Scapegoats

Jonathan Willis
November 16 2009 11:34AM

At 8-10-2, the Oilers through 20 games are just slightly behind last year’s pace (9-9-2). Last year, the majority of people following this team seemed to blame coaching, claiming that Craig MacTavish had lost the room and demanding he be fired; their wish came only at the end of the season.

Still, Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini apparently believed coaching was the issue, as he opted to start the season with a nearly identical roster and with an all-star group of coaches. The reputation of the coaching staff combined with the less-than-middling results so far have some searching for a new scapegoat.

On Friday, David Staples suggested what many others have, that injuries are the underlying cause of this team’s struggles. Quoting one line in particular:

I like this Oiler team, the team we saw at the start of the year, before the flu hit so hard.

Staples goes on to talk about the flu that decimated the Oilers’ ranks, and he cuts them slack because of it.

I couldn’t disagree more, because that 6-2-1 record wasn’t really indicative of the team’s play. I’m going to get into numbers in a second here, but before I do I’d advise those of you who have no faith in them to go back and listen to Pat Quinn’s post-game press conferences during that stretch. I’ve never seen a coach on a 6-2-1 tear sound so miserable about his team. I’m guessing that was a combination of two things: first, because Pat Quinn firmly believes in scoring chances and the Oilers were getting killed by that measure, and second, because Quinn was watching the Oilers’ poor execution and defensive breakdowns then, and knew that at some point his team’s record was going to reflect their play.

Now, for the numbers, courtesy of Tyler Dellow’s October 24th post (a post which he was ripped hard for over on the message boards):

The Oilers have been outshot 300-226 to date. I’ve had my head buried in other matters, but about all you can take from the results to date is that any team can get results in a short period. You can get a quick and dirty feel for this by just adding up a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage for a given span of games. The Bruins led the league in shooting percentage and save percentage last year; they added up to 103.4%. The Oilers are currently at 107.3%. I haven’t seen enough games to really have any opinions about what’s going on but you don’t make the playoffs like this. The shooting rates will presumably get closer over time; 300-226 is horrific, but it’ll take a lot to make up for the percentages falling back to earth.

Let’s quickly compare the per-game shot totals and the percentages over those first nine games (6-2-1) and over the last 11 (2-8-1):

Dominant (6-2-1) Oilers

  • Shots For Per Game: 25.1
  • Shots Against Per Game 33.3
  • Shot Differential Per Game: -8.2
  • Shooting Percentage: 15.9%
  • Save Percentage: 91.3%
  • Combined Percentages: 107.3%

Garbage (2-8-1) Oilers

  • Shots For Per Game: 28.2
  • Shots Against Per Game: 33.3
  • Shot Differential Per Game: -5.1
  • Shooting Percentage: 6.5%
  • Save Percentage: 90.4%
  • Combined Percentages: 96.9%

Notice that the Oilers have actually improved on their shot differential through this nasty stretch where injuries and flu have been blamed for most of the problems. They’re snake-bit right now; perhaps that’s the result of the flu but at the end of the day we would expect them to be close to the 100% mark on the combined percentages. That’s a positive – their record over the last 11 is a little bit worse than we would expect from their shot differential. That fits with what I’ve seen, in some games (notably the Ottawa shootout loss) the Oilers played as well as I’ve seen them play this season.

That said, his isn’t a good team. With some good luck, they could be a middle-of-the-pack, playoff-bubble team. With bad luck, they could very well be in the draft lottery.

This isn’t sky-is-falling stuff, either. This team hasn’t been competitive since Game Seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. We’ve had three seasons, from 2006-09, of lousy results, with the only bright spot being an illusory 20-game stretch at the end of 2007-08 – a stretch built more on players riding hot streaks than on solid team play. The G.M. chose not to change over the roster after a lousy showing last year, seemingly buying into the belief that Craig MacTavish was to blame.

This year, Pat Quinn has sounded a lot like Craig MacTavish in his post-game pressers. His team’s results have borne a striking similarity to MacTavish’s team last year. It isn’t injuries. It’s this roster.

