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 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 Ender
November 16 2009, 11:42AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

This 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.

"So you're telling me there's a chance . . ."

Lloyd Christmas

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#2 BingBong
November 16 2009, 11:46AM
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Great read - I think for the most part you've perfectly summarized the Oilers this year and what the problem is. Yes the injuries are making it tough, but let's be honest: even healthy this team is barely good enough for the playoffs, if at all. I believe the MacT reign had run its course; there was obviously a problem with him behind the bench...but this year has proven that even with a skilled coaching staff it's going to be tough to win games. We were 6-2-1 at one point, IMO, mainly due to the weakness of the opposing teams goaltending. Once that trend reversed winning games became that much harder. I agree this team is "rebuilding", and perhaps if management admitted this we wouldn't be so distraught over watching the Oilers lose the way they do. I just hope Tambo and Co. have a "plan", and aren't just writing the script as they go along...

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#3 David Staples
November 16 2009, 11:48AM
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To be fair to my own position, I don't think I've ever said the Oil were more than a playoff bubble-type team, which seems to be the same as your position, Jonathan. Regards, The Straw Man.

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#6 David S
November 16 2009, 11:53AM
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I'd have no problem with the current status of the team if Tambellini just came out and said exactly what you did above.

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

I could buy that. My guess is most everybody else could too. It seems the problem with this team has been that management simply cannot be honest with their fans. It seems its just not in their DNA.

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#7 Pajamah
November 16 2009, 11:55AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Even so, short of Souray, Visnovsky......no one on the team is a superstar, and the 2 are debatable as well.

This team tries so hard to dress a 5 as an 8, and other than the homers, we've come to realize the kids potential is still only that, potential. Nowhere is it written that Gagners 40-some point seasons will equate to an 80 point per year career is a foregone conclusion.

And as for Moreau, Pisani, Staios, you can completely take "recent" out of the quote, none has ever been good enough, short of Pisani's 06' playoffs. Moreau has been a leader, and nothing else since we got him from Chicago. Staios was a leader in Atlanta, but can be a middle guy here.

Fact is, we need better superstars, and better role players (save Khabibulin)

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#8 Dyckster
November 16 2009, 11:57AM
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Speaking of rebuilding - Mr. Jordan Eberle, 19GP 18G 22A +5, on a below .500 team that's collectively -1.

Too bad he's not 6'1", 210lbs.

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#9 David Staples
November 16 2009, 11:58AM
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How recent are we talking about Penner's "less flattering" track record?

This year all his numbers are good, whereas last year only his advanced stats, such as shot differential, were good.

As for the Oilers, yes, I do think the flu hit them hard. Who knows what their shot differential would have been with Souray in the lineup, and if they had all got the vaccine?

I suspect it would have been better.

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#10 Ogden Brother
November 16 2009, 11:59AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Even Souray has only had 2 top end years and 1 good year.

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#11 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
November 16 2009, 12:01PM
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Trade for Matt Cullen if this team does plan on making the playoffs. Perfect fit in my mind. Faceoffs are usually over 50% and he plays at both ends of the ice. Not overly physical but big enough he doesn't get pushed around.

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#13 Giggsunited
November 16 2009, 12:04PM
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David Staples wrote:

How recent are we talking about Penner's "less flattering" track record?

This year all his numbers are good, whereas last year only his advanced stats, such as shot differential, were good.

As for the Oilers, yes, I do think the flu hit them hard. Who knows what their shot differential would have been with Souray in the lineup, and if they had all got the vaccine?

I suspect it would have been better.

better? yah maybe but who knows? maybe we need "three" years to evaluate the team?

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#15 jave_911
November 16 2009, 12:09PM
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I think there's a typo on the oilers web page. It says this game is on SNET-W?? i thought they're only on PPV, kinda like UFC.

So is 20 games without MacT enough to realize it wasn't just the coaching? I know trading NHL players isn't like pogs, but Tambi could pull off somthing small to at least show he's not just gonna stand by and watch the same team play the same way they did last year.

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#16 Dyckster
November 16 2009, 12:10PM
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91pts got you 8th place in our conference last year. To get to that level in 09-10 the Oil's record will need to be, 62 games remaining 33-22-7 (assuming we achieve the same number of OTL points we earned in 08-09).

