Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Problem with Linus


Alright - his comments have sparked a needless debate about his character. Dan Tencer, pre-eminent Oilers commenter and trustworthy soul, used the new Reuters, Twitter, to express this: 

Linus Omark does not want to play for OKC in the AHL playoffs. "I play better if I'm happy and I'll be more happy at the World's." 
Here's the actual quote from the Edmonton Journal:
"Not really. I want to compete for a spot in the world championship in Sweden and I will go to the (Swedes') camp if they (Oilers) let me.
"Of course, I would like to win something down there (AHL), but I play better when I am happy and I'm more happy at the world championship."
This, by the way, is in response to news that he's being shopped around as well as he'll have to hit the waiver wire. Just goes to show you can't always take anything with the word "twit" in it at face value.

Yes, but wait a second... This is a good time to discuss something, something that is essential to the progress of the team.

He's not waiver eligible anymore (we can't send him down without other teams being able to put a claim on him), he can go back to Sweden anytime he's assigned, and this is not the guy we can scratch every night a la Hordichuk. Depth is good, but this is a touch different - what on earth are we supposed to do with this guy?

Question: What do our lines look like right now?
When healthy, the first line is Hall-Nuge-Eberle.
Second line, all of a sudden, is Hartski-Gags-Hemmer
Currently, the third line is Petrell-Horcoff-Smyth, but Omark's been in Petrell's spot - the line HAS been clicking - Jones is currently doing a stint on the first line, but he's either here or in Hordi's spot one line lower.
The fourth line is Hordi-Belanger-Eager. Let's be honest, as much as I like Eager, this line is moot.

Where does he fit?

Omark is not a career third liner, let's be honest. Smyth - he's a guy who has played in the Top 6 for the majority of his career, but his illustrious career is winding down. Horcoff - he's been up and down the lineup but his faceoff ability and relative inability to bury rebounds makes him a third line centre, in competition with Belanger.

Does Omark fit there?

So say Lowebellini chooses to draft a defenceman. We're likely going to finish with at least the third overall pick, so lets go with Ryan Murray, who by all means looks like a Scott Niedermeyer/Mark Howe hybrid. That's very very good.

And then suddenly gets a concussion and signs (read) nobody over the offseason.

Our top three lines will possibly be:

For the first time in a long time, that's three scoring lines. No Oilers group has done that since... 1991.

The first line, with a little bit more size on Nugent-Hopkins and with Hall not consistently falling, will be s-i-c-k.
That second line, if they continue their first-line style play over these past few weeks, will give second pairing defencemen heck.
That third line, which has really been clicking, through all the combos, for probably the first time this year, could be pretty sick. It's got two shutdown guys in Smyth and Horcoff and a pretty good offensive guy in Omark.

This, of course, is assuming Omark gets his defensive game together and works to be a better player.

Mediocre Omark Situation - Welcome to Paajarville
We still draft Ryan Murray.

And we still don't sign anyone.

Instead, we believe that a deep playoff run helps Paajarvi progress into the player he should be according to his rookie stats.


That's some kind of semblance of scoring depth. If Paajarvi can get his act together, he's a good complement to the speed of Horcoff (he can do somethings right) and his defensive game is severely underrated.

Omark? He's in the press box. They keep switching Paajarvi, Jones and Omark out like a circus. It's this organization. We've seen stranger things.

No Omark Situation - Goodbye Ikea-Built Road
Sorry, Omark. Our run puts us out of the draft lottery (partly due to Omark's resurgence) and puts us at 6th position. We draft Filip Forsberg, and the collective Oilers fans across this good nation chuck various objects at their televisions.

Forsberg/Jones - Horcoff - Smyth

Now this is a situation - this is also a situation that will happen if we sign any free agent with a decent amount of skill - that Omark superfans want to avoid. It very well should not be Forsberg, but could be any free agent that Katz throws money at to add some size and depth to our front 9. Omark's days in an Oilers uniform are, well, finished.

