One of the consistent weaknesses of the Edmonton Oilers under Lowe/MacTavish has been the team’s consistent inability to ice a successful powerplay. The highest the powerplay has ever finished is 14th overall in the league, and that was in 2005–06 with Chris Pronger on the point. The powerplay has ranked 21st, 27th, 14th, 29th and 19th over the past five seasons, and there’s no excuse for that trend to continue.
I thought it might be useful to compare the 2007–08 edition of the powerplay with what we’ll likely see in 2008–09; improvement in this area could be a key factor in whether the Oilers are in the post-season next year. Below are the units that MacTavish likely would have run with (ranked by ice-time) had everyone been healthy, along with their points/60 minutes last season (from Behindthenet.ca)
D – Pitkanen – 2.11 PTS/60, 4.07 TOI/60
D – Souray – 1.72 PTS/60, 4.04 TOI/60
F – Horcoff – 4.00 PTS/60, 3.96 TOI/60
F – Hemsky – 5.93 PTS/60, 3.69 TOI/60
F – Penner – 4.07 PTS/60, 3.59 TOI/60
D – Stoll – 3.74 PTS/60, 3.77 TOI/60
F – Gagner – 3.88 PTS/60, 2.74 TOI/60
F – Torres – 1.43 PTS/60, 2.63 TOI/60
F – Nilsson – 2.66 PTS/60, 2.22 TOI/60
D – Gilbert – 3.01 PTS/60, 2.19 TOI/60
F – Cogliano – 2.52 PTS/60, 2.03 TOI/60
D – Grebeshkov – 1.26 PTS/60, 2.02 TOI/60
F – Pisani – 2.94 PTS/60, 1.82 TOI/60
Looking at the first unit, it seems likely that the Oilers powerplay next season could be significantly more effective. Horcoff, Hemsky and Penner all performed at the same rate as they did in 2006–07; Hemsky and Penner were both a hair higher while Horcoff’s numbers were actually a hair below his 2006–07 numbers. Sheldon Souray was injured for much of the season, so Jarret Stoll filled in for him, but neither of their performances was even close to Souray’s numbers for 2006–07 (7.31 PTS/60). Even granting that Souray’s numbers in 2006–07 were inflated by a career year on the league’s best powerplay, there is plenty of room for improvement. Finally, Joni Pitkanen, the Oilers leader in average powerplay ice time, had an awful season in 2007–08, and even if Lubomir Visnovsky only performs at the same level that he did in LA last season (2.77 PTS/60), he’ll be a major upgrade.
As for players on the second unit, Gagner was excellent last season and in all likelihood will displace Horcoff from the first unit as early as this season. In any case, he’ll almost certainly surpass his numbers from this past season, while all of Nilsson, Gilbert and Cogliano could certainly improve as well. Finally, removing Raffi Torres from the powerplay is nothing but good news; although an effective player 5-on-5, Torres has never been a good option on the powerplay; even in his breakthrough 2005–06 season, Torres scored 75 per cent of his points at even strength. Erik Cole, although hardly a first-rate option, scored 3.13 PTS/60 and is yet another significant upgrade.
While it seams unlikely that the powerplay will ever be a source of strength for the Oilers under MacTavish, it should certainly be more effective than last season, possibly even to the point where it isn’t a liability for a playoff team.