The Face of the Franchise?

Jonathan Willis
December 17 2013 08:44AM

This summer, the clear consensus in Edmonton seemed to be that Taylor Hall was the most important part of the team’s long-term core. The year before, Jordan Eberle’s 34-goal, 76-point season likely would have won him that honour.

But if we held a poll today I’m guessing that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be the name on the lips of most.

My View

I wasn’t a fan of drafting Nugent-Hopkins first overall. In a year where the top-four seemed closely bunched, Nugent-Hopkins offence seemed too dependent on the power play. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the player, but defenceman Adam Larsson – projected as a two-way workhorse and a guy I’d seen play very well at the World Juniors – felt like a safer choice and a better fit for team need.

But while the Oilers certainly wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a defenceman like Larsson, and while blueliners tend to take longer to round into form than forwards, the results so far are one-sided and not in my favour.

Nugent-Hopkins has certainly been the power play witch his junior numbers suggested he was, but he’s been far more than that. He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20, and suddenly all those junior comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk don’t seem so off, because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?

Nugent-Hopkins plays a defensive game that far exceeds that of men much his senior. Less than 150 games into his professional career, he’s got things figured out that Sam Gagner still struggles with 300 games later. Maybe that isn’t a fair comparison to Gagner, but where would the Oilers be if they had two centres that played defence that way? Well we’re at it, where would the team be if Eberle and Hall had the same commitment to a 200-foot game that Nugent-Hopkins does?

(And, for the comments section: don’t come back at me with “minus-nine.” There’s a sweet spot of ignorance between really watching the games and really understanding the numbers, and “minus-nine” is right in the middle of it. By eye, there’s no question as to Nugent-Hopkins’ defensive commitment, and by number that goal differential is easily traceable back to Nugent-Hopkins 0.881 on-ice save percentage – and before you ask, no that’s not his fault.)

I’ve been tracking scoring chances all year and have 34 of the 35 games marked. With Nugent-Hopkins on the ice at even-strength the Oilers out-chance the opposition 164-145 (53.1% of all chances are Oilers chances). With Nugent-Hopkins off the ice, the Oilers are out-chanced 257-308 (45.5% of all chances are Oilers chances). That isn’t all him, naturally; Nugent-Hopkins has played with good players all season. On the other hand, so has Sam Gagner and in easier circumstances and he’s lagging back at just under 50 percent. (Note: I've corrected the scoring chance numbers above after making a simple subtraction error in the initial post.)

In other words, my view has come a long way from the summer of 2011. I don’t think there’s a player more vital to the Oilers than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

A Side Point

The progression in the first paragraph – from Eberle to Hall to Nugent-Hopkins – isn’t exactly random, is it? Eberle, drafted in 2008, had his breakthrough campaign at the age of 21. Hall, drafted in 2010, did the same. Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t turn 21 until April, while Nail Yakupov doesn’t hit that threshold until next October.

It takes a while for even the best junior-age players to find their stride in the NHL. And it’s a nice reminder for a guy like Yakupov, who is having a miserable year (though his five-on-five on-ice percentages – 6.49 shooting, 0.869 save – aren’t helping), that it can pay to be patient.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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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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#51 LOIL99
December 17 2013, 02:24PM
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All of you panicked people please read the following again...

"He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20........because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?"

Our core is average age of 21. Most kids drafted aren't even in the NHL yet at 21. These guys are going to be unreal in 3-5 years. NHL prime doesn't kick in until around 24-26.

BE PATIENT WITH THEM.

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#52 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 03:45PM
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I used to look at teams like the Islanders and the Atlanta Thrashers and think....they're just brutal teams....I never realized just how complicated being a perpetual cellar dweller actually is.

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#53 David Staples
December 17 2013, 09:02AM
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Are those scoring chances numbers for all games played?

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#54 Craig1981
December 17 2013, 11:30AM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Everyone is yapping ... trade this guy, trade that guy etc... and what and from where are you going to get something BETTER than Hall, and Eberle? Yes they aren't 200 ft. players but they have the other side... Why can;t they be coached to play both sides of the puck, bring some toughness and grit to there game.?

What will happen you trade these guys, and then some other coach turns them into complete players and Oilers get some more 2 nd rate players in return. Cycle of rebuild never stops.

Its back to a player that almost got traded early in his career because people thought he wasn't a complete player. Yzerman....true story. This is why, despite early struggles, I believe Eakins to be a great coach for the Oilers.