Did he just lose the numbers game?
Whether by his own downfall via injury, or by his lack of solid play in the top 12 games (I blame Renney for screwing us out of depth here - he should have stayed longer than Paajarvi up here), Omark's played himself out of the top 9.

He's got 5 games to change their mind.

I hope he does - this kind of talent that this guy has does not grow on trees. Coming back from an injury, with meaningless games in front of him, he's played better than a solid half of this team.

All you people with the argument "He can't crack a 29th-place team's lineup", tell me how more infinitely talented Matt Frattin (TML), Michael Rupp (Rangers) or Dale Weise (Van) is. Or, how about telling me how Mikka Kiprusoff is an awful goalie because he couldn't beat out Evgeni Nabokov or Vesa Toskala at age 23. Or how Ray Whitney totally deserved to be flushed out of the Oilers system.

He won't get much, that's for certain - maybe a second-round pick from a playoff team desperate for offence, more likely a third or fourth rounder. But this is just the kind of player that will burn you in a trade.

Whatever it may be, at the end of the playoffs, this team has got to make a decision. They can't please everyone.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

At what point is it the coach's fault?

A brief rundown of the game first - Oilers blew a 2-0 lead and lose the game 3-2 in a shootout against Phoenix.

Our inability to hold leads is legendary. The Oilers are 29th in the league holding a lead they get in the first period, while they are 23rd in the league after two.

That's a marked improvement over last year, where we were (shockingly) last in the league.

We're 26th in the league when it comes to winning games after scoring first.

We're 28th in the league when it comes to winning games after letting the first goal in. We've won a pedestrian 8 times after letting in the first goal.

We've scarcely won on the road after scoring first, or after trailing. We're very good at losing on the road.

Is that the coach's fault? Should we burn his effigy and run him out of town for his seemingly inept decision making and his inability to inspire his troops to win? Or is it not his fault? Are there teams that we can compare ourselves to?

Apologist Reasoning
Well, the coach can only do what he does with the players he's given. He's only ever as good as his players.

Then they shouldn't exist. Great players should be great coaches because, hey, they understand how players play the best. See Gretzky, Wayne in Phoenix. The argument can't be made.

Let's find a control
Compare the line-ups of the Oilers and a comparable team, the Colorado Avalanche. We play in the same division and have almost an identical schedule.

Would you take O'Reilly, Landeskog, Hejduk, Stastny and Downie over Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Smyth? Er, no.

How about goaltending? Nik Khabibulin and Semyon Varlamov are virtually tied at 2.64 and 2.61 goals against. Dubnyk and Varlamov are tied in terms of save percentage 0.912, while Khabibulin is at 0.911.

Erik Johnson is their leader on the blue, with comparable stats to both Corey Potter and Jeff Petry. Schultz and Smid are much better than any Avs player in the shot blocking department (170 and 140 >> 121).

These teams have excellent offensive players, average goaltending, and comparable defending. They're remarkably similar.

Well then, how on earth is Edmonton 14th and Colorado 8th in the West?

What does the coach even do?
Much like the captain, the coach is supposed to iron out the team's problems, send out guys who will play competently against their competition, and, well, win games.

It's a player's responsibility to get the game's first goal, get the whole game under control for their squad.
But it does become s a coach's responsibility to win games after blowing leads - calling a timely time-out to calm the troops or putting your offensive guys in the offensive zone to even the score, hell, even gain back a lead.

The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers have virtually identical stats in winning games after the first and second period, as well as after scoring first - which correlates with my idea that the talent of the team is ridiculously comparable.

The biggest difference here lies in the ability of each team to win after trailing 1 and 2 periods, as well as coming back after letting one in.

Edmonton is 28th after letting a goal in, and 23rd/14th after one and two periods.

Colorado? 12th after letting in a goal, and 12th/9th after one and two periods. It's also great to note that Colorado is 4th best in the league at closing out leads after the first period. The Oilers are 29th.

Wait, so what does this prove?
The Oilers have not been able to hold leads. Teams comparable to the Oilers have been excellent at holding  a lead, as well as coming back when fate throws them a curveball.

