Have the Oilers improved?

Jason Gregor
August 07 2014 10:37AM

Improvement


For the sake of everyone in Edmonton, I sure hope so.

I do believe the Oilers have improved, which isn't hard considering they were the 3rd worst team in the NHL last season, but how much have they improved?

It is hard to say until we see the product on the ice, but I wanted to revisit an angle we looked at in May.

Three months ago, I wrote an article outlining the Oilers lack of size, strength and experience within their top-nine forwards compared to western conference playoff teams. Since then, Craig MacTavish has made significant changes to his top-nine.

How much better do they look on paper now than three months ago?

Here is how their top-nine looked in May.

Edmonton


Name  Height  Weight  Age 
Taylor Hall   6' 1" 201 22
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins   6' 1" 180 21
Jordan Eberle   5' 11" 180 24
David Perron   6' 0" 198 25
Sam Gagner   5' 11" 202 24
Nail Yakupov   5' 11" 186 20
Boyd Gordon   6' 0" 202 30
Matt Hendricks   6' 0" 211 32
Mark Arcobello   5' 8" 166 25
Average  5' 11" 191.7 24.7

I understand there is much more to the game than just size, strength and experience, but after speaking with Taylor Fedun on Tuesday and listening to him talk about the challenges of going against bigger, skilled forwards I thought it was worth looking at again.

In May, some accused me of fudging the numbers by including Mark Arcobello and leaving out Jesse Joensuu. The fact Arcobello played more games and minutes didn't matter in their eyes, but 90 days later I think it is safe to say Arcobello is in a much better position to be a top-nine forward on the Oilers than Joensuu, so I stand by what I wrote in May.

Here is how the Oilers projected top-nine forwards today:

Name  Height  Weight  Age 
Taylor Hall   6' 1" 201 22
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins   6' 1" 180 21
Jordan Eberle   5' 11" 180 24
David Perron   6' 0" 198 25
Benoit Pouliot
6' 3" 197 27
Nail Yakupov   5' 11" 186 20
Leon Draisaitl 6' 2" 212 18
Teddy Purcell
6' 3" 203 28
Mark Arcobello   5' 8" 166 25
Average  6' 1/2" 191.5 23.3


The Oilers got taller, but they are actually lighter and younger. I think most would agree they have more talent and a better mix of top-nine forwards now, despite being a lighter group. Pouliot, Draisaitl and Purcell have more combined skill than Sam Gagner, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks.

I also believe that collectively they have better possession players. So that is a good thing. I also expect RNH, Hall and Yakupov to have added some weight this summers so the average might jump to 193 pounds, but they still won't be close to the average weight of the top teams in the West. Dallas (202), Minnesota (203), Chicago (204), St. Louis (206), San Jose (206), Anaheim and LA (207). The Blues actually got a bit bigger and more skilled adding Paul Stastny over Vladimir Sobotka. 

I expect the Oilers to be better than last season, but I still believe Craig MacTavish will need to add more skilled size in the coming years before they can truly compete with the top teams in the west.

BIGGER AND BETTER

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Much of the focus in Edmonton has been on their offence and the lack of a second line centre, which is fair, but the Oilers were the worst defensive team in the NHL last year. Goalies, D-men and forwards all need to be better in their own zone, but specifically the D corps has to improve. I also wrote a piece in May comparing the Oilers defence to the top teams in the west

MacTavish upgraded his blueline a lot in my eyes. They are more skilled and thankfully bigger and stronger.

Here is what they looked like in May:

Name  Height  Weight  Age GP TOI reg. season
Justin Schultz   6' 2" 188 23 74 23:20 min
Jeff Petry   6' 3" 195 26 80 21:35 min
Andrew Ference   5' 11" 187 35 71 21:03 min
Martin Marincin   6' 4" 188 22 44 19:09 min
Philip Larsen   6' 0" 182 24 30 17:10 min
Oscar Klefbom   6' 3" 213 20 17 15:47 min
Mark Fraser   6' 4" 220 27 23 15:29 min
Average 6' 2" 196.1 25.3



The thought of Larsen, Belov and Fraser hopping over the boards likely gives you cold sweats. The Oilers had the worst defence in the NHL last year, and it wasn't even close. "Our system wasn't that hard, but too often we had guys in the wrong position or making wrong plays," a defenceman told me off the record last month.

