Thursday, June 22, 2017

Process and Results or Wing and a Prayer?

OK so yesterday I talked about the boy's game on Monday and how the team were playing just unreal but that the score wasn't reflecting this. We have a big game this upcoming Monday against the team to beat and it will be a real test to see if in the last few weeks we have improved at all. I suspect that we will lose but that it will be much closer than our first game in which we got throttled.

Here's the problem we are facing. This is a recreational league through and through. We play once a week, no practices, and after next week school ends and the kids will scatter. We will play through August but will be missing many players every game. And then in September we play a tournament to determine the championship.

 So we play Monday and then won't have our full team back for 10 weeks at which point we will finish our season.

 Our opponent is better than us. They are bigger, faster, older and they have played together for years. So it's a tall order. We are strong up front and in the midfield, mostly small quick players, with a few senior guys who are big and talented. On the back end, well we are in a bit of a tough spot. We're big but not fast and not especially, um, good.

 Now against the other teams in the league we have been able to make this work. We generally control the ball and when we are on offence we give them fits. When the other teams gain possession our midfield is quick and talented enough to track back and harry the other team into giving the ball back to us. The problem comes when they attack quickly or we get outnumbered deep in our end, then it gets hairy.

So here is the conundrum, as I see it I have four options:

1/ Give it a whirl as is and hope. The problem I see already (and saw in our first game against these guys) is that this team is big and fast, our smaller players don't have a lot of time, they tend to get overpowered and so while it is easy to say 'hold onto the ball' it's easier said than done.

2/ Adjust our lineup. I could strengthen our D at the expense of other parts of the formation. The problem here is that in game one the only respite we ever got was when the ball was forward and our guys were running rampant up there. Remove a midfielder and forward from that mix and the ball is going to be in our end even more.

3/ Adjust our tactics slightly. The boy and his counterpart on the wings of our midfield are tenacious defenders and can run for miles. Dropping them back means maybe we can blunt their attacks early and turn the ball the other way. Gives us less support up front though.

4/ Park the bus. Play everyone back, clog it up and hope for a goal on a counterattack.

 Number one is not going to work, they are better than us. Just play and basically we are going on a wing and a prayer, hoping for a miracle, like Mike and the Mechanics but without those dulcet harmonies.

 Two, three or four may work but we have no way to practice to get guys comfortable with new roles or tactics.

 Monday is going to be a real testing ground. A wing and a prayer isn't going to do it so it's going to be the blender.


 I haven't really talked about the Oilers' season yet but now, a couple of hours after Jordan Eberle has been traded, is a good start.

 The Oilers had a good year and I was pleased with it. A bounce or two and they were in the conference final and after years of misery that was a good start. This year was really gravy in a lot of ways, there were no expectations and so while I was disappointed in the final results I was not destroyed like back in 2006.

 Now, we have discussed this before here - the end goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Nothing else matters. Literally nothing else.

 So when folks discuss the Oilers and their moves (and the summers are always agonizing after the second week of July, six weeks rehashing everything, gord help us) you really get two camps. We really saw this after last June but it has been going on for over a decade now. On one side you get folks who believe in the process the team is following and on the other side you have those who do not.

 Now for a decade it was obvious that the team hadn't a clue. The proof was in the results. The process was rotten and the team turned their house into a paperclip and no amount of blind trust in authority, hoping against hope or media cheerleading for the organization was going to change the fact that the Oilers had one of the worst runs in NHL history, nearly all self inflicted.

 (As an aside I love looking back at summer posts going back to 2006 and comments saying that I AM WRONG and the Oilers are going all the way and how dare I question Lowe, Tambo, MacT etc etc. Good fucking times.)

 Easy fix this year, Twitter break in July and August. The same arguments every year. Pass.

 Anyhow everything changed when the Oilers won the golden ticket. Bob Nicholson (what a glad handing weasel he is) saw his chance at glory and took charge quickly, slipping the knife into the old crew and bringing in Peter Chiarelli.

