The Edmonton Oilers forwards and the possession war

Jonathan Willis
November 25 2013 10:14AM

It’s no secret that the Oilers have been losing a lot of games, and those struggles are reflected in the possession numbers of their forwards. Some – people like David Perron and Jordan Eberle – have done relatively well despite the team around them. Others have floundered badly, and some of the names on that list are extremely surprising.

The Chart

I’ll briefly explain the statistics above, all calculated using five-on-five data collected from ExtraSkater.com.

  • Corsi/60 is the total of all shot attempts for minus all shot attempts against when a player is on the ice, divided into average 60-minute chunks. So in David Perron’s case, in an average hour with him on the ice the opposition averages one shot attempt more against the Oilers than the Oilers manage.
  • On-ice SH% is the percent of shots the Oilers take that go in the net with a given player on the ice. So Jordan Eberle’s 10.3 percent isn’t his personal number; it’s his number plus that of all of his teammates when he’s on the ice.
  • On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except of course that this time it’s goalie performance with a given player on the ice.
  • PDO is the combination of shooting and save percentage, and typically regresses to 100 (though it tends to be a little higher for skilled players and a little lower for fourth-liners).
  • ZoneStart is the percentage of non-neutral zone shifts started in the offensive zone. Here Nail Yakupov’s 68.8 percent means he starts two shifts in the offensive zone for every defensive zone shift he starts.
  • QualComp is each player’s rank among forwards in ExtraSkater’s quality of competition ranking (based on the average TOI of the opposition players each Oilers forward has seen.

Highlights and Lowlights

Taylor Hall has been a Corsi beast for years; this season the Oilers are getting killed with him on the ice. He’s taking on the toughest matchups but clearly needs some help. Interestingly both he and Ales Hemsky have significantly better numbers when they play away from each other.

Jordan Eberle and David Perron are unsurprisingly doing quite well by these numbers, but so too are Mark Arcobello and Ryan Smyth. Arcobello, of course, has been a healthy scratch recently this season and never even got a chance last season because he’s seen as too small for a fourth-line job, while Smyth was given up for dead by many portions of the fanbase. Both guys look like solid contributors here.

Poor, poor Boyd Gordon. Not only is he facing a brutal zone start (he gets more than four defensive zone shifts for every offensive zone draw he takes) but the goalies aren’t making saves (0.865 save percentage) when he’s on the ice. His numbers here are pretty good given the context.

Less good: Dallas Eakins’ physical fourth line. The duo of Will Acton and Luke Gazdic are getting lit up by the opposition; thus far the Oilers have gotten away with it because the goalie has been making saves with that duo on the ice (0.959 save percentage for Acton, 0.982 for Gazdic) but eventually that will stop and these two will get shown for what they are. It’s particularly galling given that they’re playing terrible opponents and getting lots of time in the offensive zone.

An interesting contrast to Acton and Gazdic are Ryan Jones and Ben Eager. Jones and Eager seem less willing to provide the physical play that a guy like Gazdic does, but they’ve done a much better job (in tougher minutes, too) of not letting the opposition ragdoll them in the shots column.

Another unsurprising find: Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner are struggling here. Yakupov's problems in the early season are well-documented, and his Corsi numbers bear it out (and are more damning given the minutes he's playing), while Gagner has of course been problematic since coming back from a pre-season injury.

What else stands out here?

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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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#2 loweblows
November 25 2013, 10:28AM
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I have been wailing incessantly since Arco has been pulled out of the lineup!!!! I live in Calgary and the monkeys at the zoo would be able to figure out that Arco should be in the lineup. What is wrong with this picture??? I don't get it. You need heavies on the 4th but certainly you don't need 3 do you? Give your head a shake Eakins.

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#3 rob
November 25 2013, 10:56AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

Didn't hurt that they played the 25th, 26th and 28th best teams in the league. Against average or better teams they may have far less success even with "HARDWORK".

