ONE-TRICK PONY

Robin Brownlee
November 26 2013 07:23PM

I'm not sure where the Edmonton Oilers would rank if we rated NHL teams one through 30 based on the offensive skill and prowess of their of top-six forwards, but I'm confident they'd sit higher than 30th or 29th or 24th, which is where they've finished in the standings these past three seasons.

While the Oilers stack up pretty well – on paper if not in actual on-ice production -- in top-six flash and dash with the ability to send Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner out the gate, they are so lacking in other dimensions you get what we have here as they head for Nashville with a 7-16-2 record.

If opponents match Edmonton's level of offensive skill on the top two lines – and there are several teams that can – the Oilers are screwed because if they can't coax teams into a track meet or a no-hitter, they don’t have another way to get the job done, to win games.

The Oilers aren't big enough or gritty enough to win games that turn into a physical battle. They aren't mentally tough enough to prevail in a test of wills. They aren't remotely close to defensively sound enough to lock things down in tight games. They lack gamesmanship. They don't have a goaltender who can consistently outperform the guy in the crease at the other end of the rink.

It's been said countless times. We've seen it play out time after time the past three seasons, including last night in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The mix is wrong. Plenty of reasonably skilled and undersized forwards, not much else to bring to the table. This is not stop-the-presses stuff for fans, media or GM Craig MacTavish. All this we know.

THIS JUST IN . . .

Knowing what's lacking, obviously, is one thing. Doing something about it, changing the mix of personnel and adding different dimensions to the meat of the roster, not the fringes, is quite another because MacTavish hasn't managed to pull it off so far with an eighth straight year out of the playoffs on the horizon.

Until MacTavish does that, until coach Dallas Eakins has a different roster of players from which to assemble his line-up, anything he does right now is, to borrow a threadbare cliché, akin to shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. This team, as assembled, isn't going to compete for the playoffs. Not this season. Not next season. It's not going to happen.

Again, this is not a revelation. That, I suspect, is what frustrates Oiler fans most. Does MacTavish need more time to change the make-up of this team? Sure he does. He's been on the job as GM for months, not years. Fact or not, that's a tough sell for fans who've been faithfully buying tickets for decades. They've been more than patient.

That isn't MacTavish's fault, but it most certainly is his problem. Changing the make-up of this team, assembling the right mix, is either going to take a lot more time or the kind of "bold moves" MacT talked about when he took the job. That, in the end, is going to mean taking a player or two from that talented group of forwards and turning it into the necessary pieces.

Time, I'd suggest, is not on MacTavish's side. That leaves bold. My sense is that, while nobody wants to part with one of thoroughbreds up front, they've seen enough of the same damn thing for years on end to have the stomach for it if the return is right. Until that happens, this one-trick pony of a team isn’t going anywhere, except in circles. It's a carousel of false hope.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
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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#102 bdiddy18
November 27 2013, 11:33AM
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Or you could wait to allow teenagers to grow into their adult sizes ??

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#104 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:52PM
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I don't know whose fault it is - the most frustrating thing I see when watching one of their games is the amount of time spent in the Defensive Zone vs Offensive Zone.

I think they're getting the puck out better this season but it's still coming right back in.

A couple high end defencemen would change the balance a little but if they can't keep possession in the attacking zone, there are going to be some tired and frustrated players by the end of the game.

Thus, we don't have a very desirable market free agents; thus, we're back in that Catch-22.

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#105 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:57PM
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Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

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#106 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:59PM
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Sorry for double-posting.

I click the button, Wait a minute. Nothing happens - so I click again and

Presto!

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#107 sikandar
November 27 2013, 02:10PM
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Brownlee, as you've mentioned, nothing you've said here is new (and with no disrespect, nor is it really worth repeating for the tenth time).

I'm wondering, with your years of experience, what do you think the delay has been from MacT's side? A lack of trading partners due to positioning? A recognition by other GMs that we're dealing from a position of weakness? And if you were running the team, who do you think is the piece that moves to get us that rounded winning team (or do you think it's multiple moves?).

An article with the above insight would be a welcome contribution rather than a rehash of a problem we've known about for what's been a very long time.