From that perspective, the task seems somewhat daunting. Be that as it may, my arms will fly up with every Oiler goal until the bitter end.

Sigh

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#18 Dyckster
November 16 2009, 12:19PM
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From Tencer's Twitter - "Pat Quinn says Gagner will likely be out tonight with a lower body injury. Team could dress Nilsson in his place or go with 7 defensemen."

Bigger Sigh

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#19 AlbertaRanger
November 16 2009, 12:24PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

To be clear here:

I'm not advocating that fans stop caring about the team, or anything of the sort. But it's good to have an accurate idea of what this club is.

I have now accepted that the Edmonton Oilers are the Toronto Blue Jays of the NHL.

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#20 BUCK75
November 16 2009, 12:52PM
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I think that the need/want of the fans & the organization to be a play-off contender year after year is to blame.

As long as everyone keeps thinking we are 1 move away from becoming a play-off team we will keep having the same results/players.

Something has to change in the fans/organizations perception. Rebuild or get the players we need. Easier said than done, but it will take a huge commitment to do either. Either way you are gutting this team. I have been ripped by some posters on here for wanting to tank - but that is how you get quality players. You don't get to the play-offs by hoping other teams choke down the stretch - you get there by winning hockey games.

Groundhog Day - again. Same as the past 2 seasons.

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#21 Librarian Mike
November 16 2009, 12:56PM
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Dyckster wrote:

From Tencer's Twitter - "Pat Quinn says Gagner will likely be out tonight with a lower body injury. Team could dress Nilsson in his place or go with 7 defensemen."

Bigger Sigh

I vote for 7 defensemen. Hell, go with 8 and take Moreau out too.

*slumps over computer out of sheer weariness*

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#22 SportsDad
November 16 2009, 12:57PM
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Just imagine what the comments would be like if Carolina was our team and we went winless in 14 games.

*looks at all the empty space on the Oilers can still make the playoffs bandwagon* I think we are in for a few more rough games before the ship rights itself and everyone is working in unison again. We haven't had a full\healthy team since the 3rd game and until they get used to playing as a unit, I'll keep drinking the Oiler Happy Sauce and look for Wanye and the end of the Rainbow. I just hope he isn't dressed in the leperchaun suit still.

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#23 Deans
November 16 2009, 12:58PM
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The Oilers are who we thought they were....THEY'RE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!!!!!

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#24 Ender
November 16 2009, 01:08PM
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Librarian Mike wrote:

I vote for 7 defensemen. Hell, go with 8 and take Moreau out too.

Quote of the week nomination.

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#25 danjo1
November 16 2009, 01:15PM
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Dyckster wrote:

From Tencer's Twitter - "Pat Quinn says Gagner will likely be out tonight with a lower body injury. Team could dress Nilsson in his place or go with 7 defensemen."

Bigger Sigh

What's next?? Coaches and trainers getting injured??!? This is getting silly...

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#26 jeanshorts
November 16 2009, 01:17PM
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@SportsDad

And, you know, not to sound "optimistic" or anything, but outside of a few back breaking screw ups over the last few games the team has been playing better. Remember the first Colorado game at Rexall this year? It looked like the entire team was trying to skate up a 70 degree incline. Everyone was standing around. No one was throwing a check. And there were plenty of other games like that. At least lately they've been putting together 40 plus minutes of competitive hockey. They're starting to outshoot and out play teams. Once they can figure out how to work this whole "power play" thing, and a few guys *COUGH O'Sullivan COUGH* find a way to get this damn monkey off their back, I think this squad can start playing up to their potential. What exactly their potential is is still up for debate. As of right now I think 7th is the best we can hope for.

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#27 Hemmercules
November 16 2009, 01:20PM
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Deans wrote:

The Oilers are who we thought they were....THEY'RE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!!!!!

.....and we let em off the hook!

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#28 Brandon
November 16 2009, 01:22PM
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How to fix the Oilers:

1) Make a trade for one or two proven vets, hopefully a shutdown d man, and a face off center. Hopefully Gilbert+ is involved in this.

2) Let's see how a healthy Oilers team can function, if it's anything like what we saw in the first 9 games things are looking good.

3) If all else fails learn all there is to know about this Taylor Hall character, I hear he is kinda good at hockey.

