Oilers Vs. Wild Postgame: “There Is Some Room For Improvement”

Jonathan Willis
March 16 2010 10:32PM

Oilers: 2

Wild: 4

The title comes courtesy of Gene Principe, who used that term to describe the Oilers season to date. It also applies to the Oilers’ effort against Minnesota tonight; they played miserably for the first two periods, were gifted a 5-on-3 power play which gave them some life, and then reverted back to form.

Oilers Three Stars

1. Sam Gagner. With Ales Hemsky out and Lubomir Visnovsky sent away in exchange for Clubfoot, Sam Gagner has been the Oilers’ best player down the stretch and that held true tonight. In an evening where most of the team had checked out mentally before stepping on the ice, Gagner was sharp in both ends of the rink and was easily the most imaginative Oiler offensively, too. He finished with two assists and now has 19 points in 25 games since January 1, along with a respectable minus-3 rating.

2. Cal Clutterbuck. Yes, that’s right: Cal Clutterbuck. I know if I were Wild coach Todd Richards I’d want to find something blunt and beat him over the head until the stupidity was all poured out. Clutterbuck can be an effective agitator, but he did his very best to giftwrap the game for the Oilers tonight, taking the additional penalty to give them the game-changing 5-on-3 at the end of the second, and then taking another incredibly stupid penalty on a disciplined Theo Peckham with minutes left on the clock. Aside from Sam Gagner, no player on the ice tonight did as much to try and help the Oilers win.

3. Aaron Johnson. A decidedly ‘best of the rest’ selection, Johnson had a relatively low event night where he stood out on account of a couple of smart shots (including a lethal wrister that Harding had to be sharp to stop) and a decided lack of boneheaded own-zone plays.

Of Note

The Sportsnet panel decided early on to praise Andrew Cogliano for his play over the Oilers road trip (where he’s admittedly had his best offensive effort this season) but bizarrely continued to heap the plaudits on regardless of how clueless Cogliano was in his own end. After a great chance in the game’s first minute, Cogliano took a needless penalty and botched a 2-on-1. Those were both relatively trivial sins, but his inability to take the guy in front of the net contributed to two goals against on the evening – and that was decidedly non-trivial.

Speaking of the Sportsnet panel, Mike Brophy’s take on the Craig Anderson signing says pretty much everything one needs to know about him as an analyst – he picked up a paper, looked in the “Transactions” section, and thought, ‘Hey, Anderson might be Colorado’s backup.’

John Scott and Zack Stortini had a running battle before both were set aside in the third period. The linesmen prevented a fight between them in the first period, which I thought was a shame. It took place right after Stortini fired a shot, blew by an ineffective Scott and looked dangerous before Marek Zidlicky bumped him out of the crease. Scott may be huge, but he’s no great shakes as a hockey player.

Tom Gilbert, Man’s Man, must have read Brownlee’s article before playing tonight, because he was as physically aggressive as I’ve seen him. He led off with a vicious hit on Robbie Earl, dumped Owen Nolan, dumped Earl again later on and got into a tussle with Mikko Koivu in the third. Unfortunately, while the physical edge was nice to see, both he and Whitney were decidedly unimpressive in their own end.

Jeff Deslauriers was fairly good through the first two periods, making 22 saves while allowing two goals to keep the Oilers in it, but when the Oilers started applying pressure in the third he came apart, allowing two goals on just four shots.

Ethan Moreau took a brain-dead penalty, cross-checking Clutterbuck three times in the back of the neck despite the fact that a) the referee was standing right there and b) Clutterbuck was a non-threat, but he also drew two penalties with some strong efforts, so he probably deserves some slack (tonight, anyway).

After recording only eight points (and going minus-14)in his first 19 games, Martin Havlat’s come alive for the Wild, recording 41 points and a plus-9 rating over the last 44 games. Barring poor health (always a risk) he’s going to be a key player with Minnesota for the rest of his contract.

I like Theo Peckham. I’ve been a fan of his since practically the first time I saw him play, and he had some good moments tonight, including a great hip-check on Andrew Ebbett and some disciplined play when hit by Clutterbuck late in the game. On the other hand, he also seemed not to realize that Ebbett had snuck behind him on the latter’s goal, and along with Moreau wasn’t far back enough to cover Antti Miettinen on his breakaway (he missed the net). I think he’s going to be an NHL player for a long time, but like both Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene it’s probably going to be a while before he’s a good one.

