Ryan Whitney, MVP

Jonathan Willis
December 18 2010 02:20AM

On an Oilers team with more than a few pleasant surprises, it is the play of Ryan Whitney that stands out more than anything else to me. The 27 year-old defenceman leads the Oilers in a variety of statistical measures, and I think that to date he’s easily been the most valuable player on the team.

On a team with what might be the weakest blue-line in the league, Whitney has been a stalwart. His 18 minutes and 38 seconds of even-strength ice-time leads the team. His 2:43 shorthanded per game is six seconds less than team leader Tom Gilbert. No player sees more than the 4:35 a night Whitney puts in with the man advantage. He leads or is tied for the team lead in total points, even-strength points, short-handed points, and sits just two back of Kurtis Foster for the lead in power-play points. At plus-12, he’s the lone Oiler in double-digits by plus-minus, and has more than double the next best player (Ales Hemsky, plus-5).

To be sure, Whitney’s had some breaks along the way. As the team’s premiere offensive defenceman, he’s been getting more offensive zone starts than anyone else on the blueline. He’s also generally seen second-pairing matchups, while Tom Gilbert has been cast in the role of top shutdown defenceman (that is, when the two have been played apart).

Then again, Whitney’s been shuttled around the line-up, used by head coach Tom Renney as a band-aide to help whatever defenceman is struggling at the moment. After a rough patch, Tom Gilbert started looking better after playing with Whitney. There isn’t a defenceman on the team that hasn’t seen a significant amount of time on a pairing with Whitney.

At his worst, Whitney’s been passable; at his best he’s been significantly more than that. I’m going to quote Derek Zona’s take on his performance against Columbus the other night:

Ryan Whitney may have put on one of the best performances by a defenseman in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. He had two assists and three shots on goal. He was a +4 on five even strength goals. He was on the ice for five of Edmonton's six goals and none of Columbus' three goals. He did all of this while paired with Jason Strudwick.

Whitney has been everything anyone could have expected, and then some.

That said, I have trouble seeing Whitney’s offensive breakthrough continuing.

In 2007-08, Ryan Whitney scored 0.88 points for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time he played, all of them with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2008-09, Whitney was dealt midway through the season from Pittsburgh to Anaheim, but his even-strength offence remained unchanged, at 0.89 PTS/60. In 2009-10, Whitney was dealt yet again, moving from Anaheim to Edmonton, but once more his even-strength offence was untouched; he scored 0.84 PTS/60. Three seasons, three different teams, but through it all Whitney remained a consistent scorer at even-strength, always tallying between 0.84 and 0.89 PTS/60 at even-strength.

To date in 2010-11, Whitney is recording 1.70 PTS/60 at even-strength, or roughly double what he’s done in each of the previous three seasons. Maybe he’s broken out at the age of 27, but I personally believe he’s going to cool off a bit. 1.70 PTS/60 is an elite number; since 2007-08 it’s been topped only once, by Mike Green with a 1.77 PTS/60 in 2009-10. A lot would have to break right for Whitney to keep up that kind of pace.

I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts, however. And I trust I’ll continue to enjoy his solid play for a long while after that.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 Corsby31
December 18 2010, 02:32AM
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Fist real MVP we have had in a while...

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#2 oilers2k10
December 18 2010, 04:44AM
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I've said it before, Ryan Whitney is a franchise defenceman for this team.

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#3 SAVE_ME.222
December 18 2010, 06:04AM
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Go Whitney Go!

It's amazing how a change of scenery (Anaheim-Edmonton) can work wonders for your career.

Whitney will surely flourish for the Oilers for many seasons to come, and he's also deserving of that "A" he wears proudly on his jersey.

Whitney is the Oilers' bonafide MVP, unlike teacher's pet, Khabibulin.

;)

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#4 WheresYourTowel
December 18 2010, 06:17AM
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I guess I'm not the only one who breathes a sigh of relief every time R.W. gets back on the ice.