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

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#5 They're $hittie
November 25 2013, 10:26AM
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This team sucks. Lots to like though. Replace N Schultz, Potter, Larsen, Grebeshkov with Ekblad, Nurse, Klefbom, Fedun.

Let them develop next season in the NHL and get there feet wet. That way everyone is ready when McDavid joins the oilers.

Play off run in 2016.

LOL

here come the trashes.

Oilers fans this is our fault for continuously buying merchandise, and going to games, and giving away generous arena deals, and not holding the organization accountable for an inferior product.

What do you do when you buy a faulty inferior piece of electronics. You take it back and demand a refund.

Over under on Trashes +36.

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#7 Spoils
November 25 2013, 12:30PM
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Joensuu's numbers are terrible. He was great in the preseason. I wonder if he can get back to that.

Sidebar - I'd really like to see Arco back.

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#9 Bubslub
November 25 2013, 10:29AM
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I have heard MacT and the organization are big believers/followers of analytics but is Eakins? Given a lot of the suspect coaching so far I think not. Do you know JW?

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#10 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:47AM
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Thanks for the stats - lots to chew on, little of it good.

Hall definitely has some 'splainin' to do. As does gagner especially when you consider that he wasn't playing during many of the very worst early games.

Is there anyone who can explain why acton is playing and acrobello is not, other than it is flat out nepotism?

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#11 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:54AM
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rob wrote:

Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

Didn't hurt that they played the 25th, 26th and 28th best teams in the league. Against average or better teams they may have far less success even with "HARDWORK".

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#13 rob
November 25 2013, 10:46AM
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Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

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#14 justDOit
November 25 2013, 11:02AM
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rob wrote:

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

And that they got spanked by that 29th place team. SPANKED!

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#16 curcro
November 25 2013, 12:53PM
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When selecting Team Canada it is interesting that management can choose from all the best NHLers to fill out their 4th line. Yet the players they choose are all skill players...

odd... no emphasis on grit.

#freearco

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#17 Romulus' Apotheosis
November 25 2013, 10:54AM
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"What else stands out here?"

One thing most have been looking for is the performance of the players who were essentially the 2line last year (esp. Gagner and Hemsky).

Gagner 5x5 CF%: 11-12 (Renney): 0.489 12-13 (RK): 0.431 13-14 (Eakins): 0.458

Hemsky 5x5 CF%: 11-12 (Renney): 0.504 12-13 (RK): 0.441 13-14 (Eakins): 0.480

Neither are back to Renney levels and Gagner still has a long way to go (injury, early return and small sample size probably explains part of it), but both are clear of RK levels so far. That's a good sign.

Yakupov has also improved from 42.5% CF 5x5 to 45.7.

It is worth noting this improvement.

I also think the sample size is probably too small on Eager to draw any conclusions.

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#18 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
November 25 2013, 11:48AM
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David S wrote:

Please show us any example where throwing three rookie D into an NHL lineup was a good idea. We've done that here in Edmonton with forwards and it hasn't worked out so well. Whereas if you look at most competent teams you might see one or maybe two new guys being broken in at the most. And even then they don't get prime time for a couple of years.

Oilers on the other hand...

#SamGagner

This is what I don't understand about DSF's "the Oilers could have drafted Perron" argument.

I personally like the way they acquired Perron. If they'd drafted him, he probably wouldn't be nearly as good as he is today.

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#19 Jake
November 25 2013, 12:13PM
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rob wrote:

Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

The Oilers were outhit 45-19 by Columbus in the 7-0 game.

http://www.nhl.com/gamecenter/en/boxscore?id=2013020319

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#20 MessyEH!
November 25 2013, 02:44PM
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Could the Oilers be deliberately tanking Acro's season to get a value contract? Or are they just destroying another asset?

For the record NHL07 supports my theory of 4 scoring lines will destroy anyteams forth line goons.

