Effort Level Vs. Tangible Problems

Jonathan Willis
October 05 2009 11:11AM

Joanne Ireland’s column this morning focuses on the Oilers’ new motto: “Anything”. Given that I think mottos help players about as much as mission statements help my commitment to my day job, I brushed past that bit and got interested when the column started talking about effort level.

For example, Ethan Moreau supplied this gem:

 “There wasn't a lack of effort. We haven't had a game like that here in a while."

I know that it’s fashionable to chalk last season’s disastrous finish up to a lack of effort, a narrative which allows fans to pick on whichever goat they dislike the most. It’s great fun. Don’t like Shawn Horcoff? Well, it’s too bad he didn’t try last year. Perhaps you aren’t a fan of Tom Gilbert – if only he’d been more intense. It’s easy and it doesn’t need to make sense – everyone knows that the underdog can win if only he’d try just a little bit harder.

Let’s take a moment though and step away from the tremendously easy "he didn't try hard enough" game and try looking at the problems from last year.

Last season’s penalty kill was among the worst in the NHL; something that perhaps isn’t overly surprising given that Craig MacTavish had exactly three forwards who played regularly (Horcoff, Brodziak, Moreau) and one of those was often in the box himself. The rest of the minutes went to Fernando Pisani (who missed more than half the season), Erik Cole (traded at the deadline), and minor-league call-up Liam Reddox.

Let’s just say that even if the coaching had been superb, this wasn’t going to be an elite group.

That penalty killing group allowed 76 goals against, and had they been even average it would have saved the team 13 goals. How much difference would 13 goals have made in the standings?

Of course, that weakness remained unaddressed during the offseason; Brodziak was sent away, nobody was brought in to take his place. Pisani is out (again) and on injured reserve, and in Game One Pat Quinn responded by giving ice-time to guys who have never killed penalties much in the big leagues – Andrew Cogliano led all forwards with 1:31 in ice-time, Ryan Stone played more than a minute and both Gilbert Brule and Jean-Francois Jacques filled in at times. The unit responded with a two-for-four night, and while it’s still too early to declare the experiment a failure, would it surprise anyone if that trend continued?

Another problem was the lack of qualified players to take defensive zone draws. Craig MacTavish generally doubled up on centres, sending out Shawn Horcoff and Kyle Brodziak with a winger (generally one of Moreau, Stortini or Reddox, given that Pisani was on the shelf or playing at less than 100% for most of the season). That decision was certainly a factor in crippling the offensive game of both players.

Again, the weakness remained unaddressed during the off-season (worsened actually, given the departure of Brodziak) and Quinn responded by sending out Gilbert Brule in the defensive zone and Shawn Horcoff everywhere. While Brule was good on the draw in the defensive zone (three for five) vs. Calgary he was a miserable 36% overall on the night, and has no track record of being an effective NHL faceoff man. How long can his luck in his own end hold out, and how much will it hurt the team if it doesn’t?

Yes, yesterday I said that it was far too early for one game to change anyone’s mind. These problems though are items that any rational observer would be concerned about – and no shift in effort level is going to fix them. There were encouraging signs last night – Moreau talks about physical intensity but both the shot clock and the faceoff count show that the Oilers also dominated territorially – and barring a goaltending imbalance that will help them win games.

The point here is that the problems last year extended well beyond effort; and even assuming that the team’s slogan remains fixed in mind and they continue to play with a physical edge through all 82 games, that won’t solve those underlying problems. Unless Pat Quinn can mold young and as-of-yet unqualified players to fit those roles, and do it quickly, this team will lose games and points in the standings because of it.

Just like they did against Calgary.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Poo Czar
October 05 2009, 11:18AM
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Can we lay at least some of the blame at the feet of that freak out pre-game show? My word, that was atrocious...

Does the ON have a Mission Statement?

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#2 Chaz
October 05 2009, 11:31AM
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It boggles my mind that they didn't address the faceoff deficiency on this team over the summer. I know they are up against the cap and that trades are difficult in the "New NHL", but come on Tambo...when you have a hole as large and gapping as this you have to fill it before it sinks your ship.

* Takes time to admire his cheesy metaphor.

