Upon further review: Huggy and JDD

Robin Brownlee
December 10 2009 10:25AM

Hands up everybody who didn't make fun of or dismiss Zack Stortini at some point during his first three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers as he grabbed hold of the 23rd roster spot on the team with those scabbed up-meat hooks of his and hung on for dear life.

That's a rhetorical question because, let's face it, everybody did -- I could dig up 10 screens of comments here to prove it, but won't -- including me, even though I should have known better.

After his first 29 NHL games in 2006-07, I had Stortini pegged as a willing but overmatched palooka who'd never be more than a marginal fourth-liner on a team with no depth at forward.

Egged on by Bob Stauffer before he took Daryl Katz's hush money, I fell into the misguided mob of Huggy Bear critics. I laughed out loud at what a no-skill meathead and waste of roster space Stortini was.

I remember Sponge Bob and I carving Stortini a new one for half-an-hour straight during one segment of Stauffer's Total Sports show, one that was broadcast from just outside the Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place. I also recall doing several shoulder checks, wondering if listeners would be treated to the sounds of Zack beating the shit out of Stauffer and I on live radio.

Stortini let it slide.

He's a player

Even though Stortini proved us wrong long ago, I've got to admit I never saw the kind of game he played in Wednesday's 3-2 win over Tampa Bay coming.

He scored the winning goal in the second period, added an assist and traded punches with bloody knuckles soul-mate Zenon Konopka twice. It was his best game as an Oiler, and that's saying something with how well he's played the majority of this season, especially during this unlikely four-game winning streak.

For my money, Stortini, who just turned 24 in September, does more with less ice time than anybody on the Oilers roster. He seldom plays more than 10 minutes a night. He played just 6:22 Wednesday.

He fights. He checks. He does the dirty work. He even takes face-offs. Most of all, as those of us eating crow have come to know, Stortini competes every night. He does what he's told. He's a team-first player.

Given all the discussion about the DFF around here in recent weeks, and the counter-argument that at least some degree of patience is a virtue, Stortini is looking like Exhibit A when it comes to sober second thought and resisting a rush to judgment.

Stop right there

I don't know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he's played since Nik Khabibulin's back gave out because of wallet strain.

Deslauriers, 25, has had games he'd rather forget during that stretch, notably a 7-3 loss to Vancouver, but the body of his work this season tells me a lot of people were wrong about him.

In 13 games this season, Deslauriers is 7-4-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average, a saves percentage of .917 and one shutout. In 23 career games, he's 11-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .910.

I'm not saying JDD is the second-coming of Martin Brodeur or has even done enough, yet, to indicate he can be a top-tier NHL starter, but he's damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as.

His saves percentage in games during this winning streak have been .941, .943, .943 and .964. During a stretch that was supposed to solidify the DFF, Deslauriers has been, for the most part, outstanding.

Hindsight being what it is, I'm guessing GM Steve Tambellini wouldn't have handed Khabibulin his fat four-year retirement package had Deslauriers put together this kind of impressive streak last season. He didn't of course, in large part because Craig MacTavish left him to rot behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Again, clarity often only comes with time.

Just asking...

-- Robert Nilsson was a nice, albeit unlikely, fit with Ryan Stone and Stortini Wednesday, and has been very good overall since returning to the line-up. Is Bobby teasing us again or has he finally, finally, finally figured it out?

-- Tom Gilbert has put the brakes on his struggles through the early part of the season since being paired with Sheldon Souray. With a few more weeks like that, and with Denis Grebeshkov close to returning, should Tambellini start making and taking calls on Gilbert? Or is Grebeshkov the guy to go?

-- Given the way Stortini, Stone and J.F. Jacques are playing, they'd make a killer fourth line and would free up Nilsson for a spot higher in the pecking order. The question facing coach Pat Quinn down the road is: how in the world does he make room for Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani?

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

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A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#201 Jason Gregor
December 11 2009, 10:55AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee:

Cute.

I shouldn't have said "most", I should have said "some".

For instance, when Doug MacLean signed Anson Carter, Carter was coming off a career year in shooting percentage (22.6%). He'd averaged 14.4% the three seasons prior; in Columbus he managed 16.1% and was declared a failure.

When Doug MacLean signed Todd Marchant, Marchant was coming off a career year in shooting percentage (13.7%). He'd averaged 8.5% over his seven previous seasons; MacLean signed him to a multiyear, big-money deal and he only managed 5.9% in Columbus.

These were simple, simple decisions that any idiot could have looked at and said, "Doug, these guys aren't going to score the way you're signing them to."

Alexei Kovalev, a career 12.1% shooter, hit 15.2% in his 35-goal year with Montreal. The next year, he dropped back to 12.4% and was labelled a bust.

Now, feel free to tell me I'm wrong here, but doesn't it seem like a little teency bit of looking at the statistics might have been helpful to MacLean or the folks in Montreal?

No one in Montreal called him a bust for his production, but rather his lazy-ass attitude. He'd had 37 and 44 goal seasons even before his 35 goal season. No one has to look at stats to figure out that Kovalev was always an enigma. He was consistently inconsistent.

THe reason Montreal didn't re-sign him was his age and how much he wanted. Smart decision.

How would have statistical analysis helped them considering he was in the last year of his contract last season.

Mclean is like most GM's when they sign a free agent, they over pay and rarely does the player pan out. ANd yes the Marchant signing was horrendous, but every one in hockey said that at the time, and you didn't need to look at SH% to figure that out.

