Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oilers vs Bears Game

Its one of my favorite games of the year. Brings me back to my uni days. September is the return of fall but also the return of hockey.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

AB Analytics Conference

I'm in Palm Springs and while I sure cant complain, unfortunately I am unable to attend the AB Analytics conference in Calgary going on right now. The event is organized by Rob Vollman and is a great place to learn first hand from some of the innovators in the hockey analytics space. I particularly enjoyed the conversations between sessions. Its hockey nerd bliss! Kudos to Rob for organizing. Since I cannot attend I thought it would be fun to make a social media summary (below) which will live update during the event.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tipping Point

I spent sometime mulling over the upcoming Oilers season this morning trying to identify when the Oilers will turn the corner. I have thought for a while that it will be next year, the 2015-16 season. However I wanted to look at if its possible that it happens this year. I started by looking at some of the recent scorched earth rebuilds and focus on the ones that were successful because in order for the Oilers to make the playoffs this year, they will need about a 30 point increase. In doing this post I look at 3 items.

1) the year they made the leap
2) how big the jump in the standings was
3) the age of their core players at the time of the jump

The teams of interest are the Blackhawks, Penguins and Kings. While its very optimistic to compare the Oilers to these teams, at this point I'm looking at successes and what it will take for the Oilers to replicate that.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks were bad for a long time. Maybe longer then the Oilers have been. They finally made the playoffs in 2008-09 jumping from 88 to 104 pts. The previous year they went from 71-88 pts. So they jumped 33 pts in 2 seasons. At the beginning of the year, their core players.

Sharp - 27
Keith - 25
Toews - 20
Seabrook - 23
Kane - 20

Of note, the Blackhawks won the cup in 2009-10 and made the very significant addition of Marion Hossa. One of the more underrated players of the past 20 years.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins had less 1st overall picks as the Oilers but landed Evgeni Malkin with the #2 pick in 2004 and Jordan Staal with the #2 in 2006. But they also won the Crosby sweepstakes. A prize of a top 10 all time player is stunning. They also picked Ryan Whitney with the 5th pick overall in 2002 who never really amounted into anything but did eventually turn into Chris Kunitz the year they won the cup. In 2006-07 the Penguins went from 58 pts to 105 a jump of 47 pts in 1 season!

Crosby -19
Malkin - 20
Staal - 18
Gonchar - 32

Kris Letang was a non factor when the Penguins made their jump and Ryan Whitney was 23. He was an impact player until his foot injuries derailed his career.

LA Kings

LA was a different case. They were bad for a while but never really bad enough to "win" the top picks except Drew Doughty. The other lottery pick they had ended up being Thomas Hickey who would be considered a wasted pick. The Kings went from 79 pts to 101 in 2009-10. A jump of 22 pts in 1 season. Again, their core is smaller and they piled up so many assets they were able to trade well picking up assets like Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. They made their jump without these players however and perhaps I should include Ryan Smyth as a player who helped them make the step.

Kopitar - 22
Doughty - 20
Brown - 25

Which leaves us to the Edmonton Oilers. A team that has collected a ton of top assets through the draft. Entering this year the Oilers are an interesting team. It seems that they are Tayler Hall and the rest.  Hall is an elite player on an island of his own. Conventional wisdom is that most players become legit at or around their 4th NHL season. But the elite prospect the Oilers are acquiring aren't your typical players. Assuming Leon Draisatl makes the team as well as Nurse I identify their core going forward as:

Hall - 23
Yak - 21
Nuge - 21
Draisatl - 19
Eberle - 24
Nurse - 19
Schultz - 24

I shouldn't really include Justin Schultz here as he hasn't proven anything to this point in his career. But his UFA status and belief from Oilers management indicate that he has the potential to be a core piece of the Oilers moving forward.

So I leave with 4 observations.

1) All of the "successful rebuilds" made significant leaps forward in a short period of time. The Penguins did 47 pts in one year which is ridiculous but Kings did 22 points and the Blackhawks did 33 although it took them 2 years.
2) The size of the Oilers cluster is larger then any of the "successful rebuilds" (although largely unproven). Its also unlikely they all develop into part of the core.
3) The Oilers lack a legit top pairing D. All the other teams that took the step had one. In LA's case, Doughty was the difference maker. I believe Doughty to be a unique case. The Oilers did make a nice acquisition in Mark Fayne this offseason who with Petry could form a top pair. I still believe the Oilers lack in this department.
4) All of the "successful rebuilds" made significant trades that improved the team as they approached the elite teams. Hossa, Kunitz, Carter and Richards all impacted the team when they were acquired and made them contenders.