Marc Pouliot’s been very good since coming back from injury.

And just to end things on a positive note, I’m going to go back to Sam Gagner. He’s been a difference maker on this team, despite a lack of support from other lines and some *ahem* interesting wingers, and barring injury there’s no reason he can’t be a star for the next 15 years. He’s a special player, certainly the best the Oilers have developed since Ryan Smyth, and I have very high hopes for his continued growth. Big picture, he’s the most significant player currently in the system.

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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 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
March 17 2010, 04:01PM
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@ Crash

"While I don't think Gagner has been given prime minutes especially PP minutes with Oilers I think Gagner hasn't just had sheltered minutes with the Oilers...it was in his rookie season that the kid line was pretty much forced to be the top line and from what I remember he made out quite well. I think in fact everytime Gagner has been given an increased role on a scoring line or as a regular on the 1st PP unit he has performed quite admirably. I wish the Oilers would stop screwing around and make him the number one center already...I felt they should have done that last year."

His minutes were shelterd in the fashion that MacT hard line matched to ensure the kid line spent the majority of their time in the offensive zone against weaker competition. (their was a blog somewhere highlighting it)

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#102 Chris.
March 17 2010, 04:08PM
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@Crash

We just disagree... and that's cool. Personally, I see a fair bit of value in having some young, legitimately NHL ready players playing in the AHL... This kind of patience with elite prospects can help foster a winning culture on the farm, creates more internal competition, and gives the organization better overall depth in the event of injury. It's also nice when a player arrives in the NHL closer to his prime and completely ready to make an impact before achieveing RFA status. IMO, there is no real need to hurry along the Eberle's, and Svensson's when the big club is such a mess anyway... I believe the same logic held true three years ago with Gagner and Cogliano.

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#103 Chris.
March 17 2010, 04:11PM
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@Crash

...and now seriously... I simply have to get back to work planning my 2015 playoff outfit!

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#104 Crash
March 17 2010, 04:15PM
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Chris. wrote:

We just disagree... and that's cool. Personally, I see a fair bit of value in having some young, legitimately NHL ready players playing in the AHL... This kind of patience with elite prospects can help foster a winning culture on the farm, creates more internal competition, and gives the organization better overall depth in the event of injury. It's also nice when a player arrives in the NHL closer to his prime and completely ready to make an impact before achieveing RFA status. IMO, there is no real need to hurry along the Eberle's, and Svensson's when the big club is such a mess anyway... I believe the same logic held true three years ago with Gagner and Cogliano.

Yup...we do just disagree and I agree that is cool...I enjoy the debate.

But really, most NHL teams bring their young players up as soon as they are ready unless of course the team is already stock loaded with stars. Even then good prospects don't usually stay down on the farm too long. Most NHL rookies these days don't make huge impacts when they start.

Anyway as mentioned before...I am looking foward to watching these kids and I hope I don't have to wait too long to watch them.

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#105 dunciano
March 17 2010, 06:33PM
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RossCreekNation wrote:

I'd say +/- $2.75mil

I could be ok with that.

Would be happier with # south of that.

Definitely Don't want to see a 3 in front.

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#106 Ryan2
March 18 2010, 09:07AM
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Just saw this blog - Jonathan, while Gagner is a talented young player, he is not the best we have developed since Ryan Smyth. Last time I checked, that player is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

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#107 Archaeologuy
March 18 2010, 09:41AM
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@Ryan2

One thing to keep in mind is that Gagner is 20 years old this season and has already played more than Hemsky at the same age.

Gagner at 20 yrs Old: 220 GP - 44G - 87A - 131P

Hemsky at 20 yrs Old: 130 GP - 18G - 46A - 64P

The year Hemsky was 21 was the lockout, at 22 he had his breakout NHL year with 77P. In terms of development, Gagner is pathing ahead of Hemsky.

I'm not saying Gagner will be better than Hemsky is now, but at the same ages, Gagner is better.