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#5 Oilcruzer
December 18 2010, 07:22AM
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That be a trade that worked for both teams. Lubo has fit in well.

It's funny when tv shows the bench after he gets glorious opportunity after the other, and misses it. It's kept everyone loose with smirks.

Success points to coaching. The team system of pushing the stretch pass and jumping up also helps. That and Ray was behind other D in Pittsburgh and especially in Anaheim for prime p.p. time.

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#6 Stocc
December 18 2010, 07:48AM
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Here's hoping this guy sticks with the Oil for as long as he plays hockey.

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#7 Rob...
December 18 2010, 08:29AM
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Isn't this his first season with two healthy feet?

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#8 Slick
December 18 2010, 09:42AM
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As much as I liked the play of Lubo with this club, Whitney just seems to fit the framework a little better. He seems to have a real chemistry building with some of the young guns, and brings a bit more physicallity than we would have seen from Visnovsky.

I wouldn't be surprised to see him keep up with his production numbers, especially if he starts to cash in some of the scoring chances he gets!

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#9 VK63
December 18 2010, 10:32AM
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Imagine how good his stats would be if the guys buried even half of those breakaways he feeds them.

Hes a beauty interview as well, all bostonian.... all the time, honest, opinionated, self deprecating and he wants to be here. I love how he evaluates the teams future and the promise ahead.... plus as an added bonus every measure of success RW has is one more kick to the nards of that douche Carlyle. And who doesnt love that?

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#10 Racki
December 18 2010, 10:53AM
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I think Whitney had some rough going early on, so I wouldn't call him MVP. He struggled with moving the puck and things looked a bit off. I might just have overly high expectations for him, but aside from chalking up a pile of assists, I hadn't really seen much MVP there in the first 15-20 games or so. He's starting to get back into Whitney form (at least the Whitney that we saw last year, which I thought was FANTASTIC), but I'm more sold on the defensemen who take care of business in their own end first (like "Teddy Pickman").

I think in the end, Whintey will find the balance though. I think right now he reminded me of the player whose name shall not be named... trying to find the right mix of offense and defense.

Whitney's failures (at least in my eyes) in the beginning could also have been due to system problems... players not all being on the same page. But early on, I could have come out sober if I played the drinking game of taking a drink anytime one of our d-men was within 10 feet of Khabibulin - Whitney and Gilbert definitely included.

Oh and FYI, MVP status is reserved for Khabibulin already (according to Tambellini :P), don't you know??

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#11 freeze
December 18 2010, 10:54AM
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Rob... wrote:

Isn't this his first season with two healthy feet?

Probably first in a long time. I'm sure it makes all the difference. I was hoping Stauffer would ask him about that when he was on Oilers Lunch yesterday. Good interview though, check it out here: http://www.theteam1260.com/podcasts/oilerslunch.aspx Beginning of hour 2.

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#12 Adam D
December 18 2010, 11:00AM
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Racki wrote:

I think Whitney had some rough going early on, so I wouldn't call him MVP. He struggled with moving the puck and things looked a bit off. I might just have overly high expectations for him, but aside from chalking up a pile of assists, I hadn't really seen much MVP there in the first 15-20 games or so. He's starting to get back into Whitney form (at least the Whitney that we saw last year, which I thought was FANTASTIC), but I'm more sold on the defensemen who take care of business in their own end first (like "Teddy Pickman").

I think in the end, Whintey will find the balance though. I think right now he reminded me of the player whose name shall not be named... trying to find the right mix of offense and defense.

Whitney's failures (at least in my eyes) in the beginning could also have been due to system problems... players not all being on the same page. But early on, I could have come out sober if I played the drinking game of taking a drink anytime one of our d-men was within 10 feet of Khabibulin - Whitney and Gilbert definitely included.

Oh and FYI, MVP status is reserved for Khabibulin already (according to Tambellini :P), don't you know??

Peckman has actually struggled in his own zone in terms of shots and chances. He's doing well for his age, but he's hardly our best guy. He Might make the top three by virtue of playing for a horrible blueline.

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#13 Alex
December 18 2010, 11:29AM
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Just curious why you constantly quote Derek Zona. No one knows who he is. Whitney's game wasn't even close to greatest in Oiler history. Wasn't even his best game of the year.

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#15 Alex
December 18 2010, 11:43AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Alex:

Constantly?

Also: "may have" "one of"

Constantly..."regularly occuring"....

That is what it means and that's what you do. Seriously, no one knows who he is. You are the only one who mentions him.

And may have or one of...infering that it was close. It wasn't even in the ballpark my man. His assists happened in his own zone. He also missed to glorious chances to score. Sorry man, I like your stuff, but it loses impact when you quote people no one knows, and clearly don't know the true history of the team.

Just my opinion.

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#16 Robin Brownlee
December 18 2010, 01:28PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Alex:

Constantly?

Also: "may have" "one of"

He's cited often enough, and it's largesse in the extreme because it's pretty much a one-way street, even allowing for your affiliation with the site in question.

There seems to be a fair amount of ridicule and criticism pointed at writers here on that site.

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#17 Oilers89
December 18 2010, 01:30PM
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Great article Willis, I have to say Whitney has been very special, he is very calm with the puck which Is good to see out of one of our defenseman, the rest of them always seem to panic with the puck. He is playing at an elite level right now IMO, and is at a level that I did not expect.

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#18 The Towel Boy
December 18 2010, 01:52PM
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I find I don't really even notice when R.W. is on the ice...and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

He's solid in the d-zone and makes great plays in transition into the o-zone. He never really makes me face-palm myself like most of the other d-men on this team. (Read: Jason Strudwick)

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#19 Racki
December 18 2010, 03:31PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

He's cited often enough, and it's largesse in the extreme because it's pretty much a one-way street, even allowing for your affiliation with the site in question.

There seems to be a fair amount of ridicule and criticism pointed at writers here on that site.

There's a strange amount of criticism pointed at writers here from other writers here too.

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#20 Robin Brownlee
December 18 2010, 04:12PM
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Racki wrote:

There's a strange amount of criticism pointed at writers here from other writers here too.

Saying Willis is being extremely generous in citing somebody at another site who doesn't reciprocate the bumps he gets here -- it's the truth, whether you like it or not -- is hard-line and unfounded criticsm, isn't it? Gimme a break.

Why am I not surprised that somebody who took a run at me over on the Oilers site board over "Brownlee's Irritants" on Gregor's Show -- you are either too dim to realize it was schtick, a gag, a bit or you did realize it and took the shot anyway -- would come up with this.

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#21 Oilers4ever
December 18 2010, 07:33PM
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I don't know how anyone can think he'll cool off so long as he continues play when Hall and Ebs are on the ice.. so long as he's feeding those guys or even Pens and Hemmer when he returns along with MPS and Omark, it's not going to stop... one way or another, he's on the ice with a group of forwards who can score.. so I think the comment to make isn't whether Whitney will slow down.. it's if the guys he's been feeding go cold... even in the games when the Oil were only getting one or two goals, he always seemed to get a point... Whitney will have over 60 points when the season is done and, based on the team he's playing with, if that continued, should get some serious votes for the Norris Trophy....

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#24 Alex
December 19 2010, 03:14PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Robin Brownlee:

There certainly is criticism, but I think you might have the direction of that one-way street wrong.

Oilers Nation is on Copper & Blue's blogroll. The reverse isn't true. That's Wanye's decision, and I'm fine with it, but I'd be surprised if we send more traffic that way than comes into Oilers Nation from C&B.

That's confirmed by a quick look at their referral counter.

People don't go there, because it isn't worth going to JW. Outside of your articles, the rest is very weak.

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