Can the Oilers made a significant jump? The evidence here suggests its possible. But that's just it - its possible. As Lowetide often ends his posts, we wait.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My best memory of Ryan Smyth

It was 2006.  I had planned the trip of a lifetime to go to the world cup.  That year I had also decided it was a good idea to buy playoff tickets to the Oilers.  Back then you could only buy all the games or none.  So I had tickets to the finals during our trip through Europe.  As an Oilers fan whose first memory of hockey was pretty much when Wayne Gretzky got traded, I've suffered through a lot and didnt want to miss the finals. I believe we left for London and it was 2-0 Canes.  We watched a couple games in London and Amsterdam, by fluke seeing several of the same people each game.  The only night I didn't watch the game was game 5, I fell asleep at a hostel in the red light district in Amsterdam that night.  It was OT, I said to a buddy "If the Oilers win I'm happy, if not I cant stand to watch.  If they win, I'm going to Brazil vs Australia in a couple days.".  The extra game meant I could sell another ticket on Kijiji and afford to go.  Fernando Pisani scored in OT and the girlfriend (now wife) and I were able to find scalper tickets.  The picture here is of our last night in Munich which was also game 7.  Its myself and some dude I never saw again.  Our train left Munich at 7am the following morning, and as a barely out of school newb to the workforce budget was a priority. The natural choice was to watch soccer all day in the fan zones and stay up to watch Game 7.  That day we met a ton of Canadians who wanted to watch the game as well as a crew of 8ish Aussies who came along. The Aussies all day sang this song, that always started out with the word 'Aussies' ... and it was to the tune of the song go west.  After a while, I noticed that the words were never the same. I asked him how he decided the words. He said, they are several staples but for the most part we just make them up kinda like the ole Chicago store song. I told him we needed to make an Oilers one and he was on board the process.  He said tell me something about the Oilers.  Our first story was about Ryan Smyth and how he lost his teeth from a shot by Pronger and how he picked his teeth up off the ice and didn't miss a shift.  I dont remember the words to that song.  I wish I did.  All I remember was 'Ryan Smyth he has no teeth' (to the tune of go west).  That stupid song was stuck in my head as well as our 2k6 travelling crew's head for several days.  What a great memory for a suffering Oilers fan.  Ryan Smyth was front and center, not the best player but the heart and soul of the team.

Off to the game tonight.  You'll be missed Smytty.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Draft a center

The Oilers lost 3-2 to the Ducks last night. It was a good game last night despite the result. As Lowetide points out, Taylor Hall is on a nice run with 17 shots and 5 points in the last 2 games. Its nice to see the kid line dominate despite it being almost all Taylor Hall. He sure makes Ebs and Nuge better but they compliment him nicely. Last night, I spent some time comparing Edmonton to Colorado. I'm still at a loss to explain the Oilers this season and the general idea behind my thoughts was to figure out what it would take for the Oilers to have an Avalanche type break out season. The obvious answer is luck. The Avs are riding good goaltending and thus their percentages will likely cause them to regress next year. This has been covered by others like MC79Hockey so I wont go into that. But the fact remains, 102 pts vs 61 pts is night and day especially given that the Avs drafted Mackinnon first overall last year. I'm gonna start with identifying areas that the Avs have done better at compared to the Oilers.

1) Goaltending

 As mentioned, the obvious difference between the Oilers and Avs is goaltending. Varlamov has been great and the Oilers goaltending was horrible until recently. That appears to be somewhat resolved now with Scrivens and Fasth.

2) drafting outside the first round

The Avs have drafted and developed O'Reily and Barrie in recent years as well as Stastny and McGinn prior to that. The Oilers deserve some credit for drafting Eberle but Musil, Lander and Pitlick dont appear to be impact players while other teams that have worse picks are getting better value. This is something that cant be fixed instantly.

