff mix.

1. Sign Manny Malhotra or Dominic Moore (whoever comes cheaper) for 1 year @ ~$1.5 million
2. Sign Rob Niedermayer 1 year @ ~$1 million
3. Sign Blair Betts 1 year @ ~$600K

One-year contracts gives cap flexibility and low cap hit plus three guys who are fighting for their NHL careers. You have three highly-motivated guys who are great defensively and on the PK for cheap cheap cheap. A great situation. And to clear cap space for those three, you

1. Trade Nilsson for picks/prospects
2. Trade Staios for Sean O'Donnell, adding picks as necessary

Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky
Cogliano-Gagner-O'Sullivan
Niedermayer-Malhotra-Pisani
Moreau-Betts-Stortini

Light years better than the current club, as this one actually stands a chance of playing both ends of the rink well. PK solved, faceoffs solved, defensive play solved, Horcoff's insane workload solved all with a few small moves that don't even change the core of the team.

Black Dog said...

OF - those are exactly along the lines of what I am thinking, its not necessary to reinvent the wheel. You have Pouliot and Jacques as your extras with Brule and Reddox next in line. Or if Pouliot is slotted as a role player down the line then have him as the fourth centre and give him responsibilities on the PK and with defensive zone draws.

That team is a playoff team, certainly closer than the present squad

OF17 said...

Exactly. It's amazing how much of a difference some minor changes can make. I don't really understand what's holding management back at this point. They're all guys who've been in the business for decades; surely they must see the holes. If they don't, we're in big trouble here.

mylifeontheelist said...

God. Three years. This is getting awful. No wonder I have little interest in getting Hot Oil going again.


-Loxy.

hunter1909 said...

I blame the EIG.

I blame Lowe.

Least and last, I could blame MacT, and the syncophantic old boys coaching staff.

I really hate to say this, but I think coach Quinn will be able to figure out which players are NHL calibre and who the non hackers are.

Then, with a couple of months gone in the season, and the team as per ever hovering around 8th to 10th, we will see some changes.

Out will go the deadwood, in will come some new blood, tailor made to coach Quinn's expectations.

Obviously the team is going nowhere this year, but compared to the incredibly lame MacT era, which Black Dog, you could pretty well use as a marker as to when the Oilers stopped playing entertaining hockey and started to seriously blow, things simply cannot get any lower.

Therefore, things will improve next season.

OF17 said...

I don't blame MacT nearly as much as I blame Lowe. The only time that Lowe gave Mac a real team was in 05/06, and we all know how that went. Every team that we have had for the past 3 seasons has had glaring holes of some sort, holes that simply can't be overcome with a good coach. In 06/07, we lacked a defenseman who could make a pass. In 07/08, it was a lack of experienced scoring and heart and soul up front. In 08/09, it was a lack of a veteran presence in the bottom six that could win a faceoff and work a PK. Now it looks like we'll be having the exact same problems after Tambellini's Summer of Change.

Management certainly never set MacT up for success. For him to have done something notable with those rosters he would have needed Toe Blake, Scotty Bowman, and Jesus as his assistant coaches. I don't disagree with his firing, as I believe this coaching core is better than the old one, but I find it really difficult to shift too much blame to him.

spOILer said...

OF17>

You echo my thoughts on MacT and Lowe almost exactly.

But I'm not convinced Betts is that much of an improvement over Pouliot, nor Niedermayer over Moreau. What that shake-up does do though, is provide vet PK and Pisani insurance, which might certainly be required.

BD>

Half empty. And I'm usually an optimist about this team too.

Sure, the team did under-perform last year, and we should be able to expect improved performance from nearly one and all, but part of the poor stats was due to personnel issues and the situations they forced.

Sure, they were actually pretty close at the All-Star break and simply choked under the pressure over the final segment, missing Visnovsky badly too. The kids will know better next time right? Don't matter if there are few calming influences on the ice.