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#55 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 02:55PM
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It's great that Hall and RNH are viewed as the faces of the franchise, but how about we grab a couple guys that can get into other franchises faces?

Perron and Ference aside of course.

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#56 S cottV
December 17 2013, 11:16AM
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Yes - RNH will be a top end 1C by age 25. Able to command the middle vs most opposition 1C's, pushing play mostly to the preferred end of the rink and able to handle himself in his own end as required.

While RNH is way better than Gagner in his own end, Gagner is (sorry to say but the truth) really bad, so - RNH at present, still needs to improve, but all indications are that its just a matter of some reasonable time.

RNH has similar characteristics as Gretzky (not to suggest an unfair direct comparison to the great one), so - as Gretzky was the face of the franchise, RNH could quickly evolve into this identity, representing similar things. Intelligence, highly skilled, playmaker, game breaker, modest but charismatic, quiet but effective leader, etc.

While RNH is evolving, one could argue that Hall at present, carries this label. While an excellent player who will get better, there seems to be something missing and I think its tied to leadership. Few players are exceptional born leaders and you dont really see leadership exude from Hall, in the way he plays or carries himself and this is something the "Face of the Franchise" needs to have. That being said - he is certainly a keeper and will benefit from RNH's full development into a top 1C, as when this happens - we may just see some greatness from Hall.

While RNH and Hall may be 1a and 1b, as the present face of the franchise, the team is missing another "heart and soul" warrior impact player, in 2c or 1d or in a dream world - both positions. Gretzky the 1C face had Messier the 2C warrior coming out next.

Not sure how we are going to get one or both of a warrior 2c and legit 1d, but - would be worth giving up a lot to do so.

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#57 Kenta
December 17 2013, 11:20AM
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Zarny wrote:

It's laughable you put RNH in the same sentence as Gagner and Hemsky.

With your logic Datsyuk isn't a player you can build a team around...except Det has done it.

Yeah - RNH is the second coming of Pavel Datsyuk. LOL

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#58 Jack Redekop
December 17 2013, 11:24AM
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In addition and possibly more than goaltending and a shut-down D, the Oilers need "net-prescence" on EVERY line - all the good teams have it - Bruins, Pens, I could go on. Nuge, Hall and Eberle, as skilled and pretty to watch as they are, scoring "chances" won't amount to enough goals because MOST goals result from when the goalie is screened/bothered, tipped in front of the net, or off a rebound. 2-3 more David Perron's, one on each line. Like Eakins says: "He will do whatever you ask him, willingly". The other 3 won't, and maybe shouldn't but at least put someone with them that will.

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#59 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
December 17 2013, 12:14PM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

And the player's "Save percentage" (because that's a thing, apparently) is also affected.

My point is if you say one is meaningless, you gotta say both are. "Advanced Stats" people don't.

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

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#60 MAC962
December 17 2013, 12:59PM
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You can build a franchise around Hall or Nuge, Eberle god love him, you cannot - Same with Yak - doesnt make them lesser players - They are just do not have the intangibles that Hall and Nuge have.

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#61 Lochenzo
December 17 2013, 01:19PM
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One thing I do have to say about Sam Gagner. Whenever he's been in a slump in the past, he'd get into a fight and then put together a good string of games. That option is off the table for him this year.

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#62 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 01:23PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That sound you hear is an airplane.

Yeah.

I am going to suggest 'freezing the picture and counting stuff' is more suited for you than 'witty repartee'..

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#63 **
December 17 2013, 01:27PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Actually, that link above shows that players have very minimal ability to control their on-ice save percentage over the long term, at least at the NHL level.

I think there's actually a little more ability than we see in the study done there, but it's lost in a bunch of other factors - such as quality of competition.

A big problem with the on ice sv% is that there isn't continuity on net to correctly make predictions. A player will not have the same goalie on net across his career, let alone in one season. The Oilers alone have had 4 goalies on net in just 35 games. It is impossible to use the sv% as an accurate predictor of defensive ability because the conditions change every time the goalie changes. To me it is just as flawed as the plus minus.

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#64 Kenta
December 17 2013, 10:59AM
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I've never understood why Oiler fans fall in love with the wrong players - Hemsky, Gagner and now RNH.

RNH is not someone you can build a team around but is a solid complementary player. Of the 3 number 1 overall picks you have, I'd trade him before the other 2.

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#65 Dan the Man
December 17 2013, 12:59PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not really.