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#29 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
November 16 2009, 01:22PM
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BUCK75 wrote:

I think that the need/want of the fans & the organization to be a play-off contender year after year is to blame.

As long as everyone keeps thinking we are 1 move away from becoming a play-off team we will keep having the same results/players.

Something has to change in the fans/organizations perception. Rebuild or get the players we need. Easier said than done, but it will take a huge commitment to do either. Either way you are gutting this team. I have been ripped by some posters on here for wanting to tank - but that is how you get quality players. You don't get to the play-offs by hoping other teams choke down the stretch - you get there by winning hockey games.

Groundhog Day - again. Same as the past 2 seasons.

~at least mact wont be around to ruin taylor hall!~

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#30 Ccubed82
November 16 2009, 01:46PM
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Great article. I looked at the shot differential, and i was wonder if there was a site that has the average shot to goal differential in the NHL. We were getting outshot by 8 shots a game, would the league, as a whole, score one goal in every eight shots on net? I realize we had a winning record at this time, i think we can safely say that this is thanks in large part to incredible goal tending. Also from the games i have been able to watch i have noticed that the Oil seem to get alot of there shots blocked by the opposition. Is there any way to figure out shots blocked for and against? Would that be part of our problem, we are shooting but the puck isn't getting to the net?

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#31 SirFozz
November 16 2009, 01:49PM
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On the positive side of things- it doesn't cost $16 to watch this team tonight. Sooooooo...yay?

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#32 Homie
November 16 2009, 01:56PM
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Good read Jonathan. I have a question though. How do you define a "proven" NHLer? Smid is in his 4th full year in the NHL, a bunch of the others are into their third year. Most of the players you mentioned would stick with other NHL clubs. To me that is proven, but is there a more quantifiable method you're using (advanced stats, etc.)?

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#33 Chris.
November 16 2009, 02:08PM
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I don't think the trade Hemsky talk is completely delusional. Working the half boards on the PP; Hemsky holds on to the puck... and turns... and turns... and rolls... and then tries to force a low percentage pass cross seam through the box....

Look. Before I'm inundated with angry howls of protest just really watch Hemsky work the PP tonight. He holds on to the puck too long. By the time he's turned in place three times everybody else is standing still. IMO, the puck needs to be kept in constant motion, and the Oilers need to keep their feet moving. IMO, Hemsky's play is also part of the problem. Heck, aside from Smid and Penner... and maybe the goalies: the entire roster needs to seriously elevate their level of team play.

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#34 SportsDad
November 16 2009, 02:09PM
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@jeanshorts

*moves over on the "Oilers can still makethe playoffs Bandwagon"*

I agree with ya Jeanshorts. 7th is a possibility if all the Monkeys leave.

I also think that Hemsky should watch that one game where the oilers went 4 for 7 (I think that was it) on the power play. He has to realize that eventually the other teams will let him spin circles on the 1/2 boards all power play. the last game that was on TV I was watching him and on one power play he had to have done 5 circles, then he got dizzy and made a bad pass and the other team broke out. They didn't pressure him at all cause they knew he would not shoot and eventually try to force a pass. I enjoy watching Hemsky 5 on 5 more so than on a Power play, to me it seems like 2 different players.

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#36 SportsDad
November 16 2009, 02:11PM
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@Chris.

We were on the same Hemsky Rant wave length and posted at nearly the same time. totally agree with you on the assesment of the Powerplay

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#37 MattL
November 16 2009, 02:13PM
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What it looks like to me is that the Oil have been shooting MORE, and scoring LESS. Maybe they need to shoot less, hang on to the puck, pass it around more. That's the value of STATISTICS!!!!

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#38 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
November 16 2009, 02:22PM
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Maybe I'm alone in this assessment, but the thing I'm seeing game-in and game out is that the PK's pressure at the points is really weak. It's nice to see the aggressive PK that knocks the opponent on their ass every once in awhile. I hear the colour guys every game talk about Visnovksy being a surgeon with his stick, so why can't he pressure the pointman into a pass instead of a shot and gamble on a breakout?

Seems to me Khabibulin's doing well enough to deal with quality scoring chances, but it may be wise to limit the total number of shots by attempting to spend more time in the offensive zone on the PK.