Sure, a new coaching staff might bring new life to special teams, a rebirth that would go a long way to adding the wins needed to make the second season.

But there is no sense of a plan, of a course of action; there's seemingly no navigator at the helm... only the dim hope that a whisper of wind might somehow catch a sail and pull us out of these doldrums and into a current that can push us forward.

We gave up an old goalie out of concerns for his age, length of contract, inability to buy out, price, to sign another old guy we can't buy out, to a longer and likely more expensive deal. With plenty of other options sitting out there. Yeah, I understand the need for a vet there who has been to the wars before and won, when there's that many kids on the team.

But doesn't that philosophy extend beyond the goalie position?

And isn't there also a need (and thus a need for a plan) to cut said vets loose and replace them with younger, healthier vets when they become too old to be out-chancers, or overall contributors?

Management seems to be going halfway toward committing to vets and halfway toward developing a bunch of kids. When this team is just a few easy-to-obtain, cheap players away from being serious contenders, it makes you wonder whether it is time to jump this rudderless ship and swim for it.

But LT says it's different this year. This year there will be a trade. And they did under perform last year. And the kids are one year older. And they have a bonny new coaching staff, with sparkling chrome trim, shiny paint job and flash rims. Reeks of new car inside, despite its retro stylings.

Good thing too. Otherwise the glass would be three quarters empty. At which point, spOILer can usually be found desperately trying to catch the eye of the bartender.

Black Dog said...

OF17, Hunter - I believe that coaching had a lot to do with it and a new voice/voices will go a long way to turning things around, at least in the short term.

Those who believe that this is going to be a good year are pinning their hopes on the coaching change. Lets hope that they are right.

SpOILer - well put, pal. Look at the BJs or the Blues, a couple of squads that brought in some cheap veteran backbone to help the kids along. I would suspect that the Kings who have done the same will do well this season.

I just don't see what the problem is.

Darren said...

Man, that post made me feel like puking in my mouth alittle. This team doesn't look good, and has holes and I don't share the optimism that management will make moves to fill those holes. I feel so little optimism about the upcoming season that I am actually looking forward to the Eskimos vs Stamps today in hopes that we can finally smack a calgary team again for once and make a grey cup run. I miss looking forward to a cup run and it sure isnt going to happen with the Oil from the looks of it.
People speak of not signing Betts and Malholtra to give youngsters their atbats? It is an interesting concept I used to support. That has been Arsenal's opinion in the EPL the last 3 years. And when it came crunch time, those youngsters didnt quite have it at the end of the day to go all the way, and left the fans wondering why they hadn't signed one or two veterans to get over the hump. Painful.
Sign the damn Vets to do some heavy lifting and if these prospects are anywhere as good as they are supposed to be, they will force their way onto the lineup. Is that really such a hard thing to do?

Black Dog said...

Darren - that was an argument that was going on yesterday - a guy named Marc who comments here quite a bit, I think, was arguing that side - that is, bringing in Malholtra would mean guys like Pouliot and Brule not getting to play.

My counterargument was that management has basically had no plan over the past few years, its quite obvious. If they wanted to get Pouliot time at centre they could have given him Reasoner's minutes two seasons ago or they could have had him playing centre instead of Pisani of all people last season.

His reply, absolutely reasonable, was he thought that management would only go so far in telling MacT who he could and could not play and where to play them.

In my opinion if this club knew what it was doing they would have started running with Pouliot two seasons ago. They are rebuilding right? Instead now they want to give him a shit?

Poor.

hunter1909 said...

It makes me laugh my head off when I read about how terrible the Khabibulin signing is supposed to be.

I'd love to see what the selfsame posters would be writing right now if all they had was Dubnyk/Deslauriers for next year.

Or 40 year old Roloson.

Black Dog said...

C'mon Hunter you're smarter than that. As if it was Khabibulin or nobody.

I will give them credit for one thing, choosing a guy and getting it done.

