Edmonton Oilers Powerplay: 2008–09

Jonathan Willis
July 20 2008 03:30PM

One of the consistent weaknesses of the Edmonton Oilers under Lowe/MacTavish has been the team’s consistent inability to ice a successful powerplay. The highest the powerplay has ever finished is 14th overall in the league, and that was in 2005–06 with Chris Pronger on the point. The powerplay has ranked 21st, 27th, 14th, 29th and 19th over the past five seasons, and there’s no excuse for that trend to continue.

I thought it might be useful to compare the 2007–08 edition of the powerplay with what we’ll likely see in 2008–09; improvement in this area could be a key factor in whether the Oilers are in the post-season next year. Below are the units that MacTavish likely would have run with (ranked by ice-time) had everyone been healthy, along with their points/60 minutes last season (from Behindthenet.ca)

First Unit

D – Pitkanen – 2.11 PTS/60, 4.07 TOI/60 D – Souray – 1.72 PTS/60, 4.04 TOI/60 F – Horcoff – 4.00 PTS/60, 3.96 TOI/60 F – Hemsky – 5.93 PTS/60, 3.69 TOI/60 F – Penner – 4.07 PTS/60, 3.59 TOI/60

Second Unit

D – Stoll – 3.74 PTS/60, 3.77 TOI/60 F – Gagner – 3.88 PTS/60, 2.74 TOI/60 F – Torres – 1.43 PTS/60, 2.63 TOI/60 F – Nilsson – 2.66 PTS/60, 2.22 TOI/60 D – Gilbert – 3.01 PTS/60, 2.19 TOI/60

Others

F – Cogliano – 2.52 PTS/60, 2.03 TOI/60 D – Grebeshkov – 1.26 PTS/60, 2.02 TOI/60 F – Pisani – 2.94 PTS/60, 1.82 TOI/60

Looking at the first unit, it seems likely that the Oilers powerplay next season could be significantly more effective. Horcoff, Hemsky and Penner all performed at the same rate as they did in 2006–07; Hemsky and Penner were both a hair higher while Horcoff’s numbers were actually a hair below his 2006–07 numbers. Sheldon Souray was injured for much of the season, so Jarret Stoll filled in for him, but neither of their performances was even close to Souray’s numbers for 2006–07 (7.31 PTS/60). Even granting that Souray’s numbers in 2006–07 were inflated by a career year on the league’s best powerplay, there is plenty of room for improvement. Finally, Joni Pitkanen, the Oilers leader in average powerplay ice time, had an awful season in 2007–08, and even if Lubomir Visnovsky only performs at the same level that he did in LA last season (2.77 PTS/60), he’ll be a major upgrade.

As for players on the second unit, Gagner was excellent last season and in all likelihood will displace Horcoff from the first unit as early as this season. In any case, he’ll almost certainly surpass his numbers from this past season, while all of Nilsson, Gilbert and Cogliano could certainly improve as well. Finally, removing Raffi Torres from the powerplay is nothing but good news; although an effective player 5-on-5, Torres has never been a good option on the powerplay; even in his breakthrough 2005–06 season, Torres scored 75 per cent of his points at even strength. Erik Cole, although hardly a first-rate option, scored 3.13 PTS/60 and is yet another significant upgrade.

While it seams unlikely that the powerplay will ever be a source of strength for the Oilers under MacTavish, it should certainly be more effective than last season, possibly even to the point where it isn’t a liability for a playoff team.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 1011011
July 20 2008, 04:45PM
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Jon -

Who would you put on the PP units this year?

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#2 David
July 20 2008, 05:01PM
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It better be an area of strength. Last year started horribly, and then the numbers just started climbing up. With as much offensive talent, and offensive talent that is attuned to moving the puck, this should be a team that is in the top ten when it comes to the powerplay, period. I don't care whether or not MacTavish is supposed to be a good powerplay coach; there's too much talent to expect anything but a runaway success.

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#3 Jonathan
July 20 2008, 05:04PM
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Sorry, I guess I didn't really make that clear, did I?

First unit: Penner - Gagner - Hemsky - Visnovsky - Souray

Second Unit: Cole - Horcoff - Nilsson - Gilbert - Grebeshkov

Pisani and Cogliano subbing in, as per last year, unless Schremp makes the team, in which case he can do it.