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#22 Oilerz4life
November 25 2013, 11:09AM
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Stats mean nothing. At least we've seen a glimmer of hope lately that the Oilers are on the right track. It may take longer than hoped for, but at least Mac T is willing to make trades. Eventually we will get it together. Remember, we're not a big market club like down in the states. We'll get there, you can pack up your stats and put them in your file cabinet. Its just a bunch of boring garble. Most of those stats represent when the Oilers were riddled with injury, so they're misleading and arent worth the paper they're printed on.

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#23 rob
November 25 2013, 11:12AM
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GDP-Oilers win 6-3,and get another standing O from Rexall!Perron with the hatty and Hall,Ebs and Smyth score the others.

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#24 David S
November 25 2013, 11:41AM
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They're $hittie wrote:

However they arent actively tanking, they are just losing. I believe the three rookies would be an upgrade. Two of them are big and nasty with skill. Unless Hemsky is traded for a power forward that can slot top 9 and some how a top 4 dman (a regular team top 4, not oiler top 4) than we are stuck in limbo. And seeing how the oilers top 6 forwards are not tradable according to Mac T how are we suppose to get these guys. You could move the 1st rounders, but this years is too valuable so it is too late and only an idiot would trade next years if his team sat in a lottery position like the oilers.

Please show us any example where throwing three rookie D into an NHL lineup was a good idea. We've done that here in Edmonton with forwards and it hasn't worked out so well. Whereas if you look at most competent teams you might see one or maybe two new guys being broken in at the most. And even then they don't get prime time for a couple of years.

Oilers on the other hand...

#SamGagner

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#25 Romulus' Apotheosis
November 25 2013, 11:52AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

Thanks for the stats - lots to chew on, little of it good.

Hall definitely has some 'splainin' to do. As does gagner especially when you consider that he wasn't playing during many of the very worst early games.

Is there anyone who can explain why acton is playing and acrobello is not, other than it is flat out nepotism?

Eakins' answer is the standard line of "heaviness."

Meaning, I think it is fair to say he'd play any "heavy" player in the 4C spot (regardless of familial ties) if he had access to him and is basically dead set on not playing Arco on the 4th line.

Arco is basically waiting for an injury or horrible play within the top 9 (at center or on the wing), likely candidate is Smyth but he's playing great so… Arco is out of luck.

The other option is that Acton line finally getting lit up (it's just a matter of time) and Eakins opting for a change… but in that case, I'd expect Lander, Horak, or Pitlick (whenever he's healthy) might get the 4C spot over Arco.

heaviness. It's a disease of NHL thinking.

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#26 Smokey
November 25 2013, 02:22PM
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@Spoils

I would try a Joensuu, Arco, Jones against softer teams such as ourselves... Play them 8-10 minutes a night 5x5 say in a back to back situation and see what you get.

I remember Glencross, Brodziak, Stortini. Only real goon was Stortini. It was the only time in his career he was a consistant NHL'er. My point is why not see if you can have a Chicago fourth line that's effective for more then 5-7 mins a night like Chicago. Acton, Gadzic are AHL'er.

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#27 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 10:50AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I'm really not convinced that 'lots of rookies!' is the answer to 'what fixes Edmonton's blue line problems?'

true, but that seems to be the plan of attack:

miss the playoffs this year, probably miss next year, then make the playoffs in 15-16 and contend in 16-17. The problem is that by then there will be RFA issues all over the place...

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#28 Spydyr
November 25 2013, 11:10AM
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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

- Mark Twain

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#29 Spydyr
November 25 2013, 11:30AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Gosh, if only there was some way to know what Mark Twain was say... WHAT'S THAT THERE IS???

Damn it Mark Twain, you mean you were using statistics yourself when you made that comment! Ugh, well, you were just quoting some guy who... was the President of the Royal Statistical Society?!?!?

Well, then. I guess that little quip doesn't remotely mean what you think it means.

The only stat that really matters are wins and losses.

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#30 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 11:01AM
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rob wrote:

Did not help those 3 teams that they were playing the 29th place team did it?