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#108 madjam
March 18 2010, 09:42AM
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It is difficult , if not impossible to get a proper assessment of many that are on the team over last couple of seasons seeing as voids were left and never filled with adequate replacements, only downgrades . Thus , all are still being evaluated on less than ideal conditions . Crap - management still trying to evaluate most of the ones they have made worse instead of better over last couple of seasons . Coaching changes only elongated the process , when it seemed quite evident it was upper management bumbling all along that was the biggest problem . That scenario extends far beyond just the Oilers as you all are aware . Fix management and maybe a proper assessment can be made and these players may develop /progress . Sad when we have to wait for players to go to other teams before we know how they might turn out . Pretty tough to do now with little to no adequate goaltending , defence , forwards and all other things considered . What a bloody mess they have created . You can't assess these players properly when you have given them little tools to help them progress and develop at all stages in the organization ! They used MacT. as their fall guy , and now they are fully exposed . Another wasted year made worse going into next season because they did not see what most avid hockey fans seen at seasons start - the horrific managerial mess . It may be harsh , but i doubt with conditions here and progress stunted that proper evaluations can be made with any certainty / reliability . I don't blame the players like most seem to - i feel sorry for them taking the brunt of criticism when management gave them little to succeed with . Toxic environment in dressing room is the result of mismanagement .

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#109 Pokey Reddock
March 18 2010, 10:23AM
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madjam wrote:

It is difficult , if not impossible to get a proper assessment of many that are on the team over last couple of seasons seeing as voids were left and never filled with adequate replacements, only downgrades . Thus , all are still being evaluated on less than ideal conditions . Crap - management still trying to evaluate most of the ones they have made worse instead of better over last couple of seasons . Coaching changes only elongated the process , when it seemed quite evident it was upper management bumbling all along that was the biggest problem . That scenario extends far beyond just the Oilers as you all are aware . Fix management and maybe a proper assessment can be made and these players may develop /progress . Sad when we have to wait for players to go to other teams before we know how they might turn out . Pretty tough to do now with little to no adequate goaltending , defence , forwards and all other things considered . What a bloody mess they have created . You can't assess these players properly when you have given them little tools to help them progress and develop at all stages in the organization ! They used MacT. as their fall guy , and now they are fully exposed . Another wasted year made worse going into next season because they did not see what most avid hockey fans seen at seasons start - the horrific managerial mess . It may be harsh , but i doubt with conditions here and progress stunted that proper evaluations can be made with any certainty / reliability . I don't blame the players like most seem to - i feel sorry for them taking the brunt of criticism when management gave them little to succeed with . Toxic environment in dressing room is the result of mismanagement .

I don't believe this year was a waste at all. Let's face it. If it weren't for the injuries, the Oilers would be in that log jam between 8-13 with everyone else.

They Probably would miss the playoffs again by 5-6 points, and get a 10-12 pick again.

However, now we are in position do draft where we have never been before, and rebuild properly instead of band-aid the situation every year.

The bad luck with injuries, helped the team to perform even worse, which leads to a great draft pick, and will lead to good luck in the future......with a little luck of course!

Light is at the end of the tunnel; a very long tunnel

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#110 Archaeologuy
March 18 2010, 10:42AM
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@Pokey Reddock

Agreed. This year would only be a waste if the Oil didnt have their draft pick. This year's failures come with a reward. Not so for teams like the Leafs or the Flames (who will miss the playoffs in 9th place and not even have a mid-round pick to help ease the pain)

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#111 Jodes
March 18 2010, 10:44AM
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madjam wrote:

It is difficult , if not impossible to get a proper assessment of many that are on the team over last couple of seasons seeing as voids were left and never filled with adequate replacements, only downgrades . Thus , all are still being evaluated on less than ideal conditions . Crap - management still trying to evaluate most of the ones they have made worse instead of better over last couple of seasons . Coaching changes only elongated the process , when it seemed quite evident it was upper management bumbling all along that was the biggest problem . That scenario extends far beyond just the Oilers as you all are aware . Fix management and maybe a proper assessment can be made and these players may develop /progress . Sad when we have to wait for players to go to other teams before we know how they might turn out . Pretty tough to do now with little to no adequate goaltending , defence , forwards and all other things considered . What a bloody mess they have created . You can't assess these players properly when you have given them little tools to help them progress and develop at all stages in the organization ! They used MacT. as their fall guy , and now they are fully exposed . Another wasted year made worse going into next season because they did not see what most avid hockey fans seen at seasons start - the horrific managerial mess . It may be harsh , but i doubt with conditions here and progress stunted that proper evaluations can be made with any certainty / reliability . I don't blame the players like most seem to - i feel sorry for them taking the brunt of criticism when management gave them little to succeed with . Toxic environment in dressing room is the result of mismanagement .