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#108 A-Mc
November 27 2013, 04:17PM
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Pucker wrote:

Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

You make a good point. As soon as the Oilers are pressured, they start doing no-look chips off the boards just to clear the zone. A Significant amount of the time, it results in a turn over with the puck coming right back in.

Instead of taking that extra split second to look at where they are tossing the puck, they blindly turn it over repeatedly.

Although - being able to maintain possession when someone is on your Can, has a lot to do with size and strength. If you're out muscled, your best bet IS to bail it before you're pressured.. SO size does play a role to some degree.

I would definitely say that the no-look chip outs are a bad habit that the Oil need to work on.

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#109 S cottV
November 27 2013, 04:29PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not......and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, .......and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

I've said it before and got trashed but if somehow Phaneuf and the Leafs dont fully connect and there is some way to get him to take a little less to play at home for a run at the cup - maybe something to look at? I know there may be apparent baggage but what other established top pairing d man is around that wouldnt mind living in Edmonton - and would fight for a deep seeded home cause? Falls under MacT's take a risk program - for sure. But - if you coach some of the giveaways and bad hits, out of his game and maybe a little of the wrong attitude (has a lot of the right attitude) - he is a legit home grown stud d man. Problem is - he's playing too good right now and the Leafs may pay most of the price being asked to keep him.

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#110 oildrops
November 27 2013, 04:31PM
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The problem is the coaching staff, problem solved. it's also more complex then that.

or

It could be the goalies fault for not stopping the pucks from going in the net? I think that sounds better.

or

maybe we have to stop watching the puck and start forcing turnovers and make teams play our game.

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#111 S cottV
November 27 2013, 04:42PM
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S cottV wrote:

I've said it before and got trashed but if somehow Phaneuf and the Leafs dont fully connect and there is some way to get him to take a little less to play at home for a run at the cup - maybe something to look at? I know there may be apparent baggage but what other established top pairing d man is around that wouldnt mind living in Edmonton - and would fight for a deep seeded home cause? Falls under MacT's take a risk program - for sure. But - if you coach some of the giveaways and bad hits, out of his game and maybe a little of the wrong attitude (has a lot of the right attitude) - he is a legit home grown stud d man. Problem is - he's playing too good right now and the Leafs may pay most of the price being asked to keep him.

Here is an excerpt from a Toronto newspaper reporting on the Phaneuf contract negotiations "No question, he is Toronto’s best defenceman, someone who is used on the power play, penalty kill and to shut down the other teams’ top lines. In that role, he has the Leafs’ best possession numbers, with Phaneuf on the ice for more shots for than shots against." Geez - wouldnt that be a few attributes we could use in an Oiler uniform?

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#112 Rod from Viking
November 27 2013, 06:02PM
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S cottV wrote:

Agreed - he competes but is not at a top 2 lines level, Gordon more upside in the 3rd rotation and Arcobello is not really a 4th line centreman kind of guy. He probably deserves to play on demonstrated merit but where?

There is no reason Arcobella can't be a fourth line center, put one of the Ryans on his left side and I think he would do just fine, he wins face-offs, cycles the puck well and is an excellent penalty killer. The fourth lines job is to create energy,keep the puck in the other teams end so you don't get scored on and of course give the other lines a rest.

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#113 madjam
November 27 2013, 07:26PM
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Cru Jones wrote:

I hear this argument a lot and I have to disagree. It's impossible to gauge how the Wings, who aren't all that great right now themselves, would behave with the sort of picks the Oilers have had because they've never had them. If you think the Wings would be keeping players like Yakupov, RNH and Hall in the minors, I think you're mistaken. The guys that the Wings have seasoned in the minors are the same sort of picks that Edmonton is doing the same thing with, ie: Lander, Hartikainen, Gernat, etc.

I'm not arguing that Edmonton's high picks wouldn't have possibly benefited from time in the minors, I just don't think it's realistic to point to the way another franchise handles picks in the 20-100 range, and say that's how it should be done for guys drafted in the top 5. If you look at Edmonton's players drafted in similar spots (Petry, Pitlick, Lander), Edmonton is arguably doing the same thing as the Wings.