Boy you sure know how to completely miss a point. The ability of EDM is irrelevent for the purposes of the argument I'm making.

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#33 Smokey
November 25 2013, 11:42AM
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I'd like to see a breakdown of Taylor Hall season when he played center verses wing. Also when he was playing with Sam or Nuge once he returned to his natural position. I think it would paint a tale. I think playing with Ebs and Nuge, he will return to beast form.

Also seeing Arcobello at the top. What can you honestly say that hasn't been said before. Who cares if he is 5'8'', he's running wild with the wolves. Proof Eakins only puts so much stock in advanced stats. But I also admit I am surprised Gagner's numbers are as good as they are though. I thought they would be worse.

Gordon is a beast. Anyone complaining at 3 million right now. Signing was MacT's finest. Full marks. Ridiculous zone starts, and the guy produces. Wish we had two defensively responsible centers with good faceoff percentages playing right now?

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#34 They're $hittie
November 25 2013, 01:37PM
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@David S

I didnt say it was a good Idea, I said it was an upgrade. And While they are all young, Klefbom a mid first rounder has had a few years to develop, Nurse an early first has had an extra year and is ready and Ekblad is an exceptional player and more than physically mature. They are a clear upgrade over the bottom 4 guys we have now.

And since when does this management do anything right other than the perron trade.

Gagner was ready for the NHL period. It was not his development that held him back it was the team situation and five different coachers. Look even today on good teams the best of rookies dont produce the way he did as a barely eligible player in the league. HE was not old for his draft but extremely young. Situational not rushed.

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#35 Joel
November 25 2013, 01:40PM
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How much weight do people put on these moneyball stats? Too many intangibles in Hockey to make them very important. Examples did the other team bring their A game , who was playing that night, who was injured, was it back to back games, hot goalies, bad luck, when they got on the ice.

I personally think that these type of stats are useful once you made a decision only to confirm what you already thought.

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#36 gcw_rocks
November 25 2013, 03:02PM
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Gagner's struggles aren't anything new. In his 8th season, if he hasn't gotten it by now, he won't. Time to shift him to the wing where the defensive responsibilities are less so his offensive gifts can shine without the taint of his weak defensive play in the middle.

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#37 Nj
November 25 2013, 10:21AM
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Fist we need to plat defense.

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#38 BleedingOil
November 25 2013, 10:30AM
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oh if I could take this line from the above stat explanations and go back in time a few threads ago. See pkham, SV% IS truly a Goalie stat.

On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except f course that this time it’s goalie performance.

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#39 **
November 25 2013, 11:16AM
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@Jonathan Willis

Would Arcobello be an effective 4th liner, or would he be better in the second line centre with Gagner on the wing, Yakupov on the other and Ryan Smyth on the 4th line with Hemsky taking his spot with Gordon and Perron and rotating Joenssu, GAzdic and Jones?, would the Oilers be a better team this way?

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#40 **
November 25 2013, 11:17AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually Rob, the Oilers have been at or near the league lead in road hits all season (I say road hits because counting bias makes home RTSS stats difficult to use).

Of note: the Oilers' Corsi has really turned around the last three games, which seems to coincide with Dallas Eakins switching back to a more aggressive puck-pursuit game.

I seem to remember a previous thread where you made the point that if a team has a lot of hits, it's probably because they are chasing the puck a lot, which is not good for possession and scoring chances. I agree with this.

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#41 pkam
November 25 2013, 11:26AM
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Jordan Nugent-Hallkins wrote:

I'd say inferior competition, as JW mentioned above.

You answer does not explain why they get outshot so badly by inferior competition, but somehow managed to outscore the same inferior competition.

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#42 Reg Dunlop
November 25 2013, 11:30AM
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Oilerz4life wrote:

Stats mean nothing. At least we've seen a glimmer of hope lately that the Oilers are on the right track. It may take longer than hoped for, but at least Mac T is willing to make trades. Eventually we will get it together. Remember, we're not a big market club like down in the states. We'll get there, you can pack up your stats and put them in your file cabinet. Its just a bunch of boring garble. Most of those stats represent when the Oilers were riddled with injury, so they're misleading and arent worth the paper they're printed on.