 Now when Chia came in a whole new variable was thrown into the old back and forth because suddenly instead of some old boys' club jokers you had an authentic STANLEY CUP WINNING GM.

 But ... just a second. We were willing to trust in CHIA (and that single fact, that Cup, is why) while we spat vitriol at Lowe, who, if his team had gotten a bounce or two, would have won a Cup.

 And to add to the irony, Chia, like nearly every other GM, inherited a good part of his Cup winning team whereas Lowe's team was really his team. I mean he pretty well built that baby from scratch. So then who is the better GM? ;)

 But anyhow Chia came in and he got a few bounces and won in a couple of seven game series and Lowe did not and that is the way it goes I guess. The point is that suddenly you had a guy in charge of the process who was cast as, if not infallible, certainly as a guy who knew better, let's say.

 A guy who knew a little something about winning, let's call him.

 So, you want to win a Stanley Cup. What is the process? Well there is no template. For decades you needed a star goalie but for over a decade now the winners have been a mishmash of very good, good, rookies and mediocre who got lucky. You needed star power up the middle until Chicago won with a winger, Michael Handzus and Brad Richards as their second line centres. You needed a stud Dman unless you were Carolina or the Pens this year. You needed depth everywhere unless, in this age of parity, you could get by with four or even less quality Dmen.

 So how do you build a team? Well you need stars. Carolina was the only team you could say that has won the Cup in the modern era with no stars but Eric Staal would argue that, probably accurately, and that team (they were a good team don't get me wrong) had a nice run of luck that spring. But really you need star power, elite players, whatever you want to call them. It is why Pittsburgh wins and Chicago won and LA and even Boston. Elite players.

 And the Oilers have one, maybe two of them. (Maybe three or four if Oscar and Talbot continue to rise but let's not get too horny. Or perhaps ... hornier ...).

 SHAFT (horns blare some electric booglaoo)

 So then what.

 Well it's not super intuitive or earth shattering and it's not even that original but many years ago in this section of the interweb I said and I quote 'Get good players, keep good players' was the key to building a good hockey team. For nearly a decade the Oilers traded or lost players for less value, in many cases for no value at all. And so they were garbage. I am going to miss some players but here is a list of NHL players that have been added under Chia's watch before today's move:

Talbot, Sekera, Larsson, Benning, Russell, Maroon, Lucic, Kassian, Letestu, Gryba, Caligula, Desharnais

 The cost in actual NHL players? Taylor Hall and Brandon Davidson.

 We won't start in on Hall Larsson again and some of these guys are bottom of the roster guys but the fact is Chia has added a bunch of players and most of them cost only money or picks or middling prospects.

 So it is a start.

 The draft is the way to build of course, there is no acquisition cost. Other than McDavid nobody has begun to contribute yet. I expect (hope) that Puljujarvi will be a player and a lot of the other picks are trending well. Of course there is no guarantee but right now the drafting looks okay and it may be good.

 So here we are, we have a bunch of homegrown kids and we have our free agent signings and the guys we traded for and we have gone lottery---->lottery----> +100 point team, game 7 loss Round2.

 So the first year was a bust, the team went sideways. Why was that?

 Well Conor McDavid missed 37 games. Leon Draisaitl missed 10. Eberle missed 13. RNH missed 27 and so did Pouliot. So the top six forwards missed 114 games.

 The top seven D were Sekera, Klefbom, Fayne, Schultz, Nurse, Davidson and Gryba. Two were rookies and Klefbom who was one of their top two D, missed 52 games.

 Cam Talbot struggled enough that Anders Nilsson got 26 appearances in before being traded.

So look at that and evaluate the problems, what are they?

1/ Injuries. Five of your six top forwards miss ten games or more (Leon was in the minors of course), three of them miss at least a third of the season. One of your top two defenceman misses nearly two thirds of a season.