Well said.

It was really frustrating at the beginning of the year to have a "critical" hockey conversation about the Oilers because of that good start they had. Yes they played well, but the cracks were apparent, and like many of us on this board knew that the Oilers shortcomings would be brought to the surface eventually. Who knew they would have appeared that fast.

I was told "be patient, management is aware and you'll be surprised with the outcome", "have faith", "don't worry, once the flu is gone we'll bounce back", "Quinn will get us into the playoffs and turn Penner, Nilsson and O Sullivan into superstars".

Now nobody could have predicted the flu, but what baffles me is how Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and company completely ignored the basics YET AGAIN to try and land a big star. How did they expect the team to succeed/be competitive with that supposed big star when their PK, PP, faceoffs and overall system was in shambles?

Are they that arrogant and full of themselves that they think this situation will correct itself? Sorry boys, but it won't and can't until drastic action is done.

No wonder most of the players have given up now, their management has given up on addressing their concerns, so why should they bother?

Having no accountability is the biggest thing. I'm afraid there still won't be any after April 12, of the kind we as fans are looking for. There will be another scapegoat, maybe Quinn or Renney to try and deflect their incompetence.

How can we get excited about the future with guys like Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini (I think we are starting to see why Vancouver skipped over him time and time again)and Kevin Pendergast guiding this ship? It really takes a lot of talent I guess to have EVERY SINGLE affiliate to your organization in last place or close to it.. Do they just not care? Do they see it as a plaything? Or maybe just a paycheque?

Do we have the parts possibly in place for a rebuild like Chicago, Pittsburgh or Washington? Possibly, but management needs to be addressed, because right now it seems like they aren't going in that direction, more like towards the Islanders, Thrashers and Panthers.

Again, like many here, if we are rebuilding then we need to REBUILD everything..

That means you too Kevin!

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#112 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
March 18 2010, 11:18AM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Agreed. This year would only be a waste if the Oil didnt have their draft pick. This year's failures come with a reward. Not so for teams like the Leafs or the Flames (who will miss the playoffs in 9th place and not even have a mid-round pick to help ease the pain)

Man could you imagine if we had traded off our 1st in an earlier deal? Wow it would be horrible around here.

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#113 Archaeologuy
March 18 2010, 11:27AM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

Yeah, I cant imagine. I refuse to.

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#114 madjam
March 18 2010, 11:56AM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Man could you imagine if we had traded off our 1st in an earlier deal? Wow it would be horrible around here.

We were frightfully close to doing just that, if we had landed some of those RFA's they were throwing big dollars at . Count ourselves lucky we did not succeed . It occurs to me Oilers had to run a bunch of injuries throughout year just to remain within Cap . Who knows what they are going to do with any new or old signings ? Who knows how many players might have to wallow in the minors next season because of Cap financial and contract problems again ? Our injury woes have been bad for last three seasons , and i'm not sold it was coincidental all the time - i believe some /portion is/was by design .

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#115 Ryan2
March 19 2010, 08:52AM
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@ Jonathan Willis - I would not count on the stats at those ages since Gagner has been given more freedom and ice time than Hemsky was early on. The Oilers took a more patient approach with Hemsky, which is what they should have done with Sam as well (especially with his defensive play which is still very weak).

The biggest difference between the two IMHO is that Hemsky has the speed (and size advantage) to create more opportunities than Gagner. There was a quote from a scout that Jim Matheson mentioned in the Journal a year or so ago regarding Kariya not scoring as much as in the past since the bigger players could skate with him now and that applies to Gagner as well. You can improve your skating a bit with power skating and off-ice training, but like size you really can't teach it.

Take a look at Sam's junior teammate, Patrick Kane, as an example. They are both small skilled forwards (Gagner is a bit bigger than him) but Kane's speed is a huge differentiator between the two.

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