3) Number of 2 way players in the top 6

Yakapov is a work in progress and Sam Gagner is a liability defensively. The gap between Gagner and O'Reily or Stastny is pretty large 5 on 5. O'Reily is one of the more underrated players in the league. Statsny is overpaid but still highly effective.

4) Strength at center

Nuge, Gagner, Gordon vs Mackinnon, Duchene, O'Reily, Stastny is a daunting difference.  Gordon was a great add by MacT. I like him a lot but he doesn't deliver a ton offensively. The really good teams have 3C who can deliver points and are effective 2 way players. Both Gordon and Gagner are fairly one dimensional. Nuge struggled this year and I still expect big things. One a side note, if Paul Statsny becomes available as a UFA, the Oilers should go after him. The end result is likely an overpay but he'd cost nothing to add.

5) Eric Johnson

As a 1st overall he's been a bit of a bust but he is still playing top pairing D in Colorado. Despite the missed season due to the golf injury he is still a 2006 draft pick who has finally become an impact player in the last couple years. The Oilers are going to need Darnell Nurse to arrive prior to the 2018 season. The other top pairing defender in Colorado is Jan Hedjda who I don't consider a huge upgrade on Petry.  Oilers lack a clear top pairing D.


Overall, I think the biggest gap between the clubs is the center position. The defense also needs to be addressed but they do have cap space and assets required to land one via trade. The Oilers pipeline is also full of dmen. There are no top 6 forwards ready to challenge for minutes while the d pipeline has Klefbom, Marincin (who is here to stay), Nurse and Simpson. If I'm MacT, I'd be looking at drafting Lion Draisaitl. He has decent size and his scouting report reads as a 2 way C. This type of player I think would compliment Yakapov well. Yakapov did will last year with Horcoff on his wing and I think he will be most effective playing with 2 guys who are responsible defensively who look to get him to shoot in the offensive end. As a likely top 3 pick, Draisaitl will bring a lot of offense as well. The other argument for drafting a center instead of say Ekblad is that D take a lot longer to develop. Eric Johnson is likely the high end in terms of development length but even the shorter term (3 years) is too long given that Taylor Hall is ready to lead the team. He was probably ready last year. He just needs a supporting cast.

The quickest way for the Oilers to improve is to draft a center. Its also the Oilers biggest need.

Draft a center.

Friday, March 30, 2012

10 Oilers thoughts

Its been a long time since I have written here. I have tickets tonight so hockey is on the mind and I had an uber long Lowetide post which I thought I might as well turn into a blog post. Just like Elliot Friedman's 30 thoughts or Jeff Angus's 10 fantasy thoughts I figured I would do a similar post - Oilers edition.

I'm really interested in the Oilers rebuild over the next 6 months. More then normal. In previous years the moves were important still but we were so far off it seemed like "as long as they draft well its ok they're gonna suck anyways". Next year I actually think the team will step forward. Here we go...

1) Much of the Oilers talk is about the draft but if the Oilers rebuild is dependent on the 2012 1st its in trouble. Boston is a good team without Seguin or Dougie Hamilton for example.

2) In the drafts 2002-2009 (see the list below) there is drop off after the 2nd pick quite often. In 2002,2005,2007 the drop off is after the 1st pick. It sounds like its Yakapov and a drop this year. Our first for OEL anyone?

3) 5 of the 7 dmen taken in the top 3 (2002-2009) are players who have yet to establish themselves as their pick should warrant. JBo isn't as elite as people thought and in Doughty's case I'd consider Pierangelo or Karlsson to be comparable or better. If I'm drafting I take the best player available with a preference towards forwards - so likely Grigorenko (assuming we don't win lottery). There is less risk and defense is a hard position to learn.

4) Luke Schenn could really use a change of scenery? The Staal brothers are all good players. Developed properly. Could Luke catch up to his brother in Philly?

5) If Bob Mackenzie is correct in that Justin Schultz is a decent bet to sign here then Oilers are in a much much better position defensively. A player who should be able to play next year would allow the prospects (Musil, Klefbom, Gernat, Marincin) to develop.

6) I know many of the stats guys hate the Gilbert for Nick Schultz trade. But he's looked great and provides some stability on the back end so far.