Players are game-changers, but what controls them? Who tells them to go out and drive the right? Who inserts a fighter at a critical moment to change the momentum of a game? That, sir or madam, is the coach.

The coach has to command a team to win games on the road, execute line changes, pick the right guys for the shootout and overall have a mastery of the player's mindset.

The Oilers are a sub-par team, average at best, with illogical coaching. We're 29th.
The Avalanche are a sub-par team, average at best, with decent coaching. They're 12th.

With a scorer like Eberle, a dynamic player like Hall, an excellent all-round talent developing in Petry, as well as Dubnyk and Khabibulin giving you an average shot every game, not to begin to mention his highness the Nuge, this team shouldn't be losing like it is now. Especially to teams like Phoenix and Colorado, who succeed not because of their all-world talents, but because of a hard work ethic and a system that seems to garner wins.

The coach is very much like a chess player, knowing when to move and when to hit.

This year and last year, dealt with an average scenario, Renney has been out-chessed by almost every coach in the league. His methods have proven inferior to inferior teams on a night-in night-out basis. Hell, some of us pine for the days of MacTavish, who's no-nonsense method somehow made a team with a first line of Smyth-York-Carter make the playoffs.

As much as I love the guy and his passion for the game, it's time we found a better chess player.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Mar 14: Tiger vs Sherman, SNET-EDM, 8:00


Columbus News
This is the epitome of a team trending upwards.

No Jeff Carter? No problem!! It seems he was the only player preventing their successes with his lacklustre play. Jack Johnson's loving Columbus, Mason is playing a tad like his old rookie days, except for the fact he's injured, and Rick Nash looks like a player who wants to stay captain! Trending up, this team is doing anything but tanking. 

I'd call it roaring like a Tiger. No, not the tank. Fooled ya!

Edmonton News
This team is an unmitigated disaster.

Everyone in Oilerville has been spitting backwash at the unlucky few whose names are not Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, Smid, Petry or Schultz (it'll begin, don't you worry.)

Whitney? Washed-up. Dubnyk? Can't stop a volleyball. Smyth? Can't skate. Hemsky? Overpriced. Horcoff? Not a ***king leader.
We get it, Oilerville's pissed.
And so are Oilers. Renney called them out, Horcoff called them out, Eberle, silly little I-don't-talk-to-anybody, called them out.
Cue the second phase of the rebuild. The double rebuild. Oh dear god.

Call in the marines. Send in the army.

We've got a loose tank in our midst.

Omark-Horcoff-Smyth (Look ma! No hands!)
Hordichuk-Belanger-Petrell (You say they have no hands? Challenge accepted)
Hartikainen has been called up. He'll likely take the spot of Hordichuk, but I'd love to see the drag race between Omark and Hartski (and I guess Jones) for the top LW spot.


Dubnyk? Khabibulin? I have a feeling its gonna be Dubs. Just because.

Glorious Prediction - WE'RE GONNA WIN! Nugent-Hopkins catches fire and up to Henrique with an excellent 6 point night. Eberle gets that hat-trick I've been pegging him for since mid November. Omark with two goals and finally, he gets some time on the top-line after the Jones experiment fails. 7-1 Oilers!
Realistic Prediction - One team is hungry to get out of the basement. One team loves to be there. Columbus brings their A-game, and the Oilers, so disinterested in the rest of the season, only wake up in the third period to salvage a little piece of the game. 4-1 Columbus, Hall, who never quits, with the goal.
LPH Prediction - We take last place with this game. I know that's impossible, but if you lose 8-0 to Columbus, perhaps Bettman can use his ultimate powers to make that happen.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mar 12: Edmonton at San Jose. 7:30, TSN

Shark attack!
I google "Sharks and Oil" and I get this...

The Sharks were a powerhouse team of the past. The Oilers should be a powerhouse team of the future. Both of these teams presents look murky, with the Sharks looking to get back into the playoff hunt and the Oilers attempting to keep that good ol' lottery position.