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#3 scorecoff hemmercules
October 05 2009, 11:35AM
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I can't understand why no one on this team can learn anything new. We always need to bring in somebody, and then we don't anyway. Is it too much to ask for a couple of our players to learn the play pk or win a faceoff????

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#4 I'm a Scientist!
October 05 2009, 11:36AM
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"Anything" - Wow...motivating.

My new personal motto is "Everything"... Don't worry, with that motto, i should have the world saved in no time...

*reads the word "Everything" and is instantly transformed into a cyborg that can communicate much more easily with the SuperComputer*

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#5 BK
October 05 2009, 11:39AM
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Why is teaching faceoff draws so hard? I know that getting stellar numbers like Horcoff is an exception, but shouldn't ANY forward be able to get into the 40% range on a regular basis? Or at least MOST?!?!

IT SEEMS SO BASIC!

Signed, Someone whom clearly has NO faceoff experience himself, but perplexed by the numbers!

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#6 Rigger
October 05 2009, 11:41AM
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Maybe they should change that motto to "anything and everything", as in that's what they should do to get a win, including practicing damn faceoffs, PP and PK.

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#7 erixon
October 05 2009, 11:45AM
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Chaz wrote:

It boggles my mind that they didn't address the faceoff deficiency on this team over the summer. I know they are up against the cap and that trades are difficult in the "New NHL", but come on Tambo...when you have a hole as large and gapping as this you have to fill it before it sinks your ship.

* Takes time to admire his cheesy metaphor.

Did you watch the game on Saturday? Because if you did, I really do not understand why you would bring up faceoffs, it was a non issue. Sure it was only one game, but right now there isn't any reason to rehash that yet.

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#10 Tha Legion
October 05 2009, 11:50AM
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I rock at faceoffs they should hire me

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#11 The Towel Boy
October 05 2009, 11:52AM
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It's clear this team needed more crust this season. It looks like they could have it. More crust is good. mmmmm crust.

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#12 David S
October 05 2009, 11:57AM
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While I can't disagree with your assessment, it continually astounds me that you tend to discount intangible elements in pro sports, especially the psychological side of the game. At the top levels of sport, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to mental fortitude (or lack of such). This isn't beer league we're talking about here.

"Anything" is a mental focus point for the athletes and serves to remind them just exactly what level of performance is required for success. Maybe that's a bit abstract in the non-sports world, but it seemed to serve the team well on Saturday night as the level of effort was far superior to what we saw for the majority of last year. Whether they can maintain that level of intensity throughout the season remains to be seen, but it seems that they're off to a decent start.

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#13 BK
October 05 2009, 11:59AM
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erixon wrote:

Did you watch the game on Saturday? Because if you did, I really do not understand why you would bring up faceoffs, it was a non issue. Sure it was only one game, but right now there isn't any reason to rehash that yet.

Except one guy can't take EVERY freaking faceoff!

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#14 blu
October 05 2009, 12:00PM
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The faceoffs didn't seem to be an issue. Even if we lost the draw, we ate up loose pucks all night. I think each of our 4 lines had them hemmed into their own end for lengthy periods of time at one point or another. I was impressed.

While our special teams always seem to need to bone up, we need to also live in reality. Our PK went 2-4, and one of those 2 was a shot 4 feet wide of the net, that banked in off the "smid-guy" ... if they go 1-4 we're not even talking about this.

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#15 SkadderBrain
October 05 2009, 12:01PM
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i believe pk will get better over time, hopefully. quinn should have sillinger at every practice trying to help develop some of these guys's abilities in the faceoff, was he not a specialist?

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#16 BUCK75
October 05 2009, 12:03PM
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It seems a little early to start examining the face offs after 1 game. Brule could be the answer. New coach - new system - same fire drills in the defensive zone.

Could it be that Quinn is still trying to send a message to some of the guys who have been complacent in their positions?

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#17 BarryS
October 05 2009, 12:04PM
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Poo Czar wrote:

Can we lay at least some of the blame at the feet of that freak out pre-game show? My word, that was atrocious...

Does the ON have a Mission Statement?

Nothing with overweight pipers can be atrocious.

I thought Comments are moderated. Pretend your mom is reading over your shoulder. was our mission statement,

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#18 Eddie Shore
October 05 2009, 12:04PM
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A pretty good game by the Oilers; More hustle, more determination, more "crust" and you pick out a negative aspect to write about. Why didn't you write about the areas of improvement instead of the one area that wasn't even that bad? Why the negativity?