But its the term and the money that's an issue. This club is already strapped when it comes to the cap and they have Gagner, Cogliano and Grebeshkov up for raises next summer. Unless the cap goes up, which is unlikely. they could lose one of those guys or they may have to move someone else they would rather not (Souray?).

Plus the guy is injury prone. We're going ot end up with Dubnyk and JDD for twenty games at least if the past few years are any sign of what is to come.

I would have liked him at two years.

Otherwise give me someone else on a cheaper one or two year deal.

spOILer said...

Hunter, there's a great difference between the quality of a signing and the quality of play on the ice.

I'd be willing to take either Khabeeb, or Roli, for the deal Roli signed. I have nothing against Khabeeb as a player.

I would've been okay with Biron or another of the cheap average options, if we were going into full development mode.

But the lack of discernment you're expressing here is okay, really, because I personally laugh my head off every time you jump to conclusions only to find afterwards that you've left yourself with nowhere to land. And lordy it's been a jolly summer. Thank you.

Deano said...

Guys,

Lowetide is just inheriting MacT's pronouncement of players as fit or unfit for the NHL. How many of the question marks on the roster are about players from his doghouse? Because of MacT's belligerence, we do not know. He failed to find out for us.

MacT was so bad last season that Hemsky ended up grousing publicly about having to become a checker. That's on MacT - plain and simple. I am so tired of his apologists. He's the guy that kept Hejda on the bench for half the year. Petulant baby. Would not coach the team he had.

His true ability is molding bottom-six forwards. Sounds like a good skill for an AHL assistant coach to have.

His success came from Lowe being able to blow the cap-space the EIG left the post-lockout Oilers. Success is only distinguishable from luck when it is repeated. Neither one has been able to repeat it - because they have not recreated the same situation for themselves.

See my comments about coaching being pass-fail in the previous post.

Hunter - Biron was also available until July 22 - 3 more weeks. By waiting 24 hours on Khabibulin, the Oilers would have held all the leverage in negotiations with both him and Biron. There were two starters left and only one job - even this bunch should be able to sign one of them. How do they end up with only JDD and Dubnyk? Its their job to understand the market they are working in. Again, mismanaging the situation. Try to stay with the tour.

doritogrande said...

I'm a little late to the conversation, but I'd like to go back to OF17's original comment for a second. Why not have Moore and Betts come to training camp on invites, and have them battle it out for one spot? We don't have to commit any money up front until we see the talent is still there, and it brings a unique aspect of competition not only for them, but for Pouliot to outplay them for his spot.

Then, when TC is taken care of, sign the better for an 800 cap hit for a season. What's wrong with this argument?

Darren said...

@doritogrande:
"What's wrong with this argument?"
Getting them to actually want to come here and play for a team this badly mis-managed?

OF17 said...

Doritogrande, that would be great if both players would agree to it. Regardless of who won out though, I think we should sign both of them along with Niedermayer. Having three more veterans on the team would do great wonders for it. If this team is serious about going for the Detroit model, they'll sign some veteran players and replace them with kids only when the kids are legitimately better. I don't think Detroit would be inclined to let their 3rd line center learn as he goes, and neither should any other NHL club with aspirations of success.

doritogrande said...

I don't think Detroit would be inclined to let their 3rd line center learn as he goes, and neither should any other NHL club with aspirations of success.

If memory serves, for the last two years they've let Valteri Filppula learn on the fly in that 3-line C job (albeit with Draper insurance on the 4-line). In any case, I think Filppula's on the 2-line now.

My point? Even Detroit breaks its rules sometimes. You should also know that due to cap restrictions, their hand is forced when it comes to keeping kids in the minors. That's the only reason that Helm, Ericsson and Leino were down in Grand Rapids this year. The veterans were less expensive (but not necessarily better) than the kids.

I'd sure be bitching if Gilbert Brule was scoirng at a 1.5ppg clip in the AHL, but we couldn't recall him because Dominic Moore is making 1.2M to play on the 4th line.

