The Powerplay Options

One of the most constant sources of frustration for fans of the Edmonton Oilers over Craig MacTavish’s tenure with the team was the ineffective powerplay, and that’s certainly something the Quinn coaching staff will look to address. Who, though, are the Oilers most effective powerplay performers?

Because so little of the game is spent on the powerplay, it’s difficult to get a good idea of a player’s proficiency on the powerplay from a single year – the numbers are just to small. With that in mind, I’ve taken a look at the Oilers powerplay options and gone back over the past three seasons to see how they’ve performed.

The statistics are presented as follows:

Player Name – Total Points – Total Icetime – PTS/60 minutes of ice-time

Forwards

  1. Ales Hemsky: 86 – 867:20 – 5.95 PTS/60
  2. Shawn Horcoff: 60 – 759:04 – 4.74 PTS/60
  3. Dustin Penner: 49 – 775:35 – 3.79 PTS/60
  4. Sam Gagner: 27 – 453:38 – 3.57 PTS/60
  5. Robert Nilsson: 19 – 319:31 – 3.57 PTS/60
  6. Andrew Cogliano: 16 – 327:21 – 2.93 PTS/60
  7. Patrick O’Sullivan: 28 – 581:32 – 2.89 PTS/60
  8. Fernando Pisani: 9 – 263:21 – 2.05 PTS/60

What I See

Ales Hemsky is not only the best powerplay option on the team up front, but he’s the best by a wide margin. Honestly, he should get double-shifted with the man advantage – even if it means reducing his even-strength ice-time.

Shawn Horcoff’s numbers are surprisingly good – I’d expected him to show poorly here. On a team with a very good powerplay group Horcoff might get bumped to the second unit but the Oilers don’t appear to have other options. It’s too bad, because Horcoff’s needed at even-strength and on the penalty-kill and if Sam Gagner could step up it would make things much easier for this team.

Dustin Penner’s contributions aren’t solely reflected in his point totals. David Staples has touched on this previously, and he credits Dustin Penner with playing a screening role on 22 goals where he didn’t get credit for an assist – and that’s just this past season. The powerplay functioned best with Penner on it this past year – scoring 6.88 goals per sixty minutes, a higher total than with any other Oiler.

Robert Nilsson and Sam Gagner are fine second-unit options, and might see their points totals increase if placed on the top unit. That said, neither has proven they can displace the established options (Hemsky, Horcoff and Penner). It would be a positive if Gagner could surpass Horcoff in this particular category this season.

Andrew Cogliano and Patrick O’Sullivan, despite very decent scoring numbers at even-strength, have not been able to contribute positively to the powerplay, and should not be used as regular options with the man advantage. This applies even more to Fernando Pisani.

To finish up, I’d like to see the following two powerplay forward combinations:

  • Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky
  • Nilsson – Gagner – Hemsky

If Ales Hemsky isn’t capable of playing for the entire powerplay, there may be a chance here for Rob Schremp to grab a role. Schremp, as I’ve noted previously, is a liability at even-strength but over his entire career he’s been money on the powerplay. If Pat Quinn were willing to do something unconventional with his fourth line – namely turning it into a specialist line – or if Schremp can improve dramatically at even-strength, he may just stick as a powerplay specialist. This team needs one more competent forward.

Defense

  1. Sheldon Souray: 76 – 901:48 – 5.06 PTS/60
  2. Lubomir Visnovsky: 72 – 1020:43 – 4.23 PTS/60
  3. Denis Grebeshkov: 16 – 246:58 – 3.89 PTS/60
  4. Tom Gilbert: 26 – 460:03 – 3.39 PTS/60

What I See

There isn’t much room for argument here. The Oilers have four very decent options, with the only problem being that the two best – Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky – both