Turning The Oilers Into A Playoff Team

Jonathan Willis
July 15 2009 11:15AM

lin

If we were setting an objective for the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers, what would it be? Obviously, it would be nice to see them contend for the Stanley Cup, but from a practical point of view there are a lot of improvements that need to be made to get there. I think the goal that most fans would be relatively satisfied with for next season is some playoff hockey.

Considering where the Oilers are coming from, I think 8th in the West is a good minimum goal. With that in mind, let’s look at how the team faired in some statistical categories. All of these consider Western Conference teams only (in other words, they’re out of 15), and are ranked in order from best to worst.

  • Goals: 7th
  • 5-on-5 Goals For: 7th
  • ---Playoff Cut---
  • Powerplay: 10th
  • 5-on-5 Goals Against: 11th
  • Shots For: 12th
  • Faceoffs: 12th
  • Penalty-kill: 14th
  • Shots Against: 15th

Now, we could gamble that changing up the coaching staff and continued development by young players are going to help the team – and they very well might. That said, I wouldn’t want to gamble a playoff spot on it; even if both of these changes help, there are certainly roster changes needed.

The most interesting thing about this list is something that gets glossed over or ignored time and time again: the Oilers had playoff-calibre offense last season. In other words, if making the playoffs was dependant on goals scored and nothing else, the Oilers last season were a playoff team.

Could they be better? Absolutely. But goal-scoring did not keep the Oilers out of the playoffs last season. The powerplay was part of the problem, but some simple coaching decisions (like using Dustin Penner in an intelligent manner) make this one of the few areas where the Oilers could see a significant improvement without making wholesale roster changes.

On the other hand, the Oilers didn’t generate a ton of shots; their offense was dependant on making the most of the shots they did get; something they did well last season, probably because of the overall skill level of the team’s forwards. Adding a few players with a greater tendency to shoot – perhaps even from within (late season pickup Patrick O’Sullivan and minor-league prospect Ryan Potulny are both shooters) would help.

Now we get into the things that kept the Oilers out of the playoffs last year: a lousy penalty-kill and poor defensive play. The Oilers PK was second-worst in the Western Conference, and desperately needs to be addressed.

I’ve heard it repeatedly suggested that a change in coaches should fix the penalty-kill, but I don’t buy it because:

  • Craig MacTavish-coached teams have a good track record on the penalty-kill
  • Multiple penalty-killers (Stoll, Reasoner, Greene) were shipped out prior to 2008-09 and were never replaced – and now another one (Brodziak) has been sent out too

Some of the problem may have been coaching, but the likelihood is that this is primarily a personnel issue – something that’s borne out by the Oilers poor defensive play 5-on-5.

Last year, the Oilers ranked 11th in the West in goals against – and they would have ranked worse except for a fantastic performance by Dwayne Roloson; something that’s made obvious by the fact that Oilers’ goaltenders faced more shots than anyone else in the Western Conference.

Something needs to be done to address the fact that the Oilers bled chances defensively. I know this isn’t going to be a popular stance amongst fans (many of whom are still cheering for the vaunted “three offensive lines” concept and looking forward to a new era of offensive creativity under Pat Quinn) but this was and is the Oilers biggest problem. The team is full of young, offensive-minded players with little or no clue defensively and its defensive stalwarts have either been overused (Horcoff) or are questionable due to age and injury (Moreau/Pisani).

The Edmonton Oilers will never be a successful team unless they can find a way to fill their gaping defensive holes.

Unfortunately, filling those holes seems to be a low priority – not just among fans, but also in the G.M.’s office.

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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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#101 Archaeologuy
July 15 2009, 04:34PM
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Dallas wrote:

@ Archaeologuy: What’s wrong with osully we absolutely robbed l.a of him

he was here last year and didnt do paricularly well. How does he improve the club THIS year?

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#102 vern
July 15 2009, 05:00PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: With the roster where it is at the NHL level and the recent depth signings, how is Reddox a substantial loss to the team

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#103 Robin Brownlee
July 15 2009, 05:04PM
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vern wrote:

oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time

Felacio? Isn't he an Argentinian striker?

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#104 vern
July 15 2009, 05:08PM
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@ Robin Brownlee: that was his brother

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#105 hamburgler42
July 15 2009, 05:08PM
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@ Robin Brownlee: Hi-YO!!!!

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#106 Jonathan Willis
July 15 2009, 05:09PM
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@ vern:

It wasn't the sentiment, it was the way it was expressed.

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#107 ScubaSteve
July 15 2009, 05:09PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

vern wrote: oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time Felacio? Isn’t he an Argentinian striker?

I thought it was Italian Ice Cream....

