Deep thoughts III

“A lot of previous years, I’m trying to generate optimism and enthusiasm, but this year I’m probably more interested in quelling it a little bit.”

“I can’t remember a period over the last 15 years where we’ve been so excited . . . this is the best chance we’ve had in a long time to win the division . . . it’s a very achievable goal. Young players have developed. Now we have lots of depth at virtually every position . . . we have a real good chance to do some great things this year.”

So, was that a meteor in the sky Thursday or Craig MacTavish’s lofty pre-season expectations hurtling to the muskeg on fire like a burnt weenie at a barbecue gone wrong after watching his Oilers get outclassed — forget the 4-3 score — by the Detroit Red Wings at Rexall Place? And, who says MacT has lost the dressing room? We’re only 20 games into the season and the players have jumped onside with their coach in putting an end to talk this team has the combination of physical talent AND mental make-up to be a real contender in the Western Conference.

Consider it quelled.

HERE WE ARE

At 9-9-2 through 20 games, the Oilers are right about where I thought they’d be in terms of record and the standings when I looked at them in pre-season. Given their schedule — 14 of 20 games on the road so far — and line-up changes, I didn’t expect anything more at this point, although most fans were more optimistic.

How the Oilers got here, though, is surprising. After a misleading 4-0 start and with parade route planners looking down their noses at doomsayers who didn’t see a Northwest Division title in the cards, the Oilers had a chance to not only survive the schedule-maker’s handiwork, but hit the quarter-pole smelling like roses. But noooooooo.

With five days before they face Los Angeles, the stench wafting through Rexall Place has everybody checking the bottom of their shoes, expecting to have to scrape something off.
With MacTavish sounding more frustrated by the day and having called out individual players — hello, Dustin Penner, Shawn Horcoff and Mathieu Garon — and his team in general for lack of jam and gamesmanship, I’m guessing that aroma is also filling the nostrils of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini.

Something has to happen before the Kings come calling Wednesday. Doesn’t it?

THE OBVIOUS

– This team, as MacTavish alluded to Thursday night, is way too soft and too easy to play against. Being a nasty bunch of SOBs isn’t a matter of size, it’s a state of mind, so there’s no excuses, even with smaller players in the line-up. The next time Ales Hemsky gets planted into the end boards, a response, like maybe a punch in the mouth, might be an idea. Stink-eyes and name-calling doesn’t get it done.

Then, there’s the concept of actually initiating that kind of stuff instead of just reacting. No? More guys need to show some brass, and they need to do so before Steve MacIntyre’s broken face heals.

– Please, pick two goaltenders and stick with them. Decide which one is your starter and which is your back-up. Garon and Dwayne Roloson. Jeff Deslauriers and Garon. Roloson and Deslauriers. Flip a coin. Pick a pair. Three’s a crowd. It’s not stop-the-presses stuff.

– There’s no excuse, none, for the way the Oilers have started too many games and Thursday’s loss was a prime example. Spot the Cup champs a 3-0 lead? What could go wrong? The Oilers have been outscored 18-10 in first periods. Brutal. Wake up.

– Outside of Hemsky, there isn’t a top-six forward playing well enough to merit top-six minutes. That’s five guys, with Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Penner being the most obvious, getting sugar time without earning it most nights. Either the situation changes or the personnel does.

JUST ASKING

– Given pre-season expectations and that Daryl Katz is now endorsing the cheques, what’s the over/under on MacTavish’s tenure if the Oilers don’t start to climb above the .500 mark and stay there? And, no, 2007 doesn’t count as a prediction.

– Bizarre as it sounds, is it too much to ask that defencemen, well, play defence? That right wingers play right wing instead of left wing or center? I know Laddy Smid longs for the Art Ross Trophy, but, like my mom used to say, “There’s a place for everything and everything in its place.”

– Not that it had any impact whatsoever, but whose idea was it to claim Jesse Boulerice off waivers in the first place? No, really. Was this a collaborative brain cramp or somebody’s singular epiphany? Who?

– Just a thought, but with all the concern about a tough schedule to start the season, is anybody else concerned the Oilers have blown off too many of the few games they’ve had at home? Fellas, 2-2-2?

– Penalty killing. When does that start?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260

  • Mie

    Braden,

    Well said regarding Horcoff.

    Jonathon I really wonder how many games you actually watch, rather than just compile some stupid spreadsheet against opposition. You said Babcock plays Draper against Getzlaf…guess what. Draper is a defensive specialist so he will shut him down.

    To even try and argue that Horcoff is better than Getzlaf is the dumbest thing I have heard. Try to base your opinion, just once, on something other than "soft minutes". It is old, and frankly you losing respect by the minute.

    You have never spoken to one hockey person in your life I believe, and it shows the more you write. Your stat crap is limited to a few of you who just regurgitate what each other says.

    Horcoff over Getzlaf…PLEASE..by far most asinine arguement ever. And I'm a fan of Horcoff.

  • Chris.

    Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than enlightenment. You can twist numbers anyway you want Willis but you must be drunk if you believe Horcoff is as good a player as Getzlaf.