OF17 said...

Filppula certainly still has potential but is also an actual player. He can still do the job asked of him effectively. That's what I mean by not learning on the go. I have no problem with playing kids if they can get the job done. The problem is that neither Pouliot nor Brule nor Cogliano can play 3C effectively, and a cheap veteran can. And on a club with only 8 people in the entire system in their 30s, the veteran presence would be beneficial.

hunter1909 said...

Yeah. As if there aren't 29 other teams theoretically able or willing to want to sign the same UFA goalies out there. Biron? That makes a grand total of three half assed goalies, including Roloson.

I'd love to imagine the Oilers playoff probabilities without a proven starter in net. To quote Marilyn Monroe - "yipes".

Easy to armchair quarterback, when you're sitting in front of a TV drinking beer and stuffing doritos down your gob.

Alice said...

Speaking of the armchair quarterbacks, Shepso suggested some kind of road-trip/candlelight vigil for the heartsick followers in Ontario-plus-coach.
Oil in Buffalo Nov 11 - they'll still be mathematically viable to make the playoffs, right?

OF17 said...

Hunter, you're incorrectly assuming that it was either Khabibulin at $3.75 million for four years or nothing at all. Biron signed one year at $1.4 million on the Island without even a guarantee of being a starter. You're saying that he wouldn't have taken 2 years @ $2 million or something similar to come to Edmonton? How about an Anderson-Labarbera combination for a total of $2.8 million for one season? Or how about trading for Halak or Harding and signing a veteran as insurance? There were tons of ways that Tambellini could have pulled this off more effectively and for cheaper. Had Khabibulin gotten a 2-year contract at $2.5 million, I would be fine with it. But 4 years at $3.75 million in the goalie market this past summer is simply atrocious.

Black Dog said...

Alice - don't know if I'd be able to make it but I think its a great idea, Buffalo is a great place to see a game, went last year and it was terrific

dg - going back to your question its a terrific idea but as Darren said its getting them to come that's the problem

As for Filpuula well he's come up through the ranks same as Zetterberg and Datsyuk did, more responsibility as he showed he could handle it, of course if you can slot your kid with a couple of vets it helps too, right?

I think they need a couple of vets, I don't think they are bringing them in

Deano said...

Where are the 2 teams necessary to create the 'Chicken Little' doomsday you forecast?

The Islanders were a surprise buyer with Roli and there still was a choice situation left for the Oilers.

Even today, Fernandez, Legace, Denis, Weekes, Kolzig and Cujo are also available. We would not have to go with JDD and DD.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Its the GM's job to handle this situation. It comes with his chair. I was unhappy with the Oilers' performance on the morning of July 1 as it unfolded and nothing has transpired to this day to change that.

Tambo got his man. He should have pressed his advantage harder. That's just good business. Letting fear of failure drive the decision - as you describe - yields bad decisions. Which is what the objections to the Khabibulin deal are. (Except for mudcrutch who has doubts about the player as well as the terms.)

So much for strawman constructed to feed your vanity. There is no need to insult me and my dorito-absorbing gob. You are not the superior intellect that you see yourself as. That kind of phrase is what gets everyone's back up when you post. There is no need to be intentionally mocking, disrespectful or pompous.

Even if you were actually correct.

hunter1909 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hockey Noob said...

BDHS--When I call this a great blog post, it is perhaps the understatement of the year!

You've managed in one single post to clearly articulate and express the palpable frustration of the 'sphere!

hunter1909 said...

Deano: Feel free to attack me. Better yet, come to my blog and do it. Then I might respond. Too bad if you don't like my attitude. You have a lot of company there.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Hockey Noob, appreciate it

OF17 said...

Pat, don't look now, but your number of comments per post has been steadily increasing as time has gone on. People have caught on.

Black Dog said...

OF17 - I'd feel better about it if it weren't my relatives doing all the commenting, Deano is my Dad and Hunter is my Mom

;)