Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Running Up That Hill


 Other than the Horcoff post I've been holding off on writing anything about the Oilers. Its been an awful couple of months for me and tragedy has been what it has all culminated in and I've a broken heart right now. At some point I may write about my cousin Spencer McLean who has gone far too young. He deserves as much tribute as any man would deserve. He was a great man and I know the cynical might sneer at such a phrase but its the plain truth and he's been taken away from us. Its unfair and its left me stumbling about in the dark, breaking down in tears here there and everywhere. Its an awful awful thing.

 For now though I will write about hockey. This blog started as a blog about life and hockey as well and then it became solely an Oilers' blog and then it went back to its beginnings. Right now I have no happy stories about life, just a terribly sad one and that's for another day, if at all, so hockey it is.

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 I welcomed the hiring of Craig MacTavish and I have for the most part, been happy with his work so far. Anyone would have been an improvement over Steve Tambellini but by my eye MacTavish has done well. He isn't knocking it out of the park but the team is, at this moment, a better one than the one that finished its seventh year out of the playoffs.

 The problem for MacT is that he has a hell of a hill to climb. Its the organization's fault through and through. Go back to 2006 and you had a club that was deep and strong and only needed a good starting goalie to get its shit together. Once Lowe provided that goaltender and they got by Detroit they were on their way.

 It takes a special brand of incompetence to take apart a club that should have contended for a number of years after 2006 but Lowe and then Tambo had the right stuff. Little by little they picked at the foundation of the club. They moved stars for futures, most of whom failed, as futures often do. They waited too long to move some guys, gave up too early on others and essentially moved out NHL quality without replacing it for about five years or so. And the end result as one might suspect was a garbage team. Worst in the league.

 Now things are getting better, mostly because of an unprecedented run of number one picks. The top six is young and talented. There are so many quality D prospects that it would take a literal disaster for some of them not to pan out. On top of that they have a handful of good solid pieces, guys like Smid and Petry and Dubnyk, to augment the young skill.

 The good news for MacT is that this summer is a buyers' market, there is a lot on the market, a lot of clubs with cap issues, guys getting bought out, guys who (you would think, I certainly do) could be had for less than usual. The bad news is that the Oilers had a ton of holes coming out of the season. You don't miss the playoffs seven years running if you're roster is flush and so for MacT tinkering isn't going to get this team anywhere. Add to that the fact that it appears that the decision was made (it seems to be a mutual one) to move Horcoff and Hemsky and suddenly you have two more holes to fill.

 And with the Oilers there's an awful lot of noise. There are the relentless cheerleaders who think every move is absolutely wonderful, have proclaimed every summer fantastic since 2006 and think that guys like Mike Brown and Ben Eager are the answer and that you CAN'T WIN WITH EUROS OR SKILL in support roles. You know, like Chicago didn't win with Roscival, Hjalmarsson and Oduya in the bottom two pairs and Frolik, Kruger and Stallberg in their bottom six.

 WAIT A SECOND!!!!

 And on the other hand you have the cynical doom and gloomers. Some have been worn down by years of losing and others, quite frankly, pan every single move almost immediately. When the team does well its luck. When they make a good move, by any measure, it gets torn down.

  This summer where does the truth lie? In between as you might suspect. This team is better but it needs a lot of work, especially in the bottom six up front. A top four D would be lovely as well.

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 So here is the depth chart coming out of last season in goal.

Dubnyk
Khabibulin
Danis

 And now we have:

Dubnyk
LaBarbera
Bachman

 There was some talk of Dubnyk maybe getting flushed, I never quite got that. Yeah he lets in a softie now and then but with a shitshow in front of him his numbers have been on the rise and they are good numbers. Much like Toronto Edmonton didn't really have a goaltending issue last season. Unlike Toronto they didn't waste assets and cap space trying to shore up the nonissue. And LaBarbera is a nice add, certainly more reliable than Khabibulin. So an A here for not panicking and for bringing in a quality backup for very little.

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On D we had:

Smid                  Petry
Schultz elder      Schultz younger
Whitney             Potter
Peckham            Fistric

So terrible. Basically one top four pairing and six bottom pairing guys (or worse).

Now we have:

Smid           Petry
Ference      Schultz younger
Schultz old  Potter
Klefbom     Larssen

Better? Yes. Ference would have been the third best Dman on the Oilers last year. Is the contract too long? Sure. Would I prefer Ference and a Schultz as the third pair? Absolutely. Andrew Ference has also been in the second pairing of one of the best teams in hockey over the last three years. He's an honest to goodness real NHL defenceman. So yeah he's an upgrade. Contract is too long but for at least a year or two I think he's a top four guy. I would prefer one more move back here and yes I would like to either see a move for a legit top four guy from a cap strapped team or for the club to sign Grabovski and move Gagner for same. Push guys down the depth chart. Failing that sign Tom Gilbert. He was a good defenceman here for years and a short season in which he was both very ill right before the season and unlucky besides (for that matter just a short season period) is no reason to believe that a guy has suddeney stepped into the elevator shaft. Push guys down the depth chart.

 So overall a B minus with room still there to move up. Its an improvement but more is needed.

