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.

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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.

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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.

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– 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?

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– 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


  • Cole may have the minutes played but has he been given the chance to “gel” with some talent? I think NO.

    This is Cole's third assignment in 20 games (excluding one game of Pisani-Horcoff-Cole). He had a bunch of time playing LW on the top line, and he got nothing done. Than he had a bunch of time playing RW on a checking line with capable vets (Pisani, Moreau) and the line bled chances against despite not even playing tough opponents. He's played all of, what, three games with Cogliano/Reddox?

    Cole's struggles are on Cole, not the coaching staff.

  • I agree with you Robin – Horcoff stinks, but he is all we have & the only number 1 centre we will have for a couple of years.

    Every so often I read something that someone has written summarizing my position on something and I think that I must be a terribly unclear writer. Maybe not.

  • Robin, I'll take the ignoring me as a sign that you've accepted my apology and accepted my E-hug. Did you feel the warmth? Much like the piss in our pants, we are the only two that can feel the warmth of this friendship.

    *wink*

  • Chris

    Throw three names into a hat. Pull one name out and place on waivers. Now you have two goalies and a roster spot. Stupid as this may sound, it is probably better than what has been happening. I know longer care who goes… Let's face it, the goalies aren't the problem. We need that spot for Brule, Shremp, Potulny, or anyone else who can put some pressure on the forwards. On paper this team is the best we have seen in 15 years. On the ice, however, they simply suck. Two wins in six tries at HOME. Really. C'mon Boys!

  • Smokin' Ray Burnt

    Why can't Cole play on the right side and Hemsky move to the left? He is over there all the time anyways. That way Cole is productive and Hemmer is Hemmer.

    Hemsky Horcoff Cole

    Nilsson Cogs Gagner

    And leave those alone and let them gel.

  • David S

    I suspect Robin eats guys like "baggedmilk" for breakfast – on days when he needs to watch his weight.

    Re: Horcoff. He's getting better. Guy missed a good half season. It'll take him a while to see the game at the speed he needs to. But I can see improvement every game. He's one of the last guys we need to crucify as far as showing up every night.

    And no. I am NOT David Staples.

  • Braden

    Shawn Horcoff is a #1 Center the same way as Gus Frerotte is a starting NFL QB.

    There currently isn't 32 better QB's so Gus has to be a #1.

    Unfortunately we don't have the defense to win with Trent Dilfer as our Pivot.

    Sure Horcs the best we have but I don't understand defending him at every opportunity when he is a weakness, not a strength compared to other teams 1st line center. If Horc was a top 15 guy then I would understand the love but if he isn't top 15 then it is a clear weakness in a 30 team league. Do we have top 15 goaltending to offset the difference? Is our depth? Our defense?

  • RobinB

    Braden: You're not paying attention.

    "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."

    That's not defending him at every opportunity. He's been nowhere near good enough through 20 games, and that's what we're talking about here.

    That said, it's also not fair to sell him short. Where does Horcoff rank over the past three seasons in even-strength points-per-game against other centres? How much value is there in his penalty killing and his defensive abilities? And how are you rating the 15th best centre against, say, the 21st? Points? Plus-minus? Nice haircut?

    In 05-06, Horcoff had a career-high 73 points, putting him 24th among centres. In 06-07 he was 45th with 51 points in what was a terrible season for the entire team. In 07-08 he was near a point-a-game pace and headed for a career high with 50 points in 53 games when he was injured. Even missing 29 games, he was 40th among centres in overall points.

    He's not elite. He's not fodder. Would the Oilers be a better team if he was their No. 2 guy? Yes. Is he a weakness? The way he's playing now, yes.

  • Braden

    Malkin, Crosby
    Getzlaf
    Thornton, Marleau
    M Richards
    Datsyuk, Datsyuk
    Lecavalier
    Bergeron, Savard
    E Staal
    Sakic, Stastny
    Jokinen
    Carter
    Spezza
    B Richards
    Kopitar
    Arnott

    Please don't reply back with some numbers on a spreadsheet.

  • Braden

    RobinB: Vermette had more even strength points than Hossa last year – it's all about opportunity.

    If you want to compare Horcoff then compare him against the other 30 or so centers that received his 1st line 1st unit PP opportunities. When you do that he's far down the list.

    Horc's no better than Vermette or Kesler or Fisher. He's just the beneficiary of playing on a team with no talent.

    He's a good stopgap that will keep your team in playoff hunt for teams like the Oilers and Islanders but definitely not someone you want to hitch the wagon to. Too late.

  • Travis Dakin

    He's coming back off an injury… These things take time. Remember when Doug Weight went down with that knee injury back in the day? It took him a while to get back to top form. In 06/07 everybody hated Horcoff then Last year everybody Loved him. Fact is he's the hardest working guy on the team. A team leader and he will pick it up when he loses the slight tentativeness with the injury. He's a good number 1. We need a good number 1 left winger.

  • Rick

    Tyler Says:
    November 22nd, 2008 at 11:56 am
    Who are the 15 centres in the NHL that are better than Shawn Horcoff?

    I don't think that this is the relavent question at this point.

    The question should be about which centers have played better up to this point.

    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.

  • 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.

    Guy with the list of centres above –

    I won't trouble you with numbers from a spreadsheet. Obviously it's preferable to just say "You're wrong".