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#108 The Menace
July 15 2009, 05:15PM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

Robin Brownlee wrote: vern wrote: oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time Felacio? Isn’t he an Argentinian striker? I thought it was Italian Ice Cream….

I think you're right - I could go for some felacio right now.

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#109 Robin Brownlee
July 15 2009, 05:20PM
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The Menace wrote:

ScubaSteve wrote: Robin Brownlee wrote: vern wrote: oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time Felacio? Isn’t he an Argentinian striker? I thought it was Italian Ice Cream…. I think you’re right - I could go for some felacio right now.

I remember the night in Chicago a waitress asked me if I'd like a little gelato after dinner. Damn near fell out of my chair.

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#110 ScubaSteve
July 15 2009, 05:27PM
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All I have is a "little" gelato........ :-(

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#111 Ender the Dragon
July 15 2009, 05:27PM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

I thought [felacio]was Italian Ice Cream….

The Menace wrote:

I think you’re right - I could go for some felacio right now.

Robin Brownlee wrote:

I remember the night in Chicago a waitress asked me if I’d like a little gelato after dinner. Damn near fell out of my chair.

Imagine if she'd mentioned that she particularly enjoyed the spumoni . . .

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#112 ScubaSteve
July 15 2009, 05:28PM
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Ender the Dragon wrote:

Imagine if she’d mentioned that she particularly enjoyed the spumoni .

I hear it's good for the complexion....

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#113 The Menace
July 15 2009, 05:36PM
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ScubaSteve wrote:

All I have is a “little” gelato……..

Maybe you spend too much time in the water...

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#114 vern
July 15 2009, 05:37PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I was joking. I'm not the first and certainly won't be the last to make a similar comment. However, If it offended you than I appologize. I wil refrain from simalar comments on your threads in the future.

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#115 Dallas
July 15 2009, 05:44PM
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@ Archaeologuy: Not everyone clicks with a new team and 8 different linemates after 20 games ala line juggling mac.But anybody who seen him play when l.a was here or in l.a knows the kid can play just stating a fact that it's not like tambo has done nothing to improve this team for this year or years to come I expect big things out of the kids this year osully included

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#116 DanMan
July 15 2009, 05:44PM
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My girlfriend thinks Felacio is not as good as Cunni Lingus.

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#117 Librarian Mike
July 15 2009, 06:00PM
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So...Reddox is leaving. I hope it wasn't something we said.

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#118 Reagan
July 15 2009, 07:36PM
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I hoping he renew his passport, and filed for a working visa aboard... Then we have to see him again... :)

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#119 Soup
July 15 2009, 07:39PM
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Late on the post. A couple of rambling thoughts...

As it relates to shots against, I have a theory. Some goalies get into the head of shooters, basically causing said shooter to look for the perfect/impossible angle rather than just blasting away. As much as Roli was a warrier, I'm not certin he struck fear into the hearts of ordinary men. In fact, with those monster rebounds towhich Roli was prone, I'm thinking that blasting away might have been the game plan. There are others (Kipper when on, Roy when playing, and at least during the playoffs Khabi against Calgary) that made 'comsic vilans quiver in their spaceboots' (with props to Rocket Robin).

Re: lines 3 and 4. I really wonder how much trying to carry the team effected guys like Moreau, Pisani, Staios (I know he's a dman, just play along). If they weren't in a position of having to score, would they have been better defensively? Would Moreau taken fewer penalities if he wasn't carrying the weight of the team on his bum sholder? 40 goals may not fix everything, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

The other benefit of having run and gun high octane offense = maybe the Oil would be fun to watch again. Hell, if we're going to lose, at least do it in a blaze of glory. Last year I had one kid turn down tickets to an Oil game because they were too boring and the other tell me that the Flames were fun to watch (may he rest in peace).

Finally for those expecting Tambi to either attract the right (in who's mind?) free agent of go ahead and make that trade to land Gagne or Vinny or Dany or others, make the oil an instant cup contender and have it all done before the 15th of July...

I think there is some suffering from expectations of premature standings elevations. I'd recommend less viagra, more valium.

Deep breath, fingers on temples...

OOOHHHMMM.

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#120 Soup
July 15 2009, 07:55PM
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Sorry - one more thing. Knew a girl in high school that confessed to me some years later that at one time she was going to invite me out to share a cup of felacio. Unfortunately, at the last minute she got nervous - too nervous to ask as...

wait for it

she'd thought she'd blow it...

Badum-ching

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#121 Jonathan Willis
July 15 2009, 11:02PM
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@ vern:

No worries; it's been a bad day and I probably overreacted. Pay me no mind.