Your assumption is that the G is seeing the same type of shots regardless of who is on the ice.

Completely false.

When defensively responsible players are on the ice the G sees easier shots to save.

That's why G have higher SV% when guys like Datsyuk, Toews, Richards, Staal, Kesler etc are on the ice.

And that's why it's a relevant stat.

I agree it is a relevant stat, that is my point. The assumption is that Yakupov's on ice save percentage of .869 will improve regardless of his individual play because .869 is a historically low number. My assumption has nothing to do with shot quality it has to do with statistically poor goaltending that is not likely to stay that poor.

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#66 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:43PM
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David S wrote:

Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

Montreal has already been there done that....his name was Scott Gomez....they won't make that mistake again any time soon.

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#67 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:07PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Seriously though......it's not a bad analogy.......what the stats guys need to do is either better explain the limitations of the individual stat...or at least reference the correlation of things like....who designed the plumbing layout....and was it properly designed....are we using the right hardware for the particular application.....what about the quality of the sealants and glue....is the pressure system the right size....if one or more of the faucets is damaged what affect does that have on the other fixtures or the system as a whole....if there's a guy hammering away at one of the faucets is there anybody around to step in and stop him.....why is it that occasionally I get hot water and sometimes just cold water.....but most of the time it's just stinky luke warm water.....if my plumbing isn't working after 8 years of messing around....should I just keep swapping out the hardware...or should I look at the design and maybe rip the whole thing out and start from scratch.

Edit: Damn....I should have bought a Weber....uh...I mean Kohler.....hmmmm I wonder if anyone would trade me a Kohler faucet for three Delta faucets.

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#68 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:10PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Plumbing fixtures, furniture, and stereo speakers are like hockey players in one way.....the heavier they are the better the quality.....big and skilled beats small and skilled.

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#69 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:17PM
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rob wrote:

Hall is the franchise!the teams goes with him

So what you're saying is.....to Hall with this franchise!

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#70 Zarny
December 17 2013, 05:07PM
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David S wrote:

Just curious. How can a guy who's "garbage at FO" go over 80% in the dot against a heavy, FO proficient team like Anaheim?

LMAO...even the sun shines on a dogs a** some days.

Gagner's FO% has never been over 50% over the course of any season. His career average is 44.7%.

Sorry, but that is garbage.

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#71 Rod from Viking
December 17 2013, 10:00PM
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David S wrote:

Boy are all you guys gonna feel like poo heads when Gagner gets his act togther and hits for 60 points next year.

In Montreal.

For Subban or Pachoretti?

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#72 merfer
December 17 2013, 11:03AM
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If we trade away Eberle, Yak, and Gagner does it mean we will be a worse team. We are already the 28th team (and may soon be 29th) in the NHL so really what difference will it make. We have got to try something.

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#73 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 11:34AM
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Dan the Man wrote:

If the save percentage is lower or higher than normal while a player is on the ice then chances are it will at some point revert back to normal values over an extended period of time.

Totally agree.

Provided the player in question is, in fact, the Goalie.

Other than that - nonsense.

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#74 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 12:05PM
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Dan the Man wrote:

When Dubnyk lets in a fluttering shot from the blue line it's not really the fault of the players on the ice but yet they still take a minus for it.

And the player's "Save percentage" (because that's a thing, apparently) is also affected.

My point is if you say one is meaningless, you gotta say both are. "Advanced Stats" people don't.

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#75 tileguy
December 17 2013, 12:29PM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

The closest analogy I can draw is getting your water bill in the mail. The bill tells you whether your consumption as a household went up or down in a given month. You can't tell solely from your water bill how efficient your showerhead is, but if you know a little about your toilet, your washer, and your dishwasher you can get a little closer to isolating that data.

Not sure if this was meant to be funny or not but it sure made me chuckle.

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#76 OilDieHard
December 17 2013, 12:34PM
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.....

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#77 joe
December 17 2013, 12:36PM
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Sccooduuu Dubby is my franchise softy player....

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#79 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 01:30PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Who is your choice for face of the franchise?

Props for Hall

Trash for Nuge

It's the Gretzky Messier question....... albeit on a lesser talent scale.

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#80 rob
December 17 2013, 01:47PM
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Hall is the franchise!the teams goes with him

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#81 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 17 2013, 02:26PM
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this is like winning the prettiest of the ugly face contest in a way. Would you want to be the face of a loser?

