Turning The Oilers Into A Playoff Team

lin

If we were setting an objective for the 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers, what would it be? Obviously, it would be nice to see them contend for the Stanley Cup, but from a practical point of view there are a lot of improvements that need to be made to get there. I think the goal that most fans would be relatively satisfied with for next season is some playoff hockey.

Considering where the Oilers are coming from, I think 8th in the West is a good minimum goal. With that in mind, let’s look at how the team faired in some statistical categories. All of these consider Western Conference teams only (in other words, they’re out of 15), and are ranked in order from best to worst.

  • Goals: 7th
  • 5-on-5 Goals For: 7th
  • —Playoff Cut—
  • Powerplay: 10th
  • 5-on-5 Goals Against: 11th
  • Shots For: 12th
  • Faceoffs: 12th
  • Penalty-kill: 14th
  • Shots Against: 15th

Now, we could gamble that changing up the coaching staff and continued development by young players are going to help the team – and they very well might. That said, I wouldn’t want to gamble a playoff spot on it; even if both of these changes help, there are certainly roster changes needed.

The most interesting thing about this list is something that gets glossed over or ignored time and time again: the Oilers had playoff-calibre offense last season. In other words, if making the playoffs was dependant on goals scored and nothing else, the Oilers last season were a playoff team.

Could they be better? Absolutely. But goal-scoring did not keep the Oilers out of the playoffs last season. The powerplay was part of the problem, but some simple coaching decisions (like using Dustin Penner in an intelligent manner) make this one of the few areas where the Oilers could see a significant improvement without making wholesale roster changes.

On the other hand, the Oilers didn’t generate a ton of shots; their offense was dependant on making the most of the shots they did get; something they did well last season, probably because of the overall skill level of the team’s forwards. Adding a few players with a greater tendency to shoot – perhaps even from within (late season pickup Patrick O’Sullivan and minor-league prospect Ryan Potulny are both shooters) would help.

Now we get into the things that kept the Oilers out of the playoffs last year: a lousy penalty-kill and poor defensive play. The Oilers PK was second-worst in the Western Conference, and desperately needs to be addressed.

I’ve heard it repeatedly suggested that a change in coaches should fix the penalty-kill, but I don’t buy it because:

  • Craig MacTavish-coached teams have a good track record on the penalty-kill
  • Multiple penalty-killers (Stoll, Reasoner, Greene) were shipped out prior to 2008-09 and were never replaced – and now another one (Brodziak) has been sent out too

Some of the problem may have been coaching, but the likelihood is that this is primarily a personnel issue – something that’s borne out by the Oilers poor defensive play 5-on-5.

Last year, the Oilers ranked 11th in the West in goals against – and they would have ranked worse except for a fantastic performance by Dwayne Roloson; something that’s made obvious by the fact that Oilers’ goaltenders faced more shots than anyone else in the Western Conference.

Something needs to be done to address the fact that the Oilers bled chances defensively. I know this isn’t going to be a popular stance amongst fans (many of whom are still cheering for the vaunted “three offensive lines” concept and looking forward to a new era of offensive creativity under Pat Quinn) but this was and is the Oilers biggest problem. The team is full of young, offensive-minded players with little or no clue defensively and its defensive stalwarts have either been overused (Horcoff) or are questionable due to age and injury (Moreau/Pisani).

The Edmonton Oilers will never be a successful team unless they can find a way to fill their gaping defensive holes.

Unfortunately, filling those holes seems to be a low priority – not just among fans, but also in the G.M.’s office.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention

    Hasn't Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended?

  • Hippy

    DanMan wrote:

    My girlfriend thinks Felacio is not as good as Cunni Lingus.

    And there he is, the guy that takes it too far and ruins it for everyone, glad it's not me today.

    The Menace wrote:

    ScubaSteve wrote:
    All I have is a “little” gelato……..

    Maybe you spend too much time in the water…

    You may have a point, I do live on the Shuswap and have been doing alot of tubing lately. That story may just fly…….

