I’ve had a horrible feeling of déjà vu this summer while watching the Oilers chase after Dany Heatley. I’ve been banging the drum for a veteran third-line centre for a while, most notably here. But I seemed to remember making a similar post last year…
And here it is: Fixing Actual Problems, September 2nd, 2008:
Let’s look at two statistics. I know not everyone believes in statistical analysis of the game, but these two are very simple and obviously connected to a team’s ability to win.
Goals for, 5-on-5: 146 (11th in the league)
Goals against, 5-on-5: 169 (27th in the league)
Of those two statistics, where do the Oilers have the most room for improvement? They actually scored more goals than the Pittsburgh Penguins five-on-five, so at even strength offense really isn’t a huge problem.
Defense, on the other hand, is. Only the Los Angeles Kings were a worse team at stopping goals at even strength than the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference last season. Healthy seasons from Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray should help that number, as will an early reliance on Mathieu Garon, but at this point the playoffs are hardly a sure thing.
The loss of three players who handled a bizarre amount of defensive work (Reasoner, Stoll, Torres) is going to leave players like Marc Pouliot and Kyle Brodziak in ugly positions. I’ve talked about this before, but Reasoner took 141 more draws in the defensive zone than he did offensive zone. Jarret Stoll took 181, and Raffi Torres was fifth among forwards by this number, with 35. Basically, these guys started in their own end a lot more, something that leads to goals against, and those faceoffs still need to be taken….
I am of the opinion that the Oilers will make the playoffs, but if they don’t, I doubt very much that it will have anything to do with a lack of offensive prowess. It will be because the team lacks players who know what to do in their own end, and that isn’t a role that rookie/sophomore players excel in.
Marc Pouliot wasn’t an NHL player for the majority of last season. Kyle Brodziak finished -9 in relatively sheltered minutes, far easier minutes than Stoll/Reasoner played last season. Andrew Cogliano played the easiest minutes of the bunch, and still had 3 goals scored against him for every 60 minutes of even strength ice-time.
This team doesn’t have a centre capable of playing tough minutes outside of Shawn Horcoff, and if they miss the playoffs, we’ll look back and see that this hole is a big part of the reason for it.
- “The other team cannot score if the Oilers have the puck all the time.”
- “Brodziak improved significantly over the year and Horcoff is returning from an injury. I’m optimistically hopeful this will be enough but otherwise bringing in a soon to be UFA player should be a feasible option.”
- “Defense can be taught while offensive prowess is a talent.”
- “You may score 3 goals on us every game, but we’re going to score 5. (A system that seemed to work pretty good in the 80’s).”
- “I personally see a correlation between the Oilers of this year and Buffalo two years ago. Impressive amounts of offense and three lines that can score. Thomas Vanek was their 3rd line center and put in over 80pts and 40+ goals. We could be that type of team.”
- “I also think you’ll see the Oil make a depth move come the deadline where they bring in a shut down forward for their 3rd or 4th line similar to the role Peca played for us in the 06′ cup run.”
- “Most of the problems appear to arise from players moving into roles they aren’t comfortable with. Just because Brodziak was playing easy minutes doesn’t mean he’s going to be eaten alive each time he’s facing some serious talent. Weak competition does not mean weak players.”
- “The Oil made huge strides in making themselves better compared to the rest of the conference, so sit back, relax, and watch us make 1st or 2nd in the division.”
The point of this isn’t to tell everyone how smart I am (although feel free to read that into it – I promise I won’t mind) but just to remind everyone that we’ve been here before. The usual objections have been raised – the kids will step up, Tambellini knows what he’s doing, there’s no need to stop goals if the Oilers score 5 every game – but I view those the same way I did last year.
The Oilers failed to address obvious defensive deficiencies last season and they paid for it with a miserable penalty-kill, poor defensive play five-on-five, bizarre coaching decisions (I’m quite sure MacTavish would have been happier to keep Pisani on RW), a poor record on faceoffs, and ultimately a season finish that didn’t include the playoffs.
Let’s hope they don’t care to repeat the experience.