Stats mean nothing? Not worth the paper they're printed on? First off, this internet thing is largely paperless, so...

Secondly, as the Corsi indicates, Smyth has looked like a solid contributor. While everyone with eyesight thought Smyth was done, stats say he has been solid. Is Corsi a reference to ex-oil goalie Jim Corsi? They both are/were of very limited use. Smyth is so done that he would be just as valuable if he took off the skates and played in his boots like a hockey Dad coaching mini-mites.

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#43 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
November 25 2013, 11:33AM
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@pkam

This is true. Now I'm thinking it's Dubey bringing his A game when he sees those four on the ice. I know I'd be a little more on edge with those guys playing in front of me.

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#44 TigerUnderGlass
November 25 2013, 01:54PM
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@Joel

Crazy stats nerds, always trying to judge a player's value based on a single game.

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#45 Smokey
November 25 2013, 02:11PM
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curcro wrote:

When selecting Team Canada it is interesting that management can choose from all the best NHLers to fill out their 4th line. Yet the players they choose are all skill players...

odd... no emphasis on grit.

#freearco

Canada's 4th line in Vancity when it started was Toews, Morrow, Richards I believe. All of them were gritty and skilled. Isn't most teams emphasis on having as many 5 tool players that are skilled and gritty. It just isn't feasible in the NHL obviously because of the talent pool is not as deep. If you have too much skill that lacks the intangibles you got the OIlers. Every player Canada had were top 6 forwards and top pairing defenders.

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#46 Jon
November 25 2013, 10:55AM
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In regards to the high on-ice SV% of Acton and Gazdic, isn't that something that's prevalent year to year with fighter/physical 4th liners?

I remember George Parros for example always having sky high SV% numbers when he was with Anaheim. Shawn Thornton is another example of a 4th liner...Brian McGrattan. I'm not sure why when a guy bleeds shots against their goalie tends to play better. But it definitely looks like there's some sort of trend there just by looking at the numbers for those types of guys. Any thoughts on that?

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#47 Serious Gord
November 25 2013, 11:12AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Absolutely. You can hit the other team a lot when they always have the puck, just like you can block shots a lot when the other team always has the puck.

I like a team that plays a physical game, but not at the expense of puck possession (which is my issue with an Acton/Gazdic style fourth line).

And not all hits are alike. A Clutterbuck hit is very different from a Hemsky hit. The former can have a very positive influence on his teams morale, whereas a laughably weak hit courtesy of Hemsky can have the opposite effect.

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#48 pkam
November 25 2013, 11:17AM
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@JW

Despite the poor Corsi number at ES, the interesting thing is Acton, Gazdic, Jones, and Eager are all positive in the +/-.

In other words, they are badly outshot yet they outscored their opponents.

Any explanation to this strange but interesting phenomenon?

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#49 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
November 25 2013, 11:20AM
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@pkam

I'd say inferior competition, as JW mentioned above.

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#50 They're $hittie
November 25 2013, 11:28AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

At some point, I think you have to say 'no more tanking' and actively try to win. The Oilers have been at that point for a few years now. I think it's pretty clear that MacTavish recognizes this, though so far his efforts haven't worked out.

However they arent actively tanking, they are just losing. I believe the three rookies would be an upgrade. Two of them are big and nasty with skill. Unless Hemsky is traded for a power forward that can slot top 9 and some how a top 4 dman (a regular team top 4, not oiler top 4) than we are stuck in limbo. And seeing how the oilers top 6 forwards are not tradable according to Mac T how are we suppose to get these guys. You could move the 1st rounders, but this years is too valuable so it is too late and only an idiot would trade next years if his team sat in a lottery position like the oilers.

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