The weakest link, to my mind is Grebeshkov. Still, he's young, and if he falters I suppose I'd probably go with four forwards (wonder if Nilsson can play the point?)

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#4 1011011
July 20 2008, 05:22PM
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Those are two pretty decent units. I might consider flipping Horcoff and Gagner, but you talk about that in your article. I would say that these PPs are good enough to move the Oilers into the top ten in the league one would think...

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#5 Jonathan
July 20 2008, 05:24PM
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I don’t care whether or not MacTavish is supposed to be a good powerplay coach; there’s too much talent to expect anything but a runaway success.

Maybe I'm jaded, but I'll believe in a decent Oilers powerplay when I see it, and not a moment before.

Stupid Craig Simpson.

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#6 Ed
July 20 2008, 06:20PM
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I am with Jonathan on that one. I have been tricked before too

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#7 Brian Fellows
July 20 2008, 06:45PM
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I was wondering earlier this week if they are going to keep the Gagner-Cogliano-Nilsson line together this year. What does everyone think?

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#8 MikeP
July 20 2008, 08:11PM
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I'd be curious to see the PK rates of the Oilers' division rivals including Edmonton, and not including them. Is the NW's PK better than league-average?

If you're not inclined to look at this, I may.

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#9 Sean
July 20 2008, 09:59PM
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We're gonna need a good PP because our roster is small. With Vis, Sourray it should be much improved. I think its at least going to be more creative than the "get it to the point and get Smyth/Penner to tip it in" type PP we've seen since forever.

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#10 David S
July 20 2008, 11:44PM
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Brian,

Man I hope that kid line stays intact - at least for a while. They had more spark and cohesiveness than I've seen in any Oiler line for a long time. I'm really curious to see what they could do with a bit of growing up and a good summer in the gym. Its one of the things about this team that I'm looking forward to seeing next season.

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#11 OregonStateFan
July 20 2008, 11:50PM
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I'm not sure I'd count Grebeshkov as a weak link. In the latter half of the season (from what I saw) he showed consistency in both shooting the puck (without a defender on the ice already blocking it) and the ability to look for passing lanes.

Compare if we dare that to MAB, who did nothing but shoot the puck into a defender's skates, only to lose possession and have to bolt back to try to catch someone on a shorthanded breakaway.

Yes, I did go there. Good riddance to Marc Andre Bergeron.

Stoll (post double concussions) also had the knack of shooting at defender's skates and not threading the needle. At least Souray scares the crap out of people trying to block his monster of a shot (not that Stoll's shot didn't have any mustard).

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#12 JG
July 21 2008, 01:58AM
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I just can't wait to see the team opening night.

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#13 Jonathan
July 21 2008, 07:50AM
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I’m not sure I’d count Grebeshkov as a weak link. In the latter half of the season (from what I saw) he showed consistency in both shooting the puck (without a defender on the ice already blocking it) and the ability to look for passing lanes. Compare if we dare that to MAB, who did nothing but shoot the puck into a defender’s skates, only to lose possession and have to bolt back to try to catch someone on a shorthanded breakaway.

Well, Grebeshkov's numbers in limited use last year were awful; right now he isn't producing and suffers a bit from the same thing as Joni Pitkanen- he has the tools and he looks good out there, but he isn't accomplishing much.

Still, I have high hopes for an improved season based on the leap he took towards the end of 07-08.

As for Bergeron, the NYI powerplay really took off after they acquired him from Edmonton. He's an OK PP player, if used correctly, and he was certainly better during his time here than the other options (Brewer, Staios, etc.). Of course, once 2005-06 rolled around, they didn't need him anymore, and he wouldn't fit in the current group either.

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#14 Rick
July 21 2008, 08:09AM
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Has anyone done a split on last season's PP?

I want to remember that the PP was pretty much mired in last place for the first third of the season while the team was sorting out where their new guys were playing and trying to fight through the early season injuries.

I thought the PP in the last half of the season was quite good, finally signalling that shift to the upper half of the league that everyone has been waiting for.

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#15 Jake
July 21 2008, 08:38AM
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I would think these two units would prove more effective:

Cole-Gagner-Hemsky Souray-Visnovsky

Penner-Horcoff-Nilsson Gilbert-Grebeshkov

If Schremp breaks camp, you switch him with Grebeshkov on the second unit.

