Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rebuild 4.0

Im back... and the Oilers are still bad. How is this possible?!? I havent posted in 4 years and looking back over the posts its almost comical. If you would have told me back in 2008 to 2012 that the Oilers would get a player as good as Connor McDavid I would have asked you how many cups we'd win. But Peter Chiarelli took an excellent opportunity in 2015 and absolutely boned it. So where do the Oilers go from here. Failure is the best way to learn and we can only hope Katz and Nicholson get it right on their next GM choice. As a fan I'd simply like to enjoy watching games again. That involves winning and its been a long hard grind since 2006 save for the spring of 2017. This blog is my way of documenting my opinions and see how they age. I just read over my old blog posts and man some of them were through rose colored fan glasses. You always hope for the best - maybe he can continue this PDO heater right?!? I also express my opinions (mostly complain) on Twitter from time to time. Looking back, I was very critical of the Hall trade I also said the Lucic contract better be moveable. Turns out it isnt. But I wasnt right RE the Reinhart trade especially given the quality of talent that was available at pick 16 in 2015.

Paying in full price and being wrong was a common result of all Chiarelli's moves. But what does it mean when a fan like me can look at a significant move and instantly bash it, whats going on with management?

As CTO of a growing machine learning based startup, the biggest thing Ive learned is the importance of measuring success. New employees arrive with new ideas, opinions, methods of doing things. How do you know which ones to implement and how to know if they move the needle the right direction.

Its not easy.

For me there are 2 keys to this 1) give yourself enough data and visibility into the data to let you measure success and 2) measure often. You need good people to provide the right ideas and execute on but if the process and game-plan are off you are in charge. And for every big decision, you ultimately bear the responsibility of it. So be prepared.

Look at the Oilers cap management and trade record. What process and data led to these decisions? Where did it go wrong? I cant say as an outsider that I know the answer to that but the collection results sure dont speak well to the inputs into those decisions.

Ive followed along with the hockey analytics movement, helped organized the first AB analytics conference, contributed to (more on that later) and read Lowetide every day for over a decade. I can tell you there are a lot of big brains out there. Embrace analytics. So thats the biggest point I could make. I don't think the decision making has the right foundations behind it. And to be clear I mean a whole lot deeper than checking a players corsi.

The Edmonton Oilers are blessed with a star in Connor McDavid. His impact wont be that of a say Lebron James but in hockey his impact is in a class of its own. So I think the Oilers can be turned around in a 1-3 year window allowing for flexibility on time to clear cap space, acquire players and luck in drafting and development. With that in mind and by backing each decision made with analytics and improved data based inputs I think the Oilers should attempt the following:

1) Embrace skill, speed and possession hockey. Build a team that compliments McDavids strengths. Does this include Ken Hitchcock? I think it could. I dont think coaching has been the Oilers problem in a while.

2) Sell players with cap term and hit particularly those who don't fit point #1. In no order that includes: Lucic, Russell, Sekera, Manning, Spooner, Kassian, Petrovic, Benning, Reider, Brodziak, Koskinen and Talbot. Starting now.

3) Put Darnell Nurse and Jessie Puljurarvi on the block. But Id be tempted to see the value of these 2 players on the open market. Both have incredible physical tools but Im not 100% convinced the hockey IQ is there. In Jessie's case Id instruct my coach to play him 15+ min per game for the rest of the year to see if he can figure it out. The Oilers cant afford to bleed value on anymore deals so keeping both is a fine option.

4) Keep the 2019 pick. Picks are worth more to teams like Winnipeg and Edmonton. 1st round picks can yield value contracts who are your property for 8 years. That has too much value in a cap world. Especially to this team.

And good luck to the new GM. Your fans have been waiting a while.

Friday, June 26, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Timeline

Timeline of the NHL Entry draft in realtime as it happens on social media.

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.