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#122 kingsblade
July 15 2009, 11:12PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention

Hasn't Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended?

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#123 ScubaSteve
July 15 2009, 11:12PM
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DanMan wrote:

My girlfriend thinks Felacio is not as good as Cunni Lingus.

And there he is, the guy that takes it too far and ruins it for everyone, glad it's not me today.

The Menace wrote:

ScubaSteve wrote: All I have is a “little” gelato…….. Maybe you spend too much time in the water…

You may have a point, I do live on the Shuswap and have been doing alot of tubing lately. That story may just fly.......

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#124 kingsblade
July 15 2009, 11:18PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Would Heatley help? Certainly. He’d even help defensively by keeping the puck in the attacking zone.

IT doesn't seem as though he's terribly good at keeping the puck at the right end of the rink either though.

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#125 Sandra
July 15 2009, 11:34PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

The Menace wrote: ScubaSteve wrote: Robin Brownlee wrote: vern wrote: oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time Felacio? Isn’t he an Argentinian striker? I thought it was Italian Ice Cream…. I think you’re right - I could go for some felacio right now. I remember the night in Chicago a waitress asked me if I’d like a little gelato after dinner. Damn near fell out of my chair.

And then "comeforth then BingoFuel" ?

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#126 Ogden Brother
July 16 2009, 08:46AM
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kingsblade wrote:

Ogden Brother wrote: Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention Hasn’t Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended?

Not sure, but for the most part people seem obvlious to it as the peanut gallary (and some writers) are constantly chiming in with who strong the defense is (specifically the top 4) and how badly this team needs a 40 goal scorer.

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#127 Cam
July 16 2009, 08:48AM
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I know MacT played Reddox on the first line and now you guys all hate him, but the guy played his heart out for our team and the only thing he did wrong was performing every task the coach gave him.

He deserves better from fans like us. I will miss the "Red Ox".

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#128 Ogden Brother
July 16 2009, 08:48AM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

kingsblade wrote: Ogden Brother wrote: Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention Hasn’t Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended? Not sure, but for the most part people seem obvlious to it as the peanut gallary (and some writers) are constantly chiming in with who strong the defense is (specifically the top 4) and how badly this team needs a 40 goal scorer.

"how strong"

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#129 Ender the Dragon
July 16 2009, 08:50AM
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@ Sandra:

Sorry, Sandra; this was addressed on the 9th.

NonMint wrote:

See, this is why we can never have anyone nice over.

Wanye Gretz wrote:

You know I was just thinking that too. *looks wistfully off into the distance, remembering all the good memories shared with smiliegirl15*

smiliegirl15 wrote:

*rolls her eyes and goes back to work* ~

It takes a special peson to be a regular on the Nation; not just to write on it, but even to read it. Some people apparently have fairly liberal (or illiterate) moms.

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#130 John K
July 16 2009, 11:17AM
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It's been proven time and time again, both in the playoffs and the regular season: NHL hockey is about outscoring.

Improving offence is equally valuable as improving defence, so in terms of improving a team you never say: 'oh my defence sucked so i will improve defence'. The correct move it to ask 'what is the easiest way i can improve outscoring?'.

In other words, it's never a question about what sucks more, it's a question about what is easier to improve in large quantities.

So the Heatley deal makes sense in that he will likely net the Oilers good outscoring returns (arguably noticeably better then cogs/penner/smid - but that's certainly debateable).

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#131 Different John
July 17 2009, 12:03AM
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I'm not worried about O'Sully scoring at a better clip this year. He battled through that slump he was in after getting traded here. Every shot he took that got saved could have been the one where he said "next time I'm passing" but he's got the killer instinct and finally (too late to matter but to my point)potted one. He'll be more comfortable this year and should easily get 20. Hopefully he'll be one of many, but this team isn't stocked with guys that can reasonably get that many.

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#132 Matt Reitz
July 17 2009, 01:23AM
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I'm glad to see that you mentioned both Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene when you talked about the dip in the PK.

I know that Stoll's health was a topic of concern in his last few seasons with the Oil, but he was invaluable to the Kings and their PK this season. With the rule change that brought the face off into the offensive zone, faceoff men are incredibly important to a PK. Say what you want about his concussions and his tendency to break his stick ALL THE FREAKING TIME, but he's a monster on the dot.

Greene was the kind of warrior that always helps on the PK. He made his share of bonehead plays in Edmonton, but thats what YOUNG defensemen do. To go through the hard times, only to trade him as he was ready to make the transition to "legitmate" NHL defender couldn't have helped the kill.

So you asked what the Oilers need to make the playoffs next season... how about a guy that can win faceoffs and a physical defenseman that can clean out the front of the net?

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