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    Would Heatley help? Certainly. He’d even help defensively by keeping the puck in the attacking zone.

    IT doesn't seem as though he's terribly good at keeping the puck at the right end of the rink either though.

  • Hippy

    Robin Brownlee wrote:

    The Menace wrote:
    ScubaSteve wrote:
    Robin Brownlee wrote:
    vern wrote:
    oh no we lost a 3rd line AHLer that gave felacio to MacT for NHL ice time
    Felacio? Isn’t he an Argentinian striker?
    I thought it was Italian Ice Cream….
    I think you’re right – I could go for some felacio right now.
    I remember the night in Chicago a waitress asked me if I’d like a little gelato after dinner. Damn near fell out of my chair.

    And then "comeforth then BingoFuel" ?

  • Hippy

    kingsblade wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention
    Hasn’t Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended?

    Not sure, but for the most part people seem obvlious to it as the peanut gallary (and some writers) are constantly chiming in with who strong the defense is (specifically the top 4) and how badly this team needs a 40 goal scorer.

  • Hippy

    I know MacT played Reddox on the first line and now you guys all hate him, but the guy played his heart out for our team and the only thing he did wrong was performing every task the coach gave him.

    He deserves better from fans like us. I will miss the "Red Ox".

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    kingsblade wrote:
    Ogden Brother wrote:
    Glad to see the GA is finally getting some attention
    Hasn’t Willis addressed this point in approximately every 3rd article since the season ended?
    Not sure, but for the most part people seem obvlious to it as the peanut gallary (and some writers) are constantly chiming in with who strong the defense is (specifically the top 4) and how badly this team needs a 40 goal scorer.

    "how strong"

  • Hippy

    @ Sandra:

    Sorry, Sandra; this was addressed on the 9th.

    NonMint wrote:

    See, this is why we can never have anyone nice over.

    Wanye Gretz wrote:

    You know I was just thinking that too.

    *looks wistfully off into the distance, remembering all the good memories shared with smiliegirl15*

    smiliegirl15 wrote:

    *rolls her eyes and goes back to work* ~

    It takes a special peson to be a regular on the Nation; not just to write on it, but even to read it. Some people apparently have fairly liberal (or illiterate) moms.

  • Hippy

    It's been proven time and time again, both in the playoffs and the regular season: NHL hockey is about outscoring.

    Improving offence is equally valuable as improving defence, so in terms of improving a team you never say: 'oh my defence sucked so i will improve defence'. The correct move it to ask 'what is the easiest way i can improve outscoring?'.

    In other words, it's never a question about what sucks more, it's a question about what is easier to improve in large quantities.

    So the Heatley deal makes sense in that he will likely net the Oilers good outscoring returns (arguably noticeably better then cogs/penner/smid – but that's certainly debateable).

  • Hippy

    I'm not worried about O'Sully scoring at a better clip this year. He battled through that slump he was in after getting traded here. Every shot he took that got saved could have been the one where he said "next time I'm passing" but he's got the killer instinct and finally (too late to matter but to my point)potted one. He'll be more comfortable this year and should easily get 20. Hopefully he'll be one of many, but this team isn't stocked with guys that can reasonably get that many.

  • Hippy

    I'm glad to see that you mentioned both Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene when you talked about the dip in the PK.

    I know that Stoll's health was a topic of concern in his last few seasons with the Oil, but he was invaluable to the Kings and their PK this season. With the rule change that brought the face off into the offensive zone, faceoff men are incredibly important to a PK. Say what you want about his concussions and his tendency to break his stick ALL THE FREAKING TIME, but he's a monster on the dot.

    Greene was the kind of warrior that always helps on the PK. He made his share of bonehead plays in Edmonton, but thats what YOUNG defensemen do. To go through the hard times, only to trade him as he was ready to make the transition to "legitmate" NHL defender couldn't have helped the kill.

    So you asked what the Oilers need to make the playoffs next season… how about a guy that can win faceoffs and a physical defenseman that can clean out the front of the net?