He said the team made too many mental mistakes in their own end. It was an interesting conversation, and it is hard to argue with his analysis. You need players who are skilled, but who also can think the game.

Three months later MacTavish has upgraded his blueline in experience, skill and size.

EDMONTON




Name  Height  Weight  Age GP TOI reg. season
Justin Schultz   6' 2" 188 23 74 23:20 min
Jeff Petry   6' 3" 195 26 80 21:35 min
Andrew Ference   5' 11" 187 35 71 21:03 min
Martin Marincin   6' 4" 188 22 44 19:09 min
Mark Fayne 6' 3" 210 27 72 18:18 min
Nikita Nikitin 6' 4" 223 28 66 17:06 min
Oscar Klefbom   6' 3" 213 20 17  15:47min
Keith Aulie 6' 6" 228 25 15 9:49 min
Average 6' 3" 204 25.8

Fayne and Nikitin are massive upgrades over Belov, Larsen and Fraser. It will be interesting to see who Dallas Eakins and Craig Ramsay use as D pairs this season. Willis had a good article outlining Fayne's ability to play against elite forwards, so I'd safely assume he will get a heavy dose of DZ starts against tough competition. I think Fayne will be paired with Nikitin.

The Oilers' blueline is more skilled and they are heavier, a nice combination that will help them in the D zone. Fayne and Nikitin are big enough and strong enough to play battle Getzlaf, Kopitar, Thornton, Marleau and the rest of the huge skilled forwards in the west.

That should allow Schultz and Petry to spend less time against the big, strong, skilled forwards, which should result in better possession numbers for both of them.

The Oilers blueline is now bigger, heavier and more experienced. They are getting closer to matching up to the size of the playoff team's blueliners: Kings (215), Blues (210), Avs (210), Stars (208), Ducks (205), Sharks (205), Hawks (204) and Wild (198).

At the end of last year, the Oilers spoke to Marincin about getting stronger and heavier so I'd expect he will come to camp heavier than 188. With his frame he eventually needs to be 200 pounds. If he is around 195 this year that will help him during one-on-one battles.

The Oilers' blue line needed an overhaul, and I believe MacTavish did a decent job. I never expected him to add a top-pairing guy, which would have been nice, but I expect he will keep trying to land one or hope that one of Schultz, Marincin, Klefbom or Nurse can become that guy in the future.

The Oilers needed to improve many facets of their roster, and getting bigger and stronger was one of them.

The added size combined with skill should make them more competitive this season. It won't solve all of their problems, but MacTavish has to check off his weaknesses one by one, and I think he did a solid job of addressing their lack of size and skill, especially on the blueline. 

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#101 MrBent
August 08 2014, 05:33AM
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Jeffer wrote:

Are you actually suggesting teams are scared of the oilers? You think a team with Arcobello as a 2C scares other teams? If you believe this I have some magic beans to sell you.

lol...i may just take you up on those magic beans. Management on opposing teams have already started making excuses for why they will be losing to the Oilers. Siting mostly that the Oilers "broke" the system obtaining 3 #1s in a row. As for the 2C and really 3C 4C as well. Good! Maybe we can grow a Centerman Beanstock.

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#102 Serious Gord
August 08 2014, 08:35AM
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So the oilers are incrementally bigger than they were last season.

Compared to the glory year teams I would wager that they are huge. The trend has been a steady increase in size and weight for decades.

Which begs the question: have other teams - particularly in the west - also gotten bigger year over year?

It's all well and good that the oil have gotten bigger, but what if that has largely been nullified by the growth of the competition?

My WAG is that the oil have closed the gap, but that the other teams are not standing still and thus in the war of throw weight EDM still trails.

All that said the worn cliche "it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters most but the size of the fight in the dog" is accurate. Who wins a battle along the boards - Martin St. Louis 5' 8", 180 or gagner 5' 11" 202?