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#16 fyvmvv
July 21 2008, 09:01AM
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The Oil seem to have the skill to have an effective PP but it seems to me it's the lack of execution that holds them back. In recent years it has been Q.B.'d by Hemsky and he goes to the side boards and it like his ass gets stapled there. Once he stops skating so does everybody else. How many times have we seen him cough it up on the PP?

Every other area of their game emphasizes skating and bringing it with speed. They seem to all be standing still on the PP and not moving their feet which makes them easier to check.

If you keep your feet moving and forcing the D instead of laying back you increase your chances of drawing the opposition into taking another penalty. I think you should strategize based on how the officials are calling the penalties and oh how they love to put a team down 2 men.

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#17 SlipperyPete
July 21 2008, 09:05AM
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PP Unit 1 Penner-Gagner-Hemsky Gilbert-Souray PP Unit 2 Nilson-Horcoff-Cole Visnovsky-Grebeshkov Too many times last year all the PK had to do was cover the point and the Oilers PP was immobalized. Hash marks and below is the area the Oilers have to focus on because down low puck movement will open up the point shot and force teams to respect other aspects of the PP. On the point I would want some experience and some youth in each pair, one play maker and one shooter. As I see it the Oilers could have a 1a and 1b power play.

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#18 Mike
July 21 2008, 10:02AM
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fyvmvv:

You're right that the PP seems to stop when Hemsky gets the puck, but I bet if he has the option to bail out and dish it to Gagner we'll see better movement. Between the two of them, they should be able to find a seam somewhere!

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#19 David
July 21 2008, 10:49AM
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I love the fact that there's someone in this thread who distinguishes himself from me by refering to himself as David S, because my last name starts with an S too. Ah, the hazards of having a common first name.

"Maybe I’m jaded, but I’ll believe in a decent Oilers powerplay when I see it, and not a moment before.

Stupid Craig Simpson."

We saw a better powerplay in the second half, and we should expect the additions to build on that. Yes, there's reason to be worried, but there are certain things we should expect of this team given its talent. Namely, a top ten powerplay and a playoff spot. And if they fail to do so, that's a point of contention that we should have with the coaching staff, because they would have had the talent to do better.

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#20 Wanye Gretz
July 21 2008, 11:09AM
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David - to reduce confusion, we can assign you the moniker DS3. Its pretty gangster, and DS1 and DS2 will be completely jealous

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#21 Matt
July 21 2008, 01:30PM
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Ales Hemsky was 3rd overall in point production on the PP in the league (among players with over 40 games played and over 2 min per game). He was 82nd overall in PP minutes per game. He got less time per game than Pitkanen, Horcoff and even Stoll.

The top 3 in the league in terms of time on ice amongst forwards (Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Sakic) were over 5 minutes a game. There were 25 forwards over 4 minutes.

This is just mind boggling to me. The answer to having a better power play is sitting beside MacT on the friggin bench, having a Gatorade for the last half of the man advantage, while less productive players are sent out.

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#22 Rick
July 21 2008, 02:24PM
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"This is just mind boggling to me. The answer to having a better power play is sitting beside MacT on the friggin bench, having a Gatorade for the last half of the man advantage, while less productive players are sent out."

I'm not convinced that this is MacT's doing. My biggest frustration with Hemsky has always been when he changes. There are so many times when he seems to short shift himself and often when he does his linemates don't follow him which suggests this isn't coaching move.

This seems to primarily happen when he is carrying the puck and then loses it prematurely or the play doesn't seem to develop how he hoped it would.

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#23 Dav
July 21 2008, 10:18PM
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I love Jon’s first PP unit. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. Penner in front, Hemsky on the half boards, Gagner down low and two boomers on the point. 2 GREAT passers feeding 3 solid finishers.

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#24 Blue_oil
July 22 2008, 09:30AM
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PP Unit 1 Gagne-Horcoff-Hemsky Gilbert-Souray PP Unit 2 Nilson\Brodziak-Penner-Cole Visnovsky-Grebeshkov\Schremp

Anyone who takes an allstar like Horc off the first line is mistakenly wrong. He will become Edmonton's true sniper on the PP this yr with matured cross feed passes from gagne and Hem,as shown last yr the opposition will try to prevent the bombs from a healthy Souray.