The time of the shark waning?
The Sharks were once the best regular season team in the business. Let's face it, they didn't always win the President's trophy, but they're almost always the best team in a usually semi-tough Pacific Division, and that's got to be something.

Now, they're on the outside of the playoff space looking in for the first time in a long time. From third to 10th, these Sharks are no longer what they were - unbeatable.

The time of the Oiler waxing?
Hah, no. Who am I kidding? We sucked last season and we look to suck again. 1-3-1 in the last five, but boding well for us, the last win came against the Sharks! We always play against the Sharks, it seems. If you'll remember, we beat these guys in 2005-2006, and we seem to at least make a game of it.

We don't beat them like we beat Chicago, but if we can win, it would sure throw a logjam into the playoff race again. That's always fun to look for.


Whitney-Potter (sigh....)


I surmise Dubnyk will get the start over Khabibulin, but then again, we are dealing with Tom "Lines-are-decided-by-roulette" Renney.

Glorious Prediction - OILERS GOOAAAAAAL. Nuge with 4 points to get back into the Calder race, and Hallsy's hat trick to get closer to eclipsing Ovechkin's total this year (says all of you who asked to trade Hall for OV). 6-2 Oilers.
Realistic Prediction - Oilers still throw a wrench in things, but the Sharks get an almighty point. The Kid Line unites, plus Omark in OT (he'd prefer the shootout, but he'll take it) for a 4-3 OT win. Omark enjoys his last game in Edmonton.
LPH Prediction - Haha. Columbus wins their next game and we lose again. Hoorah. 5-1 Sharks. Jones gets yet another monkey off his back, but the Sharks storm back and forget they're playing the Oilers and never let off the gas.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Armchair GM 1 - Draft Day

Armchair GM
This, this is not an armchair. How it
masquerades as one is beyond me.

Alright, it's draft day.

Guess what pick you've got? SECOND OVERALL!!!

I can hear the crickets. The pain is palpable - I mean, this team was once sitting at a 91% chance of making the playoffs - Khabi was playing lights out, Dubnyk was playing lights out, RNH was some sort of divine creation and Smyth had returned home. It was good. Life, life was good.

Then something struck - it was a combination of the CFR road trip that somehow killed the team morale and, as I giggle typing, losing Cam Barker. We're now sitting at the draft table, staring at Montreal - because, well, look at them. They're so sad because they need(ed) the offence. They've got a superstar goalie, they've got a fantastic D-corps, and a healthy Markov! They simply have nobody to pass to besides Pacioretty. And we're going to pick either Grigorenko or Yakupov. 

Let's assume Yakupov goes first overall. You've got the pick to pick Grigorenko - knowing he's probably not going to play this season. Besides, you have the Great 8 Gagner as your second line centre. What are you going to do? There's Ryan Murray. And he could very well be Scott Niedermeyer. But that would be giving MTL what they want. You couldn't do that, right?

Enter armchair GM.

I'm going to propose two trades - one of which I prefer, but both of which I do. Montreal is damn desperate for the number 1/2 centre. In fact, they might skip over Murray and take someone like Galenchuyk - who may well be Marc Pouliot 2.0. Enter Edmonton, with loving arms.

Trade 1
To MTL - 2nd overall pick, 2012, Linus Omark, Eric Belanger and a conditional pick
To EDM - P.K. Subban and a 6th round pick

Wait, I hear you crying - where's our draft pick? WHERE IS IT?

I'll be releasing my own top 15 of the draft later, but here's the bottom line - there's no guarantee that Dumba, Murray or Reinhart, any of those D-men, ever get to the level of Subban.

Why would MTL do it: Montreal is definitely facing the music for their poor showing this season. A Grigorenko and then a Dumba will go miles towards basically replacing Subban and getting a lot of offence. Besides, I wouldn't rule out Subban demanding a trade from Montreal (with the current state of the team, he's unhappy), in which case, Belanger is staying put.
And just imagining Omark feeding bombs to Pacioretty is pretty scary in itself. Omark-Desharnais-Patches would get dominated physically, but, you know, that doesn't look that far away from the Kid Line here.