7) Personally I think the Oilers biggest need is a Backes, Lucic type forward with size. I think the D can be addressed with a capable top 4 player and our prospect pipeline. Mike Gillis is a great GM and moved Hodgson for Kassian. A playoff move. The Oilers will hopefully add a player like this before learning the lesson in the playoffs. Its a lesson I'm 100% sure you don't need to tell Kevin Lowe. Adding such a player isn't easy to do.

8) Laddy Smid has quietly emerged as a great shutdown player. It took 6 years for the Pronger trade to look ok. It was a brutal trade, why give up 6 years? But now that the suffering is over, Smid and Eberle look fine.

9) I'm not as concerned about Hall's injury but a summer without training is gonna set him back. His shoulder will heal but I'm not looking for Hall to be the same player until Nov-Dec. He's gonna need a healthy season soon or injuries will stunt his development.

10) Renney is in an interesting spot where he doesn't have a contract so has to play for wins. I probably resign him unless Dave Tippet becomes available. Todd Nelsson is another good option but I think Renney deserves a shot to coach the team in a year that matters.

2002 - Nash,Lehtonen, JBo, Pitkanen, Whiteny
2003 - Fleury, Staal, Horton, Zherdev, Vanek
2004 - Ovechkin, Malkin, Barker, Ladd, Wheeler
2005 - Crosby, Ryan, Johnson, Pouliot, Price
2006 - Johnson, Staal, Toews, Backstrom, Kessel
2007 - Kane, JVR, Turris, Hickey, Alzner
2008 - Stamkos, Doughty, Bogosian, Pieterangelo, Schenn
2009 - Taveres, Hedman, Duchene, Kane, Schenn

(I ignored 2010 and 2011 because its too early to make conclusions)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rebuild 2.0

Rebuild 2.0

Last year I wrote a piece here on the beginning of the Oilers rebuild and how I thought management should act for the upcoming season. This year, I would like to revisit where the team is at and once again offer how I feel they should act in the coming year. It’s an Armchair GM article. This year I removed the salaries because let’s face it – they don’t matter nearly as much with the current team.

To quickly revisit last year’s article, my team would have looked like the following on opening night with additions to the team in italics:

· GOAL: Khabibulin; Deslauriers
· BLUE: Gilbert; Whitney; Shut-down guy (FA); Smid ; Chorney; Peckham; Aaron Johnson
· CENTER: Gagner; O'Sullivan; Horcoff; Pouliot; Potulny
· LEFT WING: Penner; Hall; Cogliano; Ryan Jones
· RIGHT WING: Hemsky; Brule; Colby Armstrong (FA); Eberle; Stortini

For comparison, here is the roster the Oilers started the season with:

· GOAL: Khabibulin; Deslauriers; Dubnyk
· BLUE: Gilbert; Whitney; Vandermeer; Smid; Peckham; Foster; Strudwick
· CENTER: Gagner; Horcoff; Cogliano; Brule; Fraser
· LEFT WING: Penner; Hall; Pajaarvi; MacIntyre
· RIGHT WING: Hemsky; Eberle; Jones; Stortini

I must admit that these two are not that far off. They signed Fraser instead of my suggestion in Armstrong. They flushed O’Sullivan, Pouliot and Potulny and added Pajaarvi, then brought in Vandermeer and Foster where I had a FA shut-down defenseman and elected to bring back Aaron Johnson. Overall, just some minor tweaks in both options.

Going into the 2010 -2011 season, I honestly thought this team would perform a lot better than they did. I wasn’t expecting a playoff team yet, but especially after that opening night win against Calgary, how could you not be optimistic? Sure the excitement and compete was much better than the 09-10 season, but the results were just as bad. They only had 25 wins and needed over 40 to get into the dance. That is a lot of improvement to ask for in one year, so I will be trying my best to temper my optimism and keep it in mind this year.

Having said that, I am still fairly optimistic about how the rebuild is going to date. We may be two or three years away, but I personally believe with the right additions, we could see a competitive team (e.g., in the 7-11 Western Conference range) as soon as the 2012-2013 season or if we are really lucky maybe this coming year.

The need to inject some veteran leadership should not go underestimated. Don Cherry mentioned this specifically referencing the Oiler’s on Hockey Night in Canada and I agree with him. The Oiler’s need to be careful they don’t allow a culture of losing to develop and therefore they must get in a competitive position as soon as possible.