How to fix the roster is a question worth looking at. I imagine that the usual suggestions (trade Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani, and for the really delusional, Hemsky) are going to get tossed out there. Before they do, I’d like to ask the people prone to those suggestions to look back at the 2006 team. Count the veterans. Count the kids. Then perform the same exercise with the current roster. This team’s been rebuilt, with kids who aren’t proven at the NHL level (Cogliano, Gagner, Brule, Jacques, Stone, Nilsson, Stortini, and Smid) filling roles that used to go to veterans.

This is a rebuilding team, as it has been ever since Pronger and company left town. And as a rule, rebuilding teams lose.

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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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#51 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 16 2009, 03:48PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

This just in: the Oilers aren't that good.

As for rebuilding, Lowe and, now, Tambellini have never gone into full rebuild mode. Lowe, especially, has tried to fudge on the process, refusing to strip the roster down and start over. Two seasons ago, Lowe contradicted himself, saying early in the season he thought the team could "win now." As the season tanked, and with the same roster -- aside from players filling in for injuries -- he declared the team to be rebuilding. This management hasn't had the courage to take its lumps and start fromn square one, it's always trying to cheat on the process.

Thank You

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#52 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 16 2009, 03:52PM
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LBH wrote:

Its tough to be a good rebuilding team when we always finish with the 10-13 pick for 3 years in a row. When will this management staff wake up and do an actual rebuild not this fake one we're praying on that will fix itself? We'll forever be a bubble team that always misses or barely squeaks in until we scrap this team, find the pieces that are relevant going forward and make some tough decisions to get some top 5 picks.

we have some good kids in the program and a few good ones on the roster.

we just have to find the right support staff for them to grow with. i really dont think staios pisani moreau and horcoff are it. maybe in the 90's they'd be more fit for the job. not now, not the way nhl is going.

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#53 smiliegirl15
November 16 2009, 03:56PM
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MacTavish wasn't that effective with the 06 team either - if you'll all recall we made it into the playoffs that season by the skin of our teeth.

Pronger and Peca were part of Lowe's 5 year rebuilding plan. Unfortunately for us, Pronger had other ideas (than hockey) and forced the trade heard round the Nation.

I don't blame Tambellini and Quinn/Renney for wanting to assess the team under a new coaching staff. I am hoping between the three of them, they can make some better decisions regarding trades.

For all that Pisani has contributed, it's time for him to take a good hard look at his hockey future. I am sure it's hard not to be selfish and keep playing but sometimes the right decision is what's best for the team. No one would fault him for retiring. As RB alluded to in his earlier article, he is one tough guy to put up with all he has over the last three years.

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#56 smiliegirl15
November 16 2009, 05:01PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Well then I hope when he tells Tambellini "I told you so", they will get their collective butts in gear and work towards improving this team. Quinn doesn't seem to have Lowe's rose coloured glasses, or the fogged up ones either.

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#57 Ogden Brother
November 16 2009, 09:50PM
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@ Willis

I agree with the concept but we could have just as easily ended up with Kyle Beach or Josh Baily and have no Penner and maybe Souray.

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#58 Oilfever
November 18 2009, 11:19AM
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First off Lowe has got to go, he made some awful signings after are cup run and is now just micromanaging and is in the way!!

Then we need to rebuild, moreau can go(giving the "C" to Souray, Pisani(best wishes) can go, trade Gilbert(keep Chorney), Nilsson has to go.

-Keep Hemsky awesome cap hit for what he produces -Keep Horcoff hes just having a bad year, although his salary is extreme, but I do like him -Keep Stone,Jacques,Brule awesome attitudes and work ethic -Keep Gagner and Cogs there just not 1st liners but are okay on the 2nd and 3rd line respectively.

Also, I think another issue is we have been finishing in 9th or 10th for a number of years and are not getting the elite draft picks. We either need to make the playoffs or get into the draft lottery. I'm not saying lost on purpose but declare rebuilding and be okay with a losing year!!1

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