 What do you do to fix it? Fire the trainers? I don't know, a lot of freaky shit going on, not much you can do.

2/ That D. You have two rookies and a guy who is a 7, really (Gryba). Fayne never fit under McLellan and Schultz has had his confidence destroyed playing over his head for years while at the same time having no accountability for his game. An offensive defenceman who can't play defence and produces no offence.

 What do you do to fix it? Well you need to upgrade it. Klefbom being healthy will help but Schultz is gone, Davidson and Nurse are green, Fayne needs to shave his sideburns and Gryba is now and always be a useful 7. 7. 7. 7. 77777777777777 (that one is for the ladies, boys always remember to roll those 7s and ring Satan's doorbell.

 *lights cigarette*

 3/ The goaltending isn't great. Talbot struggles so badly that Nilsson wins the job briefly, only to quickly show why he is a backup. Talbot gets back, rights his season but there are doubts.

 What do you do to fix it? Talbot has a good second half but can he be trusted? Best to find a quality backup. Hard to do because longtime quality backups can fall to pieces suddenly. Enroth. And remember Jason Hanna LaBarbera. Dude was a great backup for years. Came to Edmonton and that was it for him. Come to think of it that happened to a lot of guys.


 Anyhow that prognosis is fair right? Chia has already added Maroon and Letestu and Kassian and there are a few kids bubbling under a bit for those bottom six roles. The bottom six is no hell but it has been a lot worse and at least there are now actual NHL players there.

 So next, what does Chia do to resolve his two problems that he can resolve? Well let's work backwards. First he signs the Monster. Now this one had disaster written all over it from day one and that is exactly what happened. Why they went with this guy is beyond me unless he was meant to be training camp fodder for LB (didn't happen) or the idea was that Talbot would play nearly 90 games and do so very well. And ... yeah. Door number two it was.


 And now the D. We won't do over Hall Larsson again. The deal was made, Larsson was added as was Kris Russell and Matt Benning was signed as a college free agent. We had no idea about Benning but in the end Chia added three NHL defenceman. They're no Pittsburgh Penguins D, well actually they kind of are, they may actually be better than that hodgepodge minus Letang.

 Anyhow the point is that they are a real NHL D for the first time in years, since the days of Souray, Gilbert, Smid, Staios and Lubo. An actual real D.


So what happened this season? The team finished second in the division, fourth in the conference. They went up 77 goals in goal differential (!!!!!) and 33 points in the standings. Best of all they were not doing it with smoke and mirrors. Although when 97 wasn't on the ice there was a bit of smoke and mirrors lol.

 Let's look at our problems from the year before.

 Injuries - The top six forwards missed a total of one game. The top three defencemen missed a total of five. So 113 less games missed due to injury up front. And Klefbom, Sekera and Larsson missed 47 less games total than Oscar lost alone last season.

 I don't really need to say much more than that but let's look at what Chia could control and we can see that they allowed 33 goals less than last season and most of that is due to the additions on D and Klefbom's good health. Talbot was very good but the team was lucky in that he survived, for lack of a better phrase.

 So we may not agree on how he got there but he certainly made headway. The results are there and while his process may be flawed at times he is attacking areas of weakness and having success.


 Now, where do we go from here?

 There are opportunities and there are problems. The division is a weak one. The Canucks and Coyotes are garbage. The Kings and Sharks are aging fast and Anaheim isn't far behind. The Falmes are rising but are pinning their hopes on a 35 year old goalie and a seven game series would be a barn burner and I don't think I bet against Edmonton. The Central sees the Blues at a crossroads, Chicago dealing with their usual cap issues and an aging roster and other than Nashville no other apparent threats. For the Oilers this is the year.

 And this is a problem because THIS IS THE YEAR. Leon is getting paid and they can handle that this season but next year Conor gets paid and that is when things are going to start getting pulled apart. The shit thing for the Oilers is that they have one go at it and then things will start getting tight and they will have to start rolling in the kids to try and replace the veterans.