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#19 Chaz
October 05 2009, 12:07PM
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erixon wrote:

Did you watch the game on Saturday? Because if you did, I really do not understand why you would bring up faceoffs, it was a non issue. Sure it was only one game, but right now there isn't any reason to rehash that yet.

I actually missed the game bc I was at a wedding, but I did see the pre season tilt against TB where we lost in regulation as a direct result of lost faceoffs. Horcs wasn't playing that game, but it showed me that this will be a problem for the Oilers all year. I'm concerned.

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#20 Charlie N64
October 05 2009, 12:07PM
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Regardless of what Tambo might want (wanted) to do, he's handcuffed by Lowe's inflated contracts that were signed after the run.

Instead of locking up Smyth, Torres, Stoll, Samsanov, and others who could have stayed (ie no chance with Peca, CFP), Lowe rewarded the guys who laid down in front of the puck, with the exception of our captain who has since retired a Senator.

I don't expect much difference in our team for the next couple of seasons to be honest, but I'll still show up in my Laraque jersey, double fist $8 beer, and scream 'til my heart stops because I love this team.

Go Oilers.

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#22 Mr DeBakey
October 05 2009, 12:10PM
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In 08-09, the Oilers outscored their opposition 5v5.

It seems that only on Special Teams did they say 'To hell with that "trying" sh!t"

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#23 BarryS
October 05 2009, 12:12PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I didn't get into Khaibublin, did I? Plus, it was a loss, wasn't it?

The real reason is that I get irritated every time I hear how it was effort level that killed the Oilers last season.

I'm sure that was part of it, but they had some very real, legitimate on-ice problems that haven't been fixed and based on one game look like they'll resurface again.

There seems to be a mindset that the major problems scan be fixed via the magic of positive thinking. It isn't that simple.

A little positive thinking by certain members of the oilers who think they will get hurt in they go in the corners or go to the dot thinking they'll loose might help, though.

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#24 Eddie Shore
October 05 2009, 12:12PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I didn't get into Khaibublin, did I? Plus, it was a loss, wasn't it?

The real reason is that I get irritated every time I hear how it was effort level that killed the Oilers last season.

I'm sure that was part of it, but they had some very real, legitimate on-ice problems that haven't been fixed and based on one game look like they'll resurface again.

There seems to be a mindset that the major problems scan be fixed via the magic of positive thinking. It isn't that simple.

Which problems? The fact that one guy had a tough night in the faceoff circle? It was game 1 of 82. Give them at least a fighting chance before writing them off?

A change of mindset can go a long way. Sometimes, it really is that simple. Only time will tell.

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#27 Eddie Shore
October 05 2009, 12:19PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I think saying they "sucked" on the penalty kill might be a slight overstatement on your part. Sure, the one goal was a legit but Phaneuf's slapshot was going 3 feet wide until it hit Smid and directed in. I actually thought the pk looked half decent. But, the numbers don't lie right? Unlike you, who usually takes sample size into consideration, I will reserve my judgement beyond the first game of the year.

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#28 BarryS
October 05 2009, 12:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Because I don't honestly think there's a ton of difference on the psychological side of things between one team of 20+ athletes who have worked their way to the sport's highest level vs. another team of 20+ athletes who have worked their way to the sport's highest level.

I also don't think many players make massive, dramatic shifts in passion and commitment from year-to-year; meaning that I don't think the psychological side of things has a major impact, year-to-year.

There are exceptions: J-S Giguere fell into an elevator shaft after his father died last year, for example. But I think those are mostly exceptions.

Besides, all across the league teams that didn't fix their rosters are preaching that a new mindset is going to change things. It's been that way for years, and far more often than not it's just so much empty talk.

Every player who reinvents himself into a checker or grinder from a top line player in junior makes a dramatic shift in passion and commitment. Every junior who was a star in junior, has trouble adjusting for a couple years then re-emerges as a star in the NHL makes the same dramatic shift in passion and commitment. Every star player who has a bad year, or sometimes two, who then remerges as a star makes the dramatic shift in passion and commitment. Seems the me the oiler team who won the cup the year after Gretzki was traded made the dramatic shift in passion and commitment.