Almost all our youth played close to half season in minors due to lock out , Eberle even longer . Yakupov is only one that didn't . So why does everyone say they should have started in minors when they already had ? Canned excuse for some I guess , but ignorant of their time there .

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#114 Saytalk
November 28 2013, 05:59AM
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Philadelphia is interested in Eberle and they have a few players that would improve the Oilers' mix. MacT should be talking to them.

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#115 vetinari
November 26 2013, 08:02PM
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"That isn't MacTavish's fault, but it most certainly is his problem."

Best summary that I've seen regarding MacT's current situation.

It's really been a long vicious cycle-- the team performs badly so player value is low in any potential trade. Thus, when we finally get a GM willing to make moves, he can't unless he moves a core piece. But if the team was doing well, we wouldn't need to trade. And UFA's typically don't want to go to underperforming teams unless they are getting overpaid to do so.

I strongly suspect that one of the kids will be gone by mid-summer next year. I just hope that it's for the right pieces which can get us some wins. The Perron trade does give me some hope that MacT can actually win a trade and improve the team, but I suspect that no meaningful change can come without playing two or three big chips at the same time (such as this year's likely top 3 pick or one or two of the kids in one or more trades).

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#116 Ryan2
November 27 2013, 08:58AM
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Rod from Viking wrote:

What is concerning me is the lack of compete which was lip serviced would not happen, I am getting so tired of the 2 hour drive home after watching a game like the Chicago game and the many others like that the last 6 years. I am a Taylor Hall fan but he is playing like someone that knows this team is going no where fast and is tired of this losing culture. I think Mac T made a big mistake saying we are going to keep this core of small skilled players and add to it, the most unfortunate thing is when the do decide they need to trade one of these players they will be eating some of the contract to get it done.

They compete less this year than they did last year under Kruger - that much is evident. This was MacT's first big mistake. From what I can see, the team is worse away from the puck and is not willing to play as hard as they did last year.

If MacT were smart, he would have said Kruger has another year while he assesses the staff instead of throwing his perceived boy wonder coach into the fire. Sure, a GM wants to bring in his guy, but if it was clear to most of us that the Oilers were not a playoff team then it should have been to the team's "braintrust" as well. At that point, keeping Kruger on for another season was the safest bet - if the team did better than expected you looked like a genius GM, and if it floundered as expected you could pin it on the coach.

Now MacT has backed himself into the corner where his team does not appear to buy into what the coach is selling AND is not competing as hard as they did for the old one.

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#117 Larry
November 27 2013, 10:31AM
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hockeycrazed wrote:

Not trying to be anything, man! Just trying, which is more than I can say about some of the over-paid bystanders the Oils have right now. But it's true isn't it? What I'm afraid is, management's going to trade for, under pressure, a 30 something, over the hill D-man, leftovers that his team don't need no more, and at the same time give away a legitimate prospect or two away!!! Heck, they gave Smid away for almost nothing! If they are going to do that, then might as well start playing their prospects here in Edmonton, at least they'll find out first hand whether they're prospects or suspects!!! At least die-hards like us could have a taste of what the futures is, rather than hear about how good they are playing for the other teams!!! Right?

Yeah, your right. Good points. At this point, what do we have to lose? We can't get any worse. (Well we could but there's only one last place team). It's so frustrating. I've been a fan since 85' and after the glory years we iced pretty good teams but were constantly losing good players cause of money. Now, post salary cap era we have tonnes of money yet we have the worst team ever. I just don't know. I've lived in southern Alberta all my life and right now it's embarrassing to be an oilers fan... My Flames fan buddies said KLowe was a joke years ago, now I finally agree with them...

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#118 thednp
November 27 2013, 11:31AM
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The truest statement written all year about this team and what everyone outside the team seems to know and front office might now be seeing and maybe dealing with.

"The Oilers aren't big enough or gritty enough to win games that turn into a physical battle. They aren't mentally tough enough to prevail in a test of wills. They aren't remotely close to defensively sound enough to lock things down in tight games. They lack gamesmanship. They don't have a goaltender who can consistently outperform the guy in the crease at the other end of the rink."