  • RobinB

    pDan: You sound like an ignorant never-was.

    Don't jump in with such a stupid statement when you "don't get it." We've been back and forth like this is 20 comments spanning seven or eight items over the past month. I no more want to maim poor baggedmilk than he wants to hug me. In fact, baggedmilk just asked me to be his buddy on Facebook, and I'm sure he would confirm that. I said, No way," and thumbed him in the eye (JUST JOKING HERE).

  • +30/-30…+60/-60…Be damned! It matters when you score. Does anyone care about Horcoffs PP goal last Columbus game? If I’m down by two with 7min left to play in a critical divisional game I would rather send Lecavlier over the boards than Horcoff any day of the week!

    Agreed, because Lecavalier's offensive game is way past Horcoff's. That said, with a one-goal lead, I think it's equally clear that Horcoff's a better guy to have on the ice than Lecavalier. It isn't a coincidence that when Tampa Bay won the cup they had a decent checking line and a two-way player in Brad Richards; it isn't that Lecavalier's a bad player, but because he isn't a complete player, he needs other guys to handle the tough minutes to experience success on a team level.

    Thanks for the SCF rehash but if I was looking for a feel good story I would call Dan Tencer or rent Rudi.

    Well, if you think it was a "feel good story", you obviously didn't catch the point.

    Jonathon I really wonder how many games you actually watch

    Have you ever watched a game to look for who plays against who? Because that's what that spreadsheet shows – it shows that when the opposing toughs come on, Carlyle gets Getzlaf off the ice in a hurry. I'm assuming you don't catch a lot of Anaheim games because it's so obvious as to be farcical.

    Horcoff over Getzlaf…PLEASE..by far most asinine arguement ever.

    Read what I wrote, bright eyes. I didn't say Horcoff was a better player, I said he was a more complete player. This isn't EA Sports where you can toss out an 89 and an 86 and say the 89 is better. Real life doesn't work that way.

    To quote what I said, which seems to be confusing people:

    Because Getzlaf is a powerplay specialist and a guy who eats up the softies – not a guy who can carry a mail. He can help you win, but he doesn’t carry the mail. Horcoff can carry the mail, but if you run him at Zetterberg/Iginla/etc. every night without a guy like Getzlaf to outscore the light-weights, the team will lose. They're different types of players – and it's a team sport – the team needs different types of players. It isn't about one being better than the other, although all other things being equal, the complete player is better every time. In this case all other things are not equal.

    Reading comprehension, lads. Finish English 10, come back, try again.

  • To recap:

    Jonathan: Getzlaf isn't a complete player. He's got a high-end offensive game, but his coach shelters him. Using the Oilers SCF run as an example, some guys score against soft minutes, while other guys try to play top-end opponenents to a standstill.

    Braden: I'm too stupid to understand that the SCF Run example was an illustration of a point. Numbers don't provide answers. Stanley Cup winning coach Mike Babcock is worse than MacTavish. Duck's fans are smart – turn to them for player evaluations.

    Mie: Jonathon, have you ever watched a hockey game? Geez, you're dumb. I bet you've never even talked to a hockey person. Numbers scare me.

  • Going back to Getzlaf, the game before the STL game was against Washington. Here's who played against Getzlaf, in order of ice-time:

    1. Eric Fehr
    2. Thomas Fleischmann
    3. Tyler Sloan
    4. Brooks Laich
    5. Jeff Schultz
    6. John Erskine
    7. Tom Poti
    8. Milan Jurcina
    9. Boyd Gordon
    10. David Steckel
    11. Matt Bradley
    12. Alexander Ovechkin

    He's a useful player, but he isn't remotely a complete one. Given that Ovechkin played the most of any Washington forward, the implications here should be obvious – Ryan Getzlaf has inflated points totals because he plays gravy minutes with Perry and Selanne against low-tier opponents. It's in his favour that he takes full advantage of this matchup, but it doesn't make him a complete player by any stretch.

  • Braden

    Jessica Fletcher – Marc Pouliot is more of a complete player than Pat Kane. Who cares. Getzlaf is one of the best players in the world.

    Horcoff has zero physical game so is he really a "complete" player?

    Mike Richards brings a physical game.
    Brenden Morrow brings a physical game.
    Ryan Kesler brings a physical game.
    Mike Fisher brings a physical game

    Horcoff?

    Not so much.

    He's a decent stopgap until Lowe brings in an impact player like Getzlaf to help Hemsky lead us out of mediocrity.

  • He’s a decent stopgap until Lowe brings in an impact player like Getzlaf to help Hemsky lead us out of mediocrity.

    Do you think that's the plan? Or do you think that the plan is to run Gagner, Horcoff and Brodziak/Pouliot down the middle?

    That's why this year (Although this team should make some noise) is more of a development year than anything else. Gagner and Cogliano both are going to be very good players, and either of them should be able to fill the outscoring light-weights role in the next year or two. That leaves Horcoff in the Brad Richards role, and Brodziak or Pouliot or a vet third liner to handle checking duties.