On the tail end of the PP I give my bangers Penner and Cole. They are not only able to finish but also able to punish the adversaries and continue momentum if all else the pwr play fails. Nilsson's creativity should be able to locate Cole or Visnovsky while Penner cleans up the front of the net with his big body. Throw in Schremp and brodziak it should make for an interesting and combination keeping the oppositions Pk mistified by a versatile offence.

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#25 Matt
July 22 2008, 11:32AM
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"I’m not convinced that this is MacT’s doing. My biggest frustration with Hemsky has always been when he changes. There are so many times when he seems to short shift himself and often when he does his linemates don’t follow him which suggests this isn’t coaching move.

This seems to primarily happen when he is carrying the puck and then loses it prematurely or the play doesn’t seem to develop how he hoped it would."

I have played hockey up to the WHL level and haven't ever seen a guy who didn't have enough gas in the tank to take a shift on the PP. I would be willing to consider your point at even strength, shift on the fly, but I don't think Hemsky is putting up his hand and heading to the bench when the Oil have the extra man.

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#26 Hemsky_83
July 22 2008, 12:58PM
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Here's my projections:

Penner Gagner Hemsky Souray Visnovsky

Nilsson Horcoff Pisani Cole Gilbert

Cole is capable of playing the point on the PP, while Cogliano could be slotted in for Pisani at any time.

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#27 Chris.
July 22 2008, 02:51PM
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Too Bad We Don't Have Marty Reasoner To Center Our Number one Unit Anymore. He Looked Just Like Sakic.

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#28 Jonathan
July 22 2008, 05:45PM
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Anyone who takes an allstar like Horc off the first line is mistakenly wrong. He will become Edmonton’s true sniper on the PP this yr with matured cross feed passes from gagne and Hem,as shown last yr the opposition will try to prevent the bombs from a healthy Souray.

I'm a big fan of Horcoff, but his powerplay performance has been good but not great. Gagner's numbers last season were really close (powerplay only!) and I think that by the end of 2008-09, at the very latest, Sam Gagner will be on the number one powerplay.

The other thing is that Horcoff/Penner are the only decent faceoff guys on the powerplay units, and I think they should play seperately. Penner is a bigger upgrade on Cole than Horcoff is on Gagner on the powerplay, IMO.

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#29 Steve - O
July 22 2008, 07:06PM
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We can all talk about the most excellent combinations available to the Oilers on the powerplay, but regardless of the staff on ice, I believe we should all be yelling: "SHOOT!"

They don't shoot. They feel fancy. They skate fancy. You can almost smell the self-confidence through the freak'in TV when they control the puck for 1.35, but has anyone seen them BOMBARD the goal? Get a goal? Shoot excessivly? NOPE. They all believe the puck will go in by itself. Who's the shooter?

~STEELE

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#30 Jonathan
July 22 2008, 08:07PM
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We can all talk about the most excellent combinations available to the Oilers on the powerplay, but regardless of the staff on ice, I believe we should all be yelling: “SHOOT!” They don’t shoot. They feel fancy. They skate fancy. You can almost smell the self-confidence through the freak’in TV when they control the puck for 1.35, but has anyone seen them BOMBARD the goal? Get a goal? Shoot excessivly? NOPE. They all believe the puck will go in by itself. Who’s the shooter?

Completely disagree. Take Hemsky for example- (http://www.behindthenet.ca/2007/5_on_4.php?sort=10&mingp=20&mintoi=1&team=ALL&pos=) The 8th best player in the NHL 5-on-4, at least statistically (and of the seven in front of him, only one, Alex Kovalev, played a full season) and he does not do it by mindlessly throwing the puck on net.

Not that the fans will stop yelling SHOOT! at him, though.

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#31 Mr. Brightside
July 22 2008, 09:03PM
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Yes we should all definitely yell 'SHOOOOT' each and every time somebody in Copper and Blue touches the puck while on the PP. But we'd better make sure they don't get it blocked......or miss the net.... or hit the goalie.... in fact why don't we all just yell 'SCOOOORE' it's allot more to the point.

"SHOOOOOT"..... has to be top 5 in my all time pet peaves....

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