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#119 BIGDAWG
November 27 2013, 11:55AM
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Using hits as a stat is meaningless. General physics dictates that a 5"9, 165 pound checker checking a 6"2 220 pound forward doesn't produce the same effects as a 6"2 220 pound forward hitting a 5"9 165 pound forward. You can have all the compete in the world, that said the body checks are not of equal value. The Oilers being in the top ten in the league in body checks does not equate them to being a physical hockey team.

I agree.. It shows they are trying... but we don't need try anymore.. its time to friggin DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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#120 paulie
November 27 2013, 12:30PM
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@hardcore moiler

Hockey really isn't for you there guy. Perhaps the redneck Olympics and a get out my country moran shirt are.

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#121 paulie
November 27 2013, 12:39PM
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Two of the most frustrating aspects to me are, does this organization do a good job of evaluating players and two properly developing them? On both counts it is a solid no from me. Now it seems the fanbase is being set up again in regards to the development of this team to also ran to playoff team. I don't see a lot of positives going forward unless they are willing to part with one of the younger guys to get a defenceman. The biggest worry I have for next year will they rush Nurse into the league when I bet a good year in the AHL might be better for his development if the team is not expected to compete for a playoff spot. Either way, what a mess of a hockey team. Thank you Katz and Lowe for turning a once proud organization into a laughingstock.

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#122 @Oilanderp
November 27 2013, 12:44PM
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Most teams are so tight against the cap these days that it's pretty hard to make a trade. MacT has his work cut out for him.

I spent some time here:

http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/teamstats.php?disp=1&db=201314&sit=5v5&sort=SVPCT&sortdir=ASC

today and it's interesting to click on the different headings and see where the Oilers rank. Some things that stand out in their 5v5 play:

1. Oilers are LAST in save %.

2. Oilers have given up the second most goals against.

3. Oilers are LAST in OZFO%(percentage of faceoffs in offensive zone while on ice).

4. Oilers have the 4th most DZFO% (percentage of faceoffs in defensive zone while on ice)

OK, so we spend too much time in our own zone and we can't get a save. No sh** Sherlock. It looks like we need to add better defense and, if the goaltending woes continue, a goalie.

Right?

Hold on, let's look at the offensive side of things:

1. Oilers are 12th in shooting %.

2. Oilers are 18th in goals FOR.

3. Only 3 teams take less shots per game than the Oilers (hard to shoot when always in your own zone I guess)

4. Only 6 teams take more faceoffs in the NEUTRAL zone than the Oilers.

OK so as always the difficulty in using these facts is how to interpret what they mean.

I'm going to make up a story that tries to explain these stats and you see if you like it.

Our D needs improvement. Our O will be fine but could perhaps make simpler plays a little more like put it on the net (Oilers don't take many shots)or chip n chase instead of turning it over at the blue line (hence the neutral zone faceoff stat).

Ok, so go get a #1 or #2 d-man that pushes the rest down into their appropriate slots. How?

As Robin writes:

Changing the make-up of this team, assembling the right mix, is either going to take a lot more time or the kind of "bold moves" MacT talked about when he took the job. That, in the end, is going to mean taking a player or two from that talented group of forwards and turning it into the necessary pieces.

The problem is that we may even already have some great defensemen in the pipeline. Can we trade THEM for a stud d-man? No.

As Robin points out, either we have to wait (years probably) or trade a beauty to get our stud. Either option will hurt like hell.

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#123 S cottV
November 27 2013, 01:15PM
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@@Oilanderp

Answer probably somewhere in the middle. Wait for RNH to develop into a dominant centreman. He presently sits in 105th position among centreman in the NHL for Corsi CF%. Thats way too far down the list and he is upside down at 46.7 (more shots against than for) - when on the ice. Gagner doesnt even register on the list. We really need both a top end hard to play against centreman and d man. Not many untouchables beyond RNH, Hall, Eberle, and Perron - toward trading for one or both of these needs. The sooner the better on this front - although, up against the trade dead line might produce some motivated buyers for pieces that the Oilers are willing to give up.