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At forward:

Hall  Nugent Hopkins Yakupov
Paajarvi Gagner Eberle
Jones Horcoff Hemsky
Smyth Belanger Petrell
Eager Brown Hordichuk Hartikainen Lander

Your mileage may vary.

Now it stands like so:

Hall Nugent Hopkins Yakupov
Perron Gagner Eberle
Jones Gordon Joensuu
Smyth Lander Brown
Eager Hemsky

Obviously Hemsky would slot higher if he were not to be moved but I have kept him at the outer edges because we want a snapshot of the lineup. And .... up front its not looking so good. I like Perron and he is a clear upgrade over Paajarvi. The top six is set until we see if they can't do the job. Maybe they can't but for now this is the best top six the Oilers have had in years.

The bottom six is a horror show though and again what is needed are additions to push guys down the depth chart. Ryan Jones needs to be on the fourth line, I have no problem with him there. Joensuu, well, I would prefer the same. To think that he is going to play on a shutdown line is a little too optimistic. And the fourth line remains a gong show.

 Hemsky needs to bring a quality third line guy back and then ideally they would add another (KULEMIN! KULEMIN!) from a team too dumb to manage an enormous amount of cap space and then they would add a guy like Dave Steckel to push Lander down the chart as well. And then they'd be cooking with gas. Will it happen? No idea but right now up front looks like more of a slight win altogether with Horcoff, and Paajarvi out and Perron and Gordon in. Like I said a reasonable return for Hemsky (and there's no way they go with this third line, right? RIGHT?) makes it better and adding a fourth quality piece would make it a clear win imo.

 Really though up front is at best a C until more moves are made and if Hemsky moves out and nobody of quality comes in then its a loss.

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 Finally about a couple of other things, that is, the coaching and the draft. I liked Ralph Kreuger, he was a bright guy and articulate and like MacT, Quinn and Renney he was dealt shit but like Quinn I suspect that he may have made things worse. I'm not talking about his strange habit of sending out his fourth line to take defensive zone draws after TV timeouts (although DUMB) but rather about his system. Tyler Dellow has done a ton of in depth analysis on the Oilers this past season and really you need to check out his 'big data' series at www.mc79hockey.com - one of the things I drew from this work is that in some cases the issue was the system. It wasn't helping.

 Eakins is highly touted and he did a good job of developing young guys. I think he's an improvement. Good on MacT for seeing who he wanted and pulling the trigger. I think this was a very good move. A.

 As for the draft well who the hell knows. All I know is it looks like they got a few guys who were ranked pretty highly a little later and to me this is a win. There were no garbage picks early on, so win. And while the Russian kid intrigued me and I would have been happy with him I also know of a few who touted Nurse as the best Dman in the draft, period. I've heard little bad about him. Who knows what happens, we won't know for four, five years, maybe longer. Anyhow overall I'm happy with the draft and the fact that Craig Button hated it probably means its a clear home run. Lets say B.

  And that's it, so far.

5 comments:

Bruce said...

Anna and I send our condolences on your terrible loss. Tough to take.

Solid analysis, as usual.

@eastcoasteh said...

Hi Pat, sorry for your loss. No other words other than it fucking sucks.

As for your analysis, I agree on most of it. Decent summer so far, but I'm a bit worried we haven't upgraded enough. The D worries me the most in that adding Ference and a bunch of AHL/NHL tweeners isen't exactly filling me with confidence. What about Belov on D? Isen't he pegged into NHL lineup too? The team seems to have an influx of 5-6-7 guys at the moment.

As for bot6, totally agree, it's still a bit of a mess. Any thoughts on Brodziak filling a spot there, or probably too expensive for bot6 player. My gripe I have though, is that yeah, I know you're a bit of a stats-guy, but you've also played the game for your whole life. While I don't necessarily see a guy like Brown as "the answer", this team does need some players like that. Specifically what this team needs is a guy like Clutterbuck. Who engages the other team all the time, gets under their skin, and ups the intensity level for everyone, especially on those nights where it looks like everyone is asleep! Jones should be that guy, but he's just too nice.

As for top6, I still think unless something changes, we're going to be talking about a need for more size/grit up front and bitching about why Boyd Gordon is centering our top line in January.

I'm a huge fan of Smytty, so I'm secretly hoping he's been taking face-offs in his driveway all summer in hopes of being a Center on the PP. Win faceoff, park ass in front of net. Old School renaissance!



Mr. Pederson said...

Hey Pat,

Big fan of yours. I am very sorry for your loss and wish you and your family peace and healing.

As for the Oilers, agreed on that the D is a bit better, I'm happy with the goaltending, and the bottom six is a debacle. I would love Steckel or similar, Lander is not an improvement on Belanger at this point IMO. Let him season a little longer.

Those bottom 6 wingers make me very nervous. Who knows how much of a difference the coaching change will make, but if they stand pat here I don't see how we can expect much better than last year's result.

jason scott said...

Hey Pat, I was hoping to get your email, I'm not on twitter, but had something to talk to you about.
Thanks
skinny_65@hotmail.com

Black Dog said...

I'm dropping you a note now Jason.

thanks for the kind words guys