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#103 backup bob
August 08 2014, 08:57AM
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MrBent wrote:

The Oilers have improved leaps and bounds! Take the time to listen to other hockey markets. They are SCARED of the Oilers. The only problem i foresee? Oiler "Fans" who think its cool to act like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. MacT gets an A+

#1- Teams were scared of the Oilers in the 80's. Not now.

#2- Mactavish gets an A+ when he signs a #1 and #2 D-man, a #2 Center, and introduces me to Paulina Gretzky.

#3- 26th to 30th place finish. Eeyore told me.

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#104 Ari Gold
August 08 2014, 09:10AM
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The Oilers have improved. Their biggest problem is the rest of the teams in the west have improved as well.

This team is an injury to a top 3 forward away from having the season crash & burn. Imagine if Hall or Nuge spent any time on IR. This team lacks true depth in a serious way.

STL,Chi, Anh, Dal have all gotten better. LA & SJ have largely stayed the same though their recent playoff experiences will make them both tough as nails. Col is a little worse without Statsny but they're a year older. Van and Cgy are the only treats that are worse off.

The 4 playoff teams in the Pacific were SJ, LA, Anh & Dal (wildcard). Can the Oil compete with these teams?

The west is an arms race and the Oilers can't keep up. They'll be playoff ready (maybe) in about 4 years.

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#105 Ed in Edmonton
August 08 2014, 01:03PM
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dawgbone wrote:

$4mil that doesn't include things like a full 23 man roster and the fact that they still need another C, W and D.

They are paying nearly $8mil for Ference and Nikitin who could end up being their bottom pairing this year.

According to capgeek the Oil have 21 contracts in place for $60.2M so they have $8.8 M left for 2 roster spots. One of these will be Schultz for somewhere between 3 and 5M depending on term. This leaves between $3.8 and $5.8M for the 23rd player. If this is a typical 23rd player, between $3 and $5 M remaining will be likely.

Of course there is Yak’s $3M bonus. It can either be accounted this year or next, or split as bonuses are not earned until the end of the year. There are risks in pushing bonus payments into next year. I was surprised on how many teams are carrying bonus overages from previous years. The Bruins have 4M in deferred bonuses they need to carry this year.

If LD makes the team then he will get the $0.95M rookie salary and probably about $2.5M in bonuses. If this happens then the Oil will be close to the cap. I would have preferred if the Oil had found a veteran center (Like Legwand) to spend there last few mil of space on either rather than an 18 year old.

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#106 Ari Gold
August 09 2014, 12:51AM
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MrBent wrote:

lol...i may just take you up on those magic beans. Management on opposing teams have already started making excuses for why they will be losing to the Oilers. Siting mostly that the Oilers "broke" the system obtaining 3 #1s in a row. As for the 2C and really 3C 4C as well. Good! Maybe we can grow a Centerman Beanstock.

You sure spin a sell on your KoolAid with nothing but evidence to the contrary.

You realize that the #2 Centers on other teams include names like Spezza, Kesler, Richards, Couture, Carter, O'Reilly, Statsny. That's 7 teams already.

The Oilers will be eaten alive by the top teams in the west.

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#107 Cccsberg
August 12 2014, 09:00PM
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MrBent wrote:

The Oilers have improved leaps and bounds! Take the time to listen to other hockey markets. They are SCARED of the Oilers. The only problem i foresee? Oiler "Fans" who think its cool to act like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. MacT gets an A+

Scared of the Oilers? Wow, ignorance IS bliss!

PS: Yes, the Oilers seem to have improved, but they're a LONG ways from scaring anybody...

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#108 nick
August 14 2014, 07:51AM
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Glad to see that Gregor thinks the Oilers are better. I would like to look at the world through his geeky rose colored glasses. Not much has changed from last year, they moved a few chairs around on the deck of the Titanic and oh ya, they added more upper management. That is what makes a team better, more Vice Presidents and Presidents. This organization is a mess and I have to say some of those old chairs look good in their new spots on the Titanic.

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