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#29 Kieso
October 05 2009, 12:22PM
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Hey how about this news to give us all a little lift.

Lyle Spector from The Hockey News reports that - The Rangers are also in the market for a seventh defenseman since the contract they recently signed with Alexei Semonov was nixed by the blueliner’s wife.

While Semonov is not a big deal (The Oilers gave up on this guy) it is nice to see other markets with the same issues. It likely happens more often than we think but is not reported.

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#32 Librarian Mike
October 05 2009, 12:37PM
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The Rangers are also in the market for a seventh defenseman since the contract they recently signed with Alexei Semonov was nixed by the blueliner’s wife

I laughed when I heard that. I mean, if you don't want to live in New York then where the Hell DO you want to live? Atlantis?

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#33 David S
October 05 2009, 12:39PM
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Jonathan - with respect, an "objective observer" could see that Saturday's game was a step in the right direction. Brain cramps aside, we played them to a standstill. Yeah, that's right, we traded shots with a team that some think will challenge for the division. Do we have holes? Absolutely. But we're making progress and I think its a bit early in the process to discount small steps, even if you can't quantify them on a spreadsheet.

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#34 Oilersnationpeasant
October 05 2009, 12:44PM
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I dont know what it is going to take to light a fire under their arses...

any ideas?

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#35 Senator Theo
October 05 2009, 12:46PM
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Librarian Mike wrote:
The Rangers are also in the market for a seventh defenseman since the contract they recently signed with Alexei Semonov was nixed by the blueliner’s wife

I laughed when I heard that. I mean, if you don't want to live in New York then where the Hell DO you want to live? Atlantis?

Maybe the taxes are an issue for him. Or maybe he doesn't like Trump.

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#36 Senator Theo
October 05 2009, 12:52PM
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I agree. Take away the crazy bounces on either side: Phaneuf's "goal" off Smid, Moss' GWG for Calgary and Gagner's goal for Edmonton. Without those, we at least get a point out of a shootout with one of the teams that is supposed to be fighting for the division title this year. At the very least, there is room for optimism. Even more so, when you compare the level of compete with last year's team like I assume Ethan was doing. Yes there is work to do, and holes from last year that have not been addressed yet, but we can still smile after watching that game on Saturday. That is not something I was able to do very often last year.

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#37 Senator Theo
October 05 2009, 12:53PM
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David S wrote:

Jonathan - with respect, an "objective observer" could see that Saturday's game was a step in the right direction. Brain cramps aside, we played them to a standstill. Yeah, that's right, we traded shots with a team that some think will challenge for the division. Do we have holes? Absolutely. But we're making progress and I think its a bit early in the process to discount small steps, even if you can't quantify them on a spreadsheet.

I meant that I was agreeing with this post.

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#39 Ogden Brother
October 05 2009, 01:01PM
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Charlie N64 wrote:

Regardless of what Tambo might want (wanted) to do, he's handcuffed by Lowe's inflated contracts that were signed after the run.

Instead of locking up Smyth, Torres, Stoll, Samsanov, and others who could have stayed (ie no chance with Peca, CFP), Lowe rewarded the guys who laid down in front of the puck, with the exception of our captain who has since retired a Senator.

I don't expect much difference in our team for the next couple of seasons to be honest, but I'll still show up in my Laraque jersey, double fist $8 beer, and scream 'til my heart stops because I love this team.

Go Oilers.

Thats such a cop out for Tambs, he had more then enough space to fill the teams second biggest hole.

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#40 Greg MC
October 05 2009, 01:02PM
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@Jonathan

Statistics can give a lot of insight into players, but you can't graph what's going on in their heads.

It looked like the Oilers hated to come to work last year (for whatever reason). We have a new coach, with mostly the same team. There are obvious holes, but the team will perform better than last year, in my opinion.

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#41 Ogden Bother
October 05 2009, 01:03PM
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FWIW Horcoff had his best offensive season after spending time with the team phsycologist, he even credit that for his improved goal scoring.

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#42 Bob
October 05 2009, 01:10PM
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Success in Hockey is a function of Team abilities, compatability, complimentarity, motivation & strategy. Different coaching can change a lot of those things. Even some elements such as ability can be changed if players are more motivated to 'do what it takes' to train and prepare.