Why would EDM do it: Holy kerfuffle, Edmonton gets a game-changer on D. He's had great successes with Eberle and Hall at the WJCs, and this team would become extremely difficult to play against with Subban's ability to make open-ice hits and otherwise intimidate.
Besides, he's ****ing PK Subban.

Why MTL wouldn't do it: PK Subban is a pillar on their D. They would be oh-dear-god a lot worse if not for his dynamic play (oh, and that Carey Price). There's no guaranteed marquis players heading that way, and that could be testing for a fan-base easy to get angered.

Why EDM wouldn't do it: Because Barker's just as good as Subban and has higher draft pedigree!
Besides that, I don't know whether giving up Belanger, who's been very good on the dot this year, Omark, who could be a dominant force, and a lot of potential is worth the big PK.
Trade 2
To MTL - 2nd overall pick, 2012 + Ryan Martindale
To EDM - 3rd overall pick, 2012 and Nathan Beaulieu

That's a blockbuster if I ever saw one.

Why MTL do it?: They get Grigorenko, the player they desperately wanted!

Why EDM would do it: Absofreakinglutely - yes, the lose Ryan Martindale, who could yet be a player, but they get Nathan Beaulieu, who could be sent to OKC next year and continue the impressive pipeline that includes Klefbom(b), Musil, Gernat, Marcinin and Fedun. One of these guys could easily crack our line-up next year.
This would also free up the third overall pick to select either one of the dynamic few defencemen or Filip Forsberg, who basically is MPS.

Why MTL wouldn't do it: Because they really really really like Beaulieu? French-Canadian player, leadership qualities - after the Cunneyworth fiasco, there might be a little bit of a hullaballo.
But really, that's it. They'd do this trade in a heartbeat.

Why EDM wouldn't do it: Because they don't want 3rd overall and a defenceman. They'd rather get a dynamic winger and a pick than a defenceman and a pick because this year is thin up front and loaded down back. With that many defencemen coming up the depth chart, why do we need another two?

Bottom line?
Love me or hate me, I'm taking deal one.

Oilers team into free agency?
Eager-Lander-Petrell (UFA)
Extras: Hartikainen, Pitlick
Extras: Potter, Peckham, Barker, Fedun...

Khabi and Dubnyk.
Extras: Danis (UFA), Bunz (straight outta junior, right? ;) )

We're missing a decent goalie and we're missing some size up front, but that defence doesn't look half bad.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Rating the re-build: Roots and Year 1

Rebuild: The Roots
The trade, version 2

The roots of the rebuild began with the trade of the core of this team since 1995, Ryan Smyth (Pronger being a foretold conclusion). On pace for 30-something goals once again in his illustrious career, he was traded to NYI for picks after a dumb-ass contract dispute. Nope, not a trade for players, but a trade for picks. This likely marks the first misstep in the organization and the first moment where the Oilers could have done something to become a contender and relapsed into being a pretender - a major reason this team lapsed into a rebuild. His goal-scoring abilities were attempted by Penner and have only been replaced, many years later, by Jordan Eberle. His star quality and ox-like ability to lift this team into playoff contention, however, has arguably never been replaced, even by an older version of himself. Hall's trying.

The Oilers finished with a win more than Chicago and ended up in 6th place, out of the draft lottery. What could have been Patrick Kane became Sam Gagner, arguably the second most successful forward in the first round (after said Kane - not a bad consolation prize, haters!). In a draft year full of busts and missed opportunities (et tu, Jamie Benn?), Sam Gagner remains second in games played and points scored for a forward. 

The year after very well should have been our first year drafting first overall, had it not been for the powerful line combination that seemed to solve every single one of our problems, the Cogs-Gags-Nils line. Flashy, dashy, and incredibly small, they pulled us within 3 points of a playoff spot, that belonged to the sophomore Shea Weber-featuring Predators. We had a bonafide superstar all-rookie line! The future was ours!