    With that said, I'll give you most of those. I'm not buying Marleau, Carter, Kopitar, Sakic (obviously the far better player for career but now is what matters) and Jokinen. I've got doubts about guys like Savard and some others. A bunch of those guys on that list, I tend to think are awfully overrated – I don't know that the difference between Horcoff and them matches the salary. He doesn't match most of them in offence but then a bunch of them don't have his defensive game.

    Lecavalier is an example. Obviously a brilliant offensive player. The problem is, he gives it all back. Is a team any better off having a guy who scores 95 points if he gives it all back in the other end of the ice? All other things being equal, a guy who is, for example, EV+ 60 EV- 60 and a guy who is EV+ 30 and EV- 30 make the same contribution to winning hockey games; the guy who's on the ice for so many more goals for costs more money.

  • That's a funny list, Braden. I'll agree with Tyler above, and then point out that a +35/-30 player does more to help his team win than a +60/-60 player and is paid much, much less.

    This argument has gone back and forth, over and over for the past year and probably longer, and I'm not going to re-argue it.

    Let's take a look at Getzlaf – Here is his matchup from last night in St. Louis. The three forwards who he played the most against were B.J. Crombeen (picked up off waivers from Dallas last week), Yan Stastny (9 career points) and Jay McClement (4 assists and no goals in 17 games this year). This despite the fact that Andy Murray, the Blues coach, had last change and therefore the advantage in the matchups.

    Why, you ask? Because if he isn't playing fodder at evens, he gets killed. He's a powerplay point producer, and he's got a nasty edge, which makes fans happy, but coaches treat him like he's a liability at even strength.

    Now, there's a place for a guy like that. But he isn't remotely close to being a complete player, and his coach and pretty much every other coach (going by who they play against him) know it.

  • Braden

    Tyler – I left off a bunch of guys like Andy McDonald, Mikko Koivu, Henrik Sedin, Mike Ribeiro, Saku Koivu, Daymond Langkow, Jonathan Toews, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez ect off my list. Most off these guys have had careers on par or better than Horcoff. Depending on who you ask Horcoff could be all the way out of the top 30. Bottom line is he's not in the top 15 so clearly 1st line center is a weakness compared to other clubs.

    I don't get how you don't give the nod to Sakic because it's "now that matters", yet Horcoff is on pace of around 35-40 points "right now".

    Tampa had no goalie, no defense, and the the division he plays in is known for being a run and gun type game. Not really surprising that Lecavalier bled goals.

    Are you actually suggesting that this is a better team with Horcoff than Lecavalier?

  • Braden

    Jonathan Willis – Who Murray matches up against who doesn't tell me anything at all. When was the last time Murray even made the playoffs? Now your asknig me to judge my opinion of a player based on who Murray plays against who? Every GM in the league would take Getzlaf over Horcoff and that's not even a knock on Horc.

  • Braden

    "I’ll agree with Tyler above, and then point out that a +35/-30 player does more to help his team win than a +60/-60 player and is paid much, much less."

    And using this logic, then the low event Marc Pouliot does more to help this team win than Horc because he's paid much, much less.

  • Braden – it isn't just Murray. It's everybody. Next time Anaheim plays Detroit, watch who Babcock runs at Getzlaf. It won't be either of the top two lines; it might be Kris Draper. Getzlaf looks good because Sami Pahlsson does a hell of a job on the heavy lifting – when the Ducks did their Cup run, the difficulty of minutes went Pahlsson – McDonald – Getzlaf. 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.

    When Pouliot puts up the same numbers vs. the same opposition as Horcoff, than we can argue he's in the same range. He doesn't.

    Basically, it works like this. Fans hype guys like Lecavalier and Kovalchuk, but they always give as much back as they generate. Barring a major change in their styles, they'll never even deserve to be mentioned alongside the Zetterbergs, Iginlas, etc. of the world, because they aren't complete players.

    Horcoff's a lower-tier guy, but during the playoff run, he was taking on the bad guys, and Peca was helping, while the Stoll line tried to make hay against the softies. For all the potential of the Samsonov – Stoll – Hemsky line, they weren't winning series; series were won because Horcoff, Smyth and whoever outplayed Thornton while Peca and co. outplayed Marleau.

    There is a huge difference between a player being successful against top opposition, and being successful against the waiver wire fodder of the world. The latter player can be useful; the former wins you games.

  • Chris.

    +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! Plus/minus stuff is an overrated stat- otherwise we would all be in love with Penner right now!

  • Braden

    Jonathan – No team has more points in the last 3 years than the Ducks so what opposing coaches are doing, well, isn't exactly working.

    When Getzlaf finishes the year with 35 goals 100 points and +15 who gives a flying f who he plays against.

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

    You also forgot to mention how MacTavish outcoached Bobcock – Tencer's favorite part.

    If you're looking to find out what kind of player Shawn Horcoff is, the answer isn't on a spreadsheet or from a fan who runs an Oiler's blog. Go ask someone who doesn't cheer for the Oilers, a NW team or the Ducks and you will find a more accurate diagnosis than any emotionally invested Oiler fan or number on a computer screen ever could.

  • Chris.

    MacT likes to go on about net offence. What you generate vs what you give up. Well MacT… How do you rate a player like Pouliot who gives you virtually nothing on a nightly basis? People don't drive for hundreds of kilometers or pay hundreds of dollars a ticket to watch Pouliot! C'mon Katz! You promised us some fun!