I say Hall and due to the fact that he finished 3rd (but kinda 2nd) in all-star balloting most people would look at him as the face. add to it he is the first number one taken in the infinibuild. Outside of the fan base no one cares who the face of a cellar dwellar is anyway.

Sorry JW but you missed it again. Good article tho

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#82 reaperfunkss (2nd tier fan)
December 17 2013, 02:28PM
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Zarny wrote:

Yeah, actually Datsyuk is a very good comparison for RNH.

They play virtually the same style of game both offensively and defensively.

Your comment is one of complete ignorance.

I agree if you change comparable to "Potentionable" meaning to have similar skill set but has not developed there yet

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#83 2004Z06
December 17 2013, 03:02PM
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nunyour wrote:

Totally agree,i feel the young guys have been thrown out to the wolves with no veteran help in the top six.

So two years ago everybody bitched that the veterans still lead the team and the youth was not being given their opportunities to take the reins under Renney. We shed all the veterans and now the bitching because the youth has been thrown to the wolves with no veteran help?

Huh?

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#84 nunyour
December 17 2013, 03:32PM
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2004Z06 wrote:

So two years ago everybody bitched that the veterans still lead the team and the youth was not being given their opportunities to take the reins under Renney. We shed all the veterans and now the bitching because the youth has been thrown to the wolves with no veteran help?

Huh?

Which veterans did they get rid of that were capable of playing in the top two lines?

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#85 David S
December 17 2013, 03:59PM
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Zarny wrote:

Not likely.

Because he'll have the same holes in his defensive game and RNH will likely get close to 80 pts.

So what does Gagner bring that RNH doesn't?

The answer is nothing. Gagner is the exact same type of player as RNH except he's not as good offensively and has more defensive liabilities. Both are garbage at FO.

One of the most successful lines in Oiler history is Smyth-Weight-Guerin. That line is better than 3 Smyths, 3 Weights or 3 Guerin's because they complimented each other. None of the top 6 F compliment each other.

You also leave out the fact that if Gagner ended up in Mtl next year another player comes back to Edm in return and in all likelyhood that player would fill a role Gagner could never hope to fill.

Just curious. How can a guy who's "garbage at FO" go over 80% in the dot against a heavy, FO proficient team like Anaheim?

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#86 Zarny
December 17 2013, 05:03PM
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LOIL99 wrote:

All of you panicked people please read the following again...

"He plays an intelligent two-way game at the age of 20........because if Nugent-Hopkins can handle all of this at the age of 20 than what will he be able to do at 25?"

Our core is average age of 21. Most kids drafted aren't even in the NHL yet at 21. These guys are going to be unreal in 3-5 years. NHL prime doesn't kick in until around 24-26.

BE PATIENT WITH THEM.

True story.

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#87 builtinswagger
December 17 2013, 06:08PM
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Over the Summer I had Hall, Hopkins, Schultz, Yak and Nurse all as untouchable... after the start the Oil have had it's down to just Hopkins and Nurse so long as the return is the physical two-way winger or the number one defenceman we so desperately need!

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#88 john
December 18 2013, 01:26AM
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Another shut out lost tonight, that's 5 shut out lost games this year. I don't remember Oilers ever got shut out that many times in a season let alone 36 games in. It's time to fire Eakins, how can a team be worst than previous years this year? He promised swarming defense, they are dead last goals against in the NHL. No offense either, power plays allowed too many shorthanded goals, penalty kill is bad also. This is not a rebuilding year? We are supposed to make run for playoffs this year. Yakupov is dead last with -24 (like Edmonton temperature outside) that's is unacceptable, he played him in the wrong situations in the game. Nail is losing his confidence and not happy, we don't need tough love in developing these young guns any more. It's time to turn them lose and let them have fun out there. Too many coaching changes last 4 years, players have to learn and adapt too often. I m a fan living in Ontario, it's hard over here. I can't even see high light reel when the team scored nothing. It's depressing!

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#89 LOIL99
December 18 2013, 12:16PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

Good plan.......so hears what we'll do......you buy the seasons tickets until 2017 then I'll take take them over from you then....deal?

I do have season tickets, 3 sets actually. And while the team is bad I have been making 150% of my cost by selling them rather than attending. Thanks for the tip though!

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#90 Jankins
December 19 2013, 08:19AM
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@LOIL99

150% ? I find that hard to believe, most tickets sold are sold under face value, we do not have a cup contender here., even then. I'd like to meet these chumps who are paying you 150% of your cost.