Sure stats can help, but while you used Kovalev's average has your basis, it is clear by his numbers that he would fluctuate between two-four% every season. So the fact he went from 15% one year down to 12% isn't that big of surprise, since he'd went from 10% up to 14% one year and another year he went from 12% to 16%.

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#202 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2009, 10:58AM
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@ Ogden Brother Jr.:

If Brule can be signed to a reasonable deal he'd be worth keeping.

As for what I thought of him, Wanye and I actually did a four-part post here that I can't seem to find. Here's what I said about the trade that brought him here on Copper & Blue:

Update II (Fun Comparisons): In 2002-03, at age 21, Raffi Torres had zero goals and five points in seventeen NHL games, to go along with 40 points in 50 games at the AHL level. He was a 6th overall pick who had yet to show his offensive touch, and the Oilers dumped salary in Janne Niinimaa to acquire him and project forward Brad Isbister. The next season, Torres scored 20 goals. And no, I am not saying that will happen with Brule, but I am saying it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Brule bounces back.

Desjardin's league equivalency (using his AHL numbers from last year) had him in the 10-15 goal, 20-25 point range, and my guess was that he'd manage that in a fourth line role. So he's exceeded (by a fair bit) my pre-season expectations.

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#203 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2009, 11:09AM
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@ Robin Brownlee:

This may surprise you, but I don't actually have a list of people who I figure I'm smarter than.

And if I did, you wouldn't be on it.

Don't get me wrong; I've got a healthy ego and I think I'm a pretty bright guy, but I'm also not yet 25 and based on the number of things I've picked up over the last year - from various places - I've got plenty of learning left to do.

Not only that, but you've called me (correctly) on things at least twice in the last month; most recently on the Tambellini injury article I did, where you made a pretty shrewd point about how we didn't know which questions the reporter asked. You were bang on about that, and I made a mental note to keep it in mind in the future. So some of that learning has come from things you've said here, both directly to me and to other people, so I'd have to be incredibly arrogant to say I'm a smarter guy than you. You also called me above on my use of the word "most", which was a misstatement on my part and (another) good reminder that I need to be a little more careful to word things the way I mean them rather than the way that gives the most dramatic effect. Of course, it makes sense that I'd pick stuff like that up from you; you're a professional journalist who has been writing about hockey for what, 25 years?

As for G.M.'s, I don't see enough to honestly tell you that I'd be better at their jobs than most of them. I do know that I hated the Wade Redden deal in New York, and that I wouldn't have risked the money or term Sather did on Gaborik. I know I wouldn't have made either the Latendresse deal or the Gomez deal if I were sitting in the G.M.'s seat in Montreal. I wouldn't have risked the money or term that Tambellini did on Khabibulin, either. I've already said I wouldn't hire me for a G.M.'s job, but I look at certain deals and I'm forced to wonder what these guys were thinking.

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#204 Jonathan Willis
December 11 2009, 11:15AM
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@ BarryS, Jason Gregor:

First off, Jason, your point on Kovalev sounds similar to the one I'm thinking (though maybe I'm expressing it badly). There's a ertain level we can expect him to be at (his career average) and he'll fluctuate up and down from there. When he's doing better, we don't want to imagine that as his true level, and when he's doing worse we don't want to write him off either.

Injuries, confidence, commitment; all these things play a role in fluctuation - as does luck - but at the end of the day we expect him to return to the form he normally shows.

And the fact that an observer can see that without stats isn't an indictment of the statistics; it's as it should be, since a competent observer and accurate statistics should show similar things. This isn't about replacing one with the other; it's about checking observation with statistics. So, to keep using the Kovalev example, someone who only saw him in 2007-08 might have thought too highly of him, but talking to either a) someone who has watched Kovalev over his career or b) a guy looking at shooting percentages should have helped him to appreciate that Kovalev probably shouldn't be expected to maintain that level of play.

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#205 michael
December 13 2009, 03:01PM
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Your about face on Zack Stortini is laudable. He is what he is. And will remain so regardless of critisism or plaudits. I myself felt the same way up until this season. Zack gets it. And by it, I mean his role and his place on the team. He knows he isn't going to be given 18 minutes a night; so he makes do with what he is given. Good for him. I tend to see him as Kevin McLelland type of player. Has a way to go in terms of his overall game. His footspeed is adequate, his hockey sense improving and his gamesmanship has risen to another level this season. Take for example the "3rd man in " the other night. Souray is coming off a concussion that saw him miss a good chunk of time. Zack read the situation and immediately took on his role as enforcer. If its a trade off between Zack and Souray I know who I'd rather have fighting. Zack is growing. Qunn likes his work ethic and coachability. The maturation of Zack Stortini is in its infancy. But I believe that Zack will prove to all of his critic's this season that he can and will be a valuable player to this team.

teammate michael

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#207 Kenneth Brown
December 15 2009, 04:54AM
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What is with Souray's play over the last few weeks. He read the crowd and the papers, and went after Dany H when the Sharks came to town, leaving his D position undefended, has taken several questionable penalties, isn't finding holes with his point shot, and got the boot for bad temper the other night against St. Loo. While he's still making some space on the ice for his teammates, he seems to be making more wrongheaded plays than at any time last year. I don't believe my imagingation is playing tricks, but I don't hear or read any commentary on this --to me-- painfully obvious fact.

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