Same as last year, I will start with the draft and then list the to-do items that may impact the opening night roster as the following:

1) Draft Ryan Nyugent-Hopkins 1st overall. Skill, skill and more skill. Plus, the guy has played in Red Deer for 3 years and publicly stated he wants to play for the Oilers – you’ve got to love that! Sure he is only 165 lbs soaking wet, but there are many elite players who are small and getting stronger is a lot easier than adding speed or that uncanny sixth hockey sense.

2) Explore the trade front for a potential big win-win deal. The focus of these big trades that need to be worked out before free agency should be on improving the top end talent of the team. In my opinion particular focus for the Oiler’s top end talent must be on defence. Guys like Bogosian and Weber keep coming up in blogs. Although this is unlikely, we have to explore these options to accelerate the team’s improvement. Sure we may see one of our prospects emerge but we may not and the risk of having another weak defence is too great to not address it. Also, this will not be fixed by adding depth defenders like Foster. We need a top sheriff back there to help out Whitney, because after him the talent drops way too fast.

3) As Free agency opens, focus on a few key players and if unable to sign them, don’t settle. There are a few key needs for this team right now that are quite obvious. A top defender and a defensive center who can win face-offs. I know these positions can be hard to find, but the Oiler’s have cap room to spare, so they should not shy away from a lot of money over a short term to address these needs. I believe that once the Oiler’s get out of this rut of being near the bottom and actually competing for playoffs, they will have reached a tipping point and all of a sudden Edmonton will be a much more attractive team to play for. Players around the league will see the upside of the youth they have in Hall, Eberle, Pajaarvi and RNH. We should not rely on the excuse that the team can develop every need from within. Although filling these gaps are critical, I wouldn’t settle. You have to identify where the capability drops off in the free agent market and then decide to go with prospects rather than settling. I would look to sign up to four depth players, as per the following:
a) A top end defender. This will be tough no doubt, but every possibility should be assessed to bring this guy in. If you can’t trade for him as per point number 2 above, then look to sign him here. I would keep this list short and I doubt any are available that really fit. I like Wisniewski and Bieksa, but I am not sure they have the potential to become a top defender.
b) A potential high calibre goalie, while he’s still cheap. I originally was not on the Fasth train until recently reading this article with a quote from Pajaarvi of how good he is. That sold me. Sign Fasth and dump Khabibulin. Even if just for the fact that I won’t have to listen to the Sportsnet broadcasters call him the Oiler’s MVP anymore, it will be worthwhile.
c) A bottom six Centre. Does Brooks Laich or Vernon Fiddler fit?
d) A bottom six Winger. Does Scottie Upshall fit?

4) Where unable to sign the targeted depth UFAs, look into making a positional trade. For example, move a player in a position of strength (skill forward) for a player in a position of weakness (bottom six forward). I believe trading for depth players can be worked out over a much shorter time scale then the top end players (point 2) and therefore may be completed if unsuccessful through free agency.

5) If unable to sign or trade for the team’s key needs, then stand pat and provide opportunity for prospects to fill those voids. Hopefully, two or three of Hartkainen, Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton, Marincin, Tuebert, Plante and others can eventually fill out the bottom six and defence. However, this is not preferred over the short term. Bring in a couple of short-term contracts to make the team competitive now while waiting for some prospects to eventually deserve roster spots. If possible, let our prospects prove themselves as much as possible in Oklahoma City first.

My ideal team to start next year would be as listed below. However, this is obviously dependant on some key trades and signings to occur and as such the final roster may only have two or three changes and not all four that I have suggested.

· GOAL: Fasth; Dubnyk
· BLUE: Whitney; (1 or 1A Defenseman); Gilbert; Smid; Peckham; Petry; Foster
· CENTER: Gagner; Horcoff; RNH; (Laich or Fiddler); Brule
· LEFT WING: Hall; Pajaarvi; (Upshall); Cogliano; Jacques
· RIGHT WING: Hemsky; Eberle; O’Mark; Jones; Hartkainen

Here’s to another exciting off-season with a second first overall draft pick. I just pray that RNH and Hall can become those elite players we need and expect of them.