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#124 Pucker
November 27 2013, 01:57PM
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Another frustration is the Oiler's lose if a team pressures them.

They looked good against Florida and Columbus because they were allowed time to handle the puck.

Calgary, I'm not sure. Might have been just a difference in talent there.

Chicago was on them like a dirty shirt, which created bad passes/turnovers. I think the body checking has very little to do with it. It's just pressure.

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#125 hockeycrazed
November 27 2013, 02:03PM
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@Larry

Hey, I couldn't agree more, man, I am a fan since 79, been a season tickets holder since 81, been thinking of giving them up though, it's just so frustrating to watch the team you loved and supported to be run by people who cared about everything else but the hockey part of it, they aren't drafting a lot of elite players as they had when Barry Fraser was here, and when they did, they would develop them and trade them away for money. They might call this An NHL franchise, But, it sure feels like it's an AHL affiliate, responsible for training young players, and when they are ready, they would be sent away..... If there ever was ' hockey player trafficking' this fits the billing perfectly!

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#126 camdog
November 27 2013, 07:06PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I think that most fans are resigned to the fact that until the Oilers land a big tough puck moving defensemen with a positive track record, nothing will change.

The real problem is is there one of those defensemen available? I suggest not......and even if there was, we would have to give up two or three top end assets to get him. All this means we would now have a stud defensemen and now be short in other positions. The net gain would be neutral and now the fans would be just as pissed off.

There is no trade solution so the only logical solution would be to get a UFA and overpay, .......and then hope that your drafting provided exactly what you need.

We can only hope Darnell Nurse is the next coming of Chris Pronger!!

Problem with Pronger is he didn't really excel until his 3rd season in the league. Even if Nurse turned into a Pronger that means another couple of years of well - this.

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#127 madjam
November 27 2013, 07:08PM
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Mact. problem number one along with the person who hired him to be GM . His vision and results have lead to where we are today - going even further backwards . Howson not the answer either . You have waited close to 8 years for this club assembly to perform , yet when you get a new Gm that takes you further backwards you say to give him more time ? Does not make any sense to me .

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#129 John Kirsch
November 27 2013, 08:03PM
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Our top players could learn from watching Toews and Kane "compete"; those are hockey players who play at the highest level night in and night out, both top (1-3) picks respectively.

Toews in IMO is the modern version of Messier, world class skill combined with world class leadership and Kane's offensive skills are on a level near Gretzky, Lemieux and Crosby. They play (and their teammates) with an intensity not exhibited by this current group (top picks 1-2) Oilers.

Again it all comes back to talent analysis by Oilers management (GM, coach, scouts, advisers etc...)as to the right "mix" of talent to be successful. Very good offensively gifted talent is what we have, but bad chemistry as well, and that translates into mediocrity. I would take a Backes, Brown type of player in a heartbeat over a Hopkins or Yak.

Eventually Edmonton will get it right!

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#130 crobar
November 27 2013, 10:34PM
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looks like the edmonton version of playoff action will be from dec.26 to jan.5...... followed by a 6 month debate on the draft. it's unreal that the buffoons in the capital city lick up the propaganda like candy floss!hey, at least they are making money.....

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#131 Quicksilver ballet
November 28 2013, 04:50AM
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What we're watching here in Edmonton, has all the earmarks/issues of a should be AHL team. Glaring holes in key positions throughout this line up at unmistakable NHL ticket prices.

Can't see the Oilers ever being competitive again. Oilers were a cap team in October, even with this many holes at key positions on their roster. With overpays rampant throughout this current line up, only thing that would help, would be if Bettman allowed a 10 million northern (B market) living allowance dollars to compensate for this disadvantage. Or, get a much stronger management group in here, but we know this will never happen with all of Katz's buddies running things here.

Not a lot of room for optimism it appears...

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#132 Oil Blood
November 28 2013, 10:59AM
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@Oier Al

EDIT: You're done here, smart guy. Slip around the IP block 100 times if you want. Anything you post from another IP that gets in will be removed. Instead of making even a faint attempt to follow guidelines, you've decided to be an internet tough guy and run your mouth. Easy to do anonymously, right?

I'm still here. You're done. That's that.

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