 The good thing is that as I wrote yesterday there are no great teams anymore. Chicago in 2013 maybe was the last? In 2015 they had a third pair that made Bergeron and Greene look like Bill White and Whitey Stapleton and their second line centre was retired a year later. The Pens are something to behold up front and Murray/Fleury was a hell of a tandem but Justin Schultz their number one Dman?

 So the Oilers could win this with the right moves. I mean the margin is razor thin, you need health and luck but if you're in the mix ... that is all you can ask for, right?

 Address the problems and load up while you can because the cap is going nowhere unless the Canadian dollar gets back to par, there's no way the clowns who run the NHL have a clue about getting that revenue up.

 Back to process and results again, do you see it? Bettman pointing to a rising cap and all that time it was nothing to do with process, nothing happening except the currency markets giving a boost to their strongest markets. What a bunch of fucking dummies.


 So if you are Chia and look at the aftermath of the Ducks what do you see?

1/ Secondary scoring was an issue. This is what killed them. A lot of folks say small sample size and they would be right looking at the playoffs but for the most part the team had 18 million dollars invested in three guys who did not get a lot done in terms of driving play or even strength offence. Lucic, RNH, Eberle, not to mention Pouliot. Were these blips, just off years, or were they the start of a downward spiral. (Please note however that Eberle, with his shooting percentage way below normal for him still ranked as a first line forward in the NHL in goals and points. Terrible playoff? Absolutely but the guys who have had terrible playoffs over the years include pretty well everyone, including Toews, Datsyuk, well the list goes on forever. Shit happens.) Anyhow, a big problem.

2/ You give up Taylor Hall and you expect your D to be fixed and looking at two RHD thriving elsewhere who were given away for nothing is galling (Schultz had to go but it's obvious that in the end he is a talent and they blew it with him) but the reality is this D is still not ready for primetime. The Ducks' forwards were slow and old and they still gave them fits at times. They had no answer for Getzlaf (who the Preds shut down) and the husk of Corey Perry even contributed. What happens against a Pittsburgh or a Tampa or a Toronto? They need to add a real RHD to play top four and either run Nurse out there until Sekera returns or find a stopgap for that spot as well, someone on a one year deal. Longterm you have Klefbom, Sekera, Nurse. Adding an older LHD with term would be a waste of cap space. Just an aside, I am not referring to anyone in particular.

3/ Get Talbot a rest for gord's sakes.

4/ Add some guys to the bottom six who can get play moving the right way. Do something!


And here we are, Jordan Eberle gone and Ryan Strome in. Eberle is the better player, his 'terrible' year still better than anything Strome has done, still good enough to be a first line forward in the league in both goals and assists (top ninety forward), 2 goals more and 3 points less than Radulov who everyone adores and is expected to cash in.

 You know how it goes though. With any move comes the media, their shoulders massive from carrying water for a management team that has not made a bad move in 27 years and yet despite this gold standard have not won a thing. Some awful luck there.

 But most of the Edmonton media carry enough water for the Oilers to make one of those man made lakes at Disney. Compared to them poor Darren Dreger can only carry enough to flood his beloved backyard rink. And he carries water for the whole league! And the junior owners too!

 I kid, I kid. But it is funny how it goes, the media begin to sharpen their knives and beat the drums and next thing the fans would be happy if a guy were cut loose for nothing more than a roll of tape.

 Nuge is next, he steals from widows and orphans fund and drowns kittens in a sack in the miller's pond. Bet on it. These guys make it personal and it's creepy and sad.

 Oh well.

 Anyhow as always my thing is that anyone can be traded as long as you get that value back. And I am not talking about the foolishness 'Hall is gone and the team made the playoffs ergo it was a good trade and besides he was the problem and reason they didn't make the playoffs'. That isn't any more logical than the Oilers having a poor season and crashing in the first round and saying that it was because they traded Jordan Eberle although I will certainly pull that out if Leon breaks a hand in camp and Talbot blows out a knee and the team suddenly somehow struggles.