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#91 borisnikov
December 17 2013, 09:34AM
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@David Staples

Mr. Staples,

Your ind. SC +/- numbers are truly individual correct? Is there any way to break your chance numbers down to 'while a player is on the ice' like Willis did (or like other advanced stats)?

edit: never mind, I'll just ask you on twitter

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#92 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 11:12AM
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Stats-nerd argument goes like this:

a) Plus minus is meaningless because it's not always the player's fault.

b) Save percentage (!!!!!!??????) while the player is on the ice. Now that is a meaningful stat.

Save percentage.

By the goalie.

Good one.

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#93 oilerjed
December 17 2013, 11:20AM
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Zarny wrote:

You miss the point.

The Oilers don't need better than Hall or Eberle or Nuge or Yakupov.

They need different and no matter who they trade they still have 3 others with basically the exact same skill set.

Who cares what Eberle or Yakupov becomes somewhere else if Ryan McDonagh comes to Edm? The Oilers need a shutdown D more than they need a 4th small, skilled forward.

Careful Zarny. A team like that could very well turn into the CanSucks 2.0. Good to very good defense but not enough goals to put them over the edge. Imagine if Van didnt have Lou(or Scnieds), their GA would be up 10% and with their low goal totals you could probably take away 10-15 wins a year.

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#94 John Kirsch
December 17 2013, 11:56AM
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Sad that Hopkins is the face of the franchise. He is a good player not an elite talent, honestly are we all watching the player. I realize he is young but believe he will be lucky to score 20 goals in any given year(unless he plays for Pitt). And if we ever make it to the playoffs I am not confident that he could compete with from a physical perspective. Hall is frustrating he could be a 50 goal man but he is all over the place too many turnovers blatant defensive lapses.

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#95 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
December 17 2013, 12:10PM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

And the player's "Save percentage" (because that's a thing, apparently) is also affected.

My point is if you say one is meaningless, you gotta say both are. "Advanced Stats" people don't.

Stats guys say that every stat is meaningful. The only argument is over what the meaning is, and that's the source of so much conflict on this website and others.

+/- is meaningful, but not if you're trying to explain a player's performance independent of their teammates.

Stats guys use on-ice save percentage as a way to isolate a player's performance from his teammates'.

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#96 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
December 17 2013, 02:16PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, if the guy who loudly proclaims 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS AND THAT MAKES IT STUPID' over and over again doesn't like the comment that's awfully damning, isn't it?

I like your compete level....your retorts are always well thought out and proportional. Cool under pressure.

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#97 Oiler Al
December 17 2013, 03:05PM
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Puck JammeR! wrote:

So what's the alternative? Bashing your head against the wall over and over again with the same group of players? Or are you one of those "Petry, Omark & Marincin for elite NHL talent" guys?

These guys are very young, and need good coaching to make them complete players.Its not impossible. [recall when Wings had Federof switched to play defense so he would up his defensive game].

Guys like Petry, Omark and Marincin, will bring you even less than the Fab five, I think you and I both know this.

My point is player development.Its not like you are taking some 4 th liner and tyring to make him an elite line one player.

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#98 Zamboni Driver
December 17 2013, 08:45PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Really? I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, if the guy who loudly proclaims 'I DON'T UNDERSTAND THIS AND THAT MAKES IT STUPID' over and over again doesn't like the comment that's awfully damning, isn't it?

Actually I think I demonstrated that I DO understand it.

And I still think it's stupid.

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#99 Oilers4ever
December 18 2013, 09:32PM
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Ok JW.. I won't mention the -9... but RNH is FAR too soft spoken and doesnt have that "messier put the team on my back" sizzle that Hallsy has. In my mind Hall Is the leader of this team. Nuge more quiet like Gretz was. I am NOT comparing player ability with these guys. Just personalities. The Messier type is what you need in your leader. Doesnt put up with crap and hates losing.. imo anyways. They need to trade Yak... The guy sucks. How much more blatant can you hold the stick in plain sight like he did last night. Trade him and Gags and get the 1-2 dman and big bruising Lucic like forward that you need. Throw the damn 1st round pick in if you have to. We dont need any more picks.

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#100 watkinator
December 17 2013, 11:36AM
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@Zamboni Driver

That's the point of talking about sv% when a player is on the ice: they mostly aren't in control over it. It's a partial explanation as to why RNH has a poor +/-, hence it's a more meaningful stat.

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