  • Horcoff has zero physical game so is he really a “complete” player?

    Depends on your definition of "complete" I suppose. Is Nik Lidstrom a "complete" player, despite his lack of physical game? Scott Niedermayer? Henrik Zetterberg? Patrice Bergeron? Paul Stastny? Joe Sakic?

    What about guys like Modano or Yzerman in their primes? Sidney Crosby?

    Obviously, we're talking guys with much greather high-end skillsets, but is it really neccessary to have a dominant physical game to be a complete player?

    By my definition, a complete player is one who can play in all three zones and in any situation; players who are balanced and not a liability to their team in any facet of their game. Horcoff's no shrinking violet; he's shown his character again and again, blocking shots and taking hits to make plays, going into the corners where stuff gets nasty. A complete player, in other words.

  • RobinB

    Braden: Horcoff is as complete a player as you'll find. He's very well-rounded in all aspects. You're really reaching to suggest lack of a dominant physical component — while he doesn't overpower anybody, he doesn't avoid traffic — to his game makes him incomplete.

  • Cooper

    CONFUSED!
    1) Why has MacT not tried Cogliano on the 1st line yet?

    2) Suprised Mact want toughness when he handcuffed Laraque when he was here and benched Torres when he 'pole-axed' someone in Detroit?

  • Rick

    Tyler Says:
    November 22nd, 2008 at 2:03 pm
    It isn’t an insult to Horcoff’s ability as a player to suggest that he hasn’t played that well this season. Or atleast as well as he is capable of.

    I don’t disagree with the idea that there’s nothing wrong with saying he hasn’t played up to his usual level, I just have a hard time reconciling it with what the numbers say about him. There seems to be a disconnect between what the numbers tell us that he’s done this year (yes, yes, I know he hasn’t piled up the points this quarter; I’m talking about the stuff like SF/SA, where his shifts start and end) and what the perception is. I have a hard time believing that, if he’d had a some more bounces, a lot of the heat would dissipate.

    ….

    Not playing as well as he is capable of does not mean that he isn't doing anything right. It just means he isn't playing as well as he is capable of.

    You suggest that for Horcoff it almost boils down to puck luck for him. That the numbers show that he is doing better than the traditional stats indicate.

    I think the stats you list (pts VS outshooting and where the shifts start/end) merry up they way I would expect them to at this point.

    What the outshooting stats and shift ending stats don't tell you is how they ended or what kind of shots are being taken. Horcoff has done alright in moving the puck up the ice and generating a few shots, the problem is they aren't resulting in the quality chances he has been involved in when looking back.

    In other words, he is doing fine in some respects but not so much in others. As such his game most definately is open for some critisism.

  • Braden

    RobinB – I think you're confusing "complete player" with "2-way forward".

    Alexander Ovechkin is the most "complete" player in the league.

    Horcoff is a better 2-way player than Getzlaf.

    Getzlaf is more of a complete player than Horcoff.

    That's the way I see it. If you disagree that's fine.

  • RobinB

    Braden: I do disagree and, like you said, that's fine. I'm not that worried about making you see things my way.

    As for being "confused," I'd like to think that after 25 years of being paid to cover hockey, I'm not that easily thrown off what's what and that I know the difference between a complete player and a two-way player. But thanks for the tip and the benefit of all of your experience.

  • Mie

    "Depends on your definition of “complete” I suppose. Is Nik Lidstrom a “complete” player, despite his lack of physical game? Scott Niedermayer? Henrik Zetterberg? Patrice Bergeron? Paul Stastny? Joe Sakic?

    What about guys like Modano or Yzerman in their primes? Sidney Crosby?"

    Great comparison Willis…Yeah I would put Horcoff in the same category as all these sure fire Hall-of-Famers (Stastny and Bergeron not included).

    When you are that great, it doesn't matter if you are physical. At least compare him to players he deserves to be in the same breath as.

    As for your stats against Washington, with Carlyle having last change why would be go power on power, when he gets a better matchup going against lesser lights. That is good coaching, not a sign that Getzlaf is a liability.

    And in the World Championships, wasn't it Getzlaf on the top line, facing the opposing teams top D-pair every game, and geez he did pretty good there. But I guess Hitchcock was so worried about his defensive play that he got him soft minutes.

    Getslaf is tougher, scores more, changes the momentum of the game more often and is far from this PP softie that you claim.

    Last year Getzlaf scored a whopping 4 goals on the PP out of his 24. This year he has 2 on the PP out of 8. Sure looks like he only scores with the extra man.

    And compare his PP points to other top scorers, and he isn't any more of a PP scorer than them. Datsyuk had 40, Zetterberg 36, Malkin 40, Getzlaf 36.

    But I guess you and Travis are the only ones who can use stats to back their point. Keep bringing up any stat you want, but 30 out of 30 GMs will take Getzlaf, and every Oiler would take him to. Not a knock on Horc, just that Getzlaf will give your team a better chance to win any night of the year.