 Because it is just as fucking logical.


 Get good players, keep good players.

 Chia's process so far has shown that he is about that. Sometimes he makes mistakes (overpay for Larsson, the Reinhart fiasco) but he is about bringing in NHL players and Strome is that.

 I don't hate the deal. I don't love it because I don't want conditions when I trade good players. Sometimes you get lucky and you get Oscar Klebom. Other times you get Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and Alex Plante. But this can work and it is not a stretch and heere is how this deal works:

1/ Strome thrives on McDavid's wing and allows Leon to carve up the softs. Listen, Pat Maroon (and I love Maroon don't get me wrong) - PAT MAROON scored 27 goals this season and has 35 in 96 games in Edmonton. That is one less than he had in over 200 games in California and he played some top six there too. So don't tell me that Strome can't pot 20 or 25 or more if he is a fit with 97 and apparently he can skate and has hands.

2/ Chia uses the savings from this deal (and that is what we have been saying right? Find those cheap guys to play with 97) and uses them to shore up that D or the secondary scoring.

 If these happen then he wins this deal and the team is closer to winning the Cup.

And then he has to spend remaining non Eberle cap space on more of number two. And he has to do all of this while keeping an eye on next season.

 This is the Oilers' best shot but it will not be their only shot. If Chia hamstrings this team by giving long term money to older support players then basically what he is saying is that he has no plan. He is hoping that rolling the dice every year with Conor McDavid will one day work out, much like a season for the ages for Tim Thomas did for him.

 And if that is the 'plan' then what it means is that Chiarelli has no process, no idea of what he is doing really, because while you need luck to win the Cup, relying on luck to do so is setting yourself up for failure and destroying a massive opportunity for this franchise.

 And if that happens then you need to go because even Kevin Lowe had a plan in 2006.

 Fin. Thanks for reading.


DSF said...

Not a word out of place Pat. Good stuff.

calgarysux said...

I'm a little disappointed in the deal. I get that Strome has potential, but potential is different from real results.

I would've rather seen a first round or 2nd round pick as well come from the Isles along with Strome. Ebs is clearly the superior player at this point and PC missed a great opportunity to stockpile a good draft pick.

Trading Ebs for Strome straight up is a clear loss for the Oilers at this point in time. As you mentioned, Strome can't even match in his best season what Ebs did in a down season.

Black Dog said...

Thanks DSF!

Yeah calgarysux, it's a gamble and now that they are apparently spending the savings on Russell basically they have taken a step back and are relying on guys to improve (and good health).

It may happen but it is a gamble that did not have to happen.


dawgbone said...

One issue I see is that the Isles have been hurting for wingers and decided Strome wasn't a fit with JT... the idea that he can instead just instantly mesh with McDavid is worrisome.

I guess the Oilers can attempt to do

Everyone else...

You need to decide if 29-97 are a thing going forward or if you want 29 as an NHL C. If he is, $25 mil is a lot to spend on your top 3C, meaning you hope RNH can move over.

If he is going to be on 97's wing, you need someone on the 2nd line who can score after trading the one guy away.

Strome routinely put up more points in junior than Eberle, but Eberle was the more proficient goal scorer.

Shawn Webster said...

Brilliant analysis as usual. I feel that your detachment ie the centre of the universe, gives you a particularly insightful view. Plus you are a brilliant and profane writer which never hurts, of course.

My worry is this...with a great player, a full and overpriced rink, a rejuvenated fan and media base...that is enough.

NNNOOOOO!!! That is not enough...only winning is enough. At my old age... once is enough though (although I have a sneaking suspicion that most Oiler fans of any age would agree). If Chia can bring one cup I will be satisfied I must admit.