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#39 Jason Gregor
November 16 2009, 02:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

To be clear here:

I'm not advocating that fans stop caring about the team, or anything of the sort. But it's good to have an accurate idea of what this club is.

What is accurate?

That they are inconsistent?

They have proven they can win six out of nine or lose nine out of 11...They don't win when they out shoot the opponents, at least not this year.

Are you saying that they have been bad all year? Quinn has been crusty after wins and losses. He doesn't change his pursuit of perfection regardless of the outcome. And that's because he is trying to instill a winning attitude in the room, something that they have lacked.

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#40 Crust
November 16 2009, 02:25PM
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Jonathan: you say this has been a rebuilding team since Pronger etal left. I could get on board with rebuilding, but I don't think that is what management is doing. They chase the pie-in-the-sky star that will single-handedly save the team and take them to the play-offs, while letting useful players like Reasoner and Glencross walk. Doesn't a team that is rebuilding look for, and get, players to fill holes on the team, while nurturing the young players that they see as core players? Like say, Cogs, Smid and Penner. I am fairly new to hockey, but it seems to me management is looking for the "easy pill". That, or I cannot distinguish the difference between a rebuilding team and a do-nothing team. What moves have you seen that would indicate they are rebuilding?

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#41 easymoney
November 16 2009, 02:27PM
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enough with the flu enough with the injury bs this team simply needs to start showing more effort or changes have to be made .

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#42 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
November 16 2009, 02:28PM
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easymoney wrote:

enough with the flu enough with the injury bs this team simply needs to start showing more effort or changes have to be made .

I have a really great idea for a change that needs to be made!

How about the Oilers stop calling up AHLers to fill half the roster spots?

What's that? They can't? Oh, right. Injuries. Sorry, never mind.

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#43 jeanshorts
November 16 2009, 02:39PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

Maybe I'm alone in this assessment, but the thing I'm seeing game-in and game out is that the PK's pressure at the points is really weak. It's nice to see the aggressive PK that knocks the opponent on their ass every once in awhile. I hear the colour guys every game talk about Visnovksy being a surgeon with his stick, so why can't he pressure the pointman into a pass instead of a shot and gamble on a breakout?

Seems to me Khabibulin's doing well enough to deal with quality scoring chances, but it may be wise to limit the total number of shots by attempting to spend more time in the offensive zone on the PK.

That's been my only real gripe with Quinn so far, is he likes to have guys playing the high slot rather than pressuring the point man. It's just as bad 5 on 5 as it is on the PK, but thankfully it doesn't look to have killed this team. Yet.....

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#46 Dan the Man
November 16 2009, 02:50PM
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Hemsky often does hold on to the puck for too long on the PP. This can be effective when done by highly skilled players as it can draw players to them.

Hemsky is the most skilled Oiler but perhaps he's gotten too predictable on the PP

In Colorado we may have just been lucky or maybe the Avs just had no idea what to expect due to the change in personnel

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#47 jeanshorts
November 16 2009, 03:18PM
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@Dan the Man

I think the Oilers PP in Colorado came down to simplicity. They weren't trying to thread passes through 3 Colorado players, or set up a perfect shot. They were passing it along the perimiter, moving around which helped get guys open and created passing lanes and they got shots off from the point while creating traffic in front of the net.

I've said it before, but it's pretty obvious that teams have caught on to the the fact that all Hemsky likes to do on the PP is look for a cross ice pass for a one timer. It's the only thing he ever seems to try. And it's clearly not working like it did 2 years ago.

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#48 HansBaurMesserschmittWatson
November 16 2009, 03:26PM
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we're rebuidling ? we been doing so since 2006, must be building an epic eqyptian pyramid like of a hockey team. cant wait until 2020.

trade horcoff, gilbert and a prospect for a superstar.

trade moreau and staios to a play-off team with cap room, they could make use of them. give us back a young cheap canadian forward with moreau like hockey sense and skill.

trade cogliano for a bigger wing.

trade visnovsky for a younger tougher d-man.

retire pisani.

then start rebuilding.

in all this i feel bad for hemsky, poor kid. we been building with him since 2004. i cant wait to see what we are rebuilding into.

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#49 Robin Brownlee
November 16 2009, 03:47PM
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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.

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#50 LBH
November 16 2009, 03:48PM
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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.

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