Or was it? Aging goalie Roloson desperately needed a decent back-up. He simply couldn't play every game, and if they did, they were doomed to be mired in mediocrity. The Oilers made another mistake of searching within the system for a goalie that hadn't materialized.

The season after featured the moves of acquiring Erik Cole-Patrick O'Sullivan and Lubo and shipping out serviceable loyal Edmonton players like Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, and Raffi Torres - players whose grit and hard work ethic we have likely just replaced in 2012 - (Belanger, Schultz, Eager). The Cogs-Gags-Nils line, not suspectingly, were shut down by dominant blue liners who simply pushed them around. The search for grit *cough cough* was on.

After this, the Oilers refused to commit to a rebuild or to a playoff spot, standing rather pat at the deadline - another big mistake. They believed in the team being able to push for the playoff spot that most observers noted was well out of their reach. Should have traded Souray to a contender... here. The Oilers would finish in the worst spot - out of a playoff spot and out of the lottery. 

The roots of the rebuild were marred by injury (Hemsky), idiotic contracts (Horcoff), and pursuits of high-profile free agents that made Edmonton look like a desperate ol' hick town (Marian Hossa). The bright spots of the future from this time period include Sam Gagner and Ladislav Smid, acquired from the Pronger trade. And some guys named Paajarvi and Eberle.

Rebuild: Year 1
 His face, after every game.

The second-most successful coach in Oilers history was shipped out (Craig MacTavish, love him or hate him). Our first legitimate starter since Tommy Salo who had brought us all the way to the Cup Finals was not tendered a contract (Dwayne Roloson). 

On the front? We signed Pat Quinn, a trade lauded by critics around, and Tom Renney, something many people considered a steal as an assistant coach.
For goalie? We signed the 3-year younger Nikolai Khabibulin, the man who had clearly stoked Oilers hearts by beating Calgary for the cup in Tampa. 

Sure, at the time, he was the best goalie on the market. And sure, we had Jeff Droin-Deslauriers, as well as Dubnyk, who should have and could have taken the reigns.
And who can forget Dany Heatley's surreal rejection of the Oilers trade proposal, which included a basket of Oilers memorabilia. I wish I was making that up.

The Oilers could have done a lot better by signing Roli and keeping Craig MacTavish. At the very least, they could have kept Pat Quinn's stellar career away from this mess. 

This team, the Oilers 2009-2010 version, was stricken with a plague - only Dustin Penner would play 82 games in the whole season. Khabibulin, the prime offseason signing, was injured and later spotted extreme drunk driving, which sounds mildly exciting. Souray broke his hand on Iginla's face. Hemsky was Hemsky and could not remain healthy.

But it wasn't simply just that. The Oilers set into the season most likely never to compete in it, let alone do damage in the playoffs. It was built like a team in a non-hockey market, a Phoenix or a Carolina, that had perhaps one star (Sam Gagner) and the plugs who would hope for the best. No star, like Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Los Angeles, or even fricken Minnesota.

This team, had it been completely healthy, perfectly healthy, would have failed. Tambollini failed the team and its fans by refusing to ship out the parts that had failed a year before (Moreau and O'Sullivan) and standing pat at almost every opportunity.

Teams with injuries often seek out parts to fix them. This team didn't. But no amounts of band-aids or gauze strips could have saved this stinking ship. Delauriers wasn't the goalie of the future, and Dubnyk seemed to be empty of confidence. 

 But Khabibulin would be back next year! And it was going to be impossible for this team to lose that many games to injury, we swore, crossing our fingers. Besides, there was light at the end of the tunnel in the form of wunderkind Taylor Hall, a goal-scoring machine out of the Spitfires, and all-around playmaker Tyler Seguin, whose overall centering abilities made him another potential first-overall pick - both of which forced into the gulag of Edmonton by force of the draft. Huzzah!
Not to mention some guy named "Cardiac" Eberle, a kid who had a knack of scoring big goals.

Next year couldn't possibly be this bad, right?

2009-2010 is the year of the injury. Rebuild Year 1.