Given that MacT has no other experience as a coach, we don't know to what level he helped or hurt these things. Quinn has other experience so we can start to suspect that he does a reasonable job achieving some things.

Anyway, basically we have to wait and see, but I suspect the team will make a trade and wreck the experiment. So, we are left to see how MacT does at Spengler and beyond.

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#43 BarryS
October 05 2009, 01:10PM
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Senator Theo wrote:

I agree. Take away the crazy bounces on either side: Phaneuf's "goal" off Smid, Moss' GWG for Calgary and Gagner's goal for Edmonton. Without those, we at least get a point out of a shootout with one of the teams that is supposed to be fighting for the division title this year. At the very least, there is room for optimism. Even more so, when you compare the level of compete with last year's team like I assume Ethan was doing. Yes there is work to do, and holes from last year that have not been addressed yet, but we can still smile after watching that game on Saturday. That is not something I was able to do very often last year.

Have to disagree with your assessment of Gagner's goal as being a lucky goal. The bounce was lucky, to be sure, but he made a real hockey play to score the goal. he made the goalie open his legs then shot it between them. it did not bounce off his a$$ and in, he did not shoot it into the goalies body, he did not shoot it over the net, he did not miss the net on either side, he did not try to pass to someone else, he did not freeze until the defenceman knocked him on his a$$. now having it hit your stick when you did not see it coming, did not glance off a defencemans throat when going wide,

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#44 BarryS
October 05 2009, 01:12PM
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Bob wrote:

Success in Hockey is a function of Team abilities, compatability, complimentarity, motivation & strategy. Different coaching can change a lot of those things. Even some elements such as ability can be changed if players are more motivated to 'do what it takes' to train and prepare.

Given that MacT has no other experience as a coach, we don't know to what level he helped or hurt these things. Quinn has other experience so we can start to suspect that he does a reasonable job achieving some things.

Anyway, basically we have to wait and see, but I suspect the team will make a trade and wreck the experiment. So, we are left to see how MacT does at Spengler and beyond.

Eight years experience is eight years experience, no excuses there. Whether eight years with one team of one year with eight teams makes no difference.

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#45 toprightcorner
October 05 2009, 01:19PM
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@BK

As a student, it is best to learn from a master.

They should look at hiring Oates on an interm basis to teach they young guys. I do not thing it was a coincidence that when he played here, every centre we had improved on the dot significantly. Even Yanic Perreault would help.

I know strength has something to do with it but technique is much more important IMO. Even Quinn said they need to learn to cheat better, all great face off guys cheat. Brindamour is a great example of that.

$200,000 to invest in a quality teacher is well worth it.

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#46 EricOG
October 05 2009, 01:20PM
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The Oilers are have a lot of holes and a long way to go. One thing that bothers me is this, everybody praises the Oiler Defensemen. However, they sure made a lot of lazy plays on saturday. If you are a D-man, and see that the Flames are able to clear the zone what do you do? You have to get back.

What did they do in the last play?, they stared at the puck and the Flames took advantage. They are also accountable for that last play. Also, I agree with Willis, grit and determination will get you so far. But, if games continue to be lost the way saturday was lost, determination will take a break and eventuallly not show up. Another thing is, all the other teams are doing the same thing the Oilers are doing, which is, they are assesing. So, should management try and make a trade, it won't happen for some time.

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#47 toprightcorner
October 05 2009, 01:20PM
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Need to learn

How to

do paragraphs

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#48 BUCK75
October 05 2009, 01:24PM
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toprightcorner wrote:

Need to learn

How to

do paragraphs

HTML - will take some practice - I'm sure it will get worked out later.

put a P between the less than & greater than symbols. Remember to put a / inside of the closing tag.

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#49 GSC
October 05 2009, 01:29PM
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@Jonathan Willis

I always did the same, or do the Kyle Wellwood and get your leg in the way of the opposing centre's stick (when able, depending on your handedness and side of the ice you're on). That's a neat little move.

From what I've read and have been told for years by several different (yet qualified) coaches, it's all about learning how to cheat "better" than the guy across from you.

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#50 SirFozz
October 05 2009, 01:32PM
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@ The Towel Boy Know what would help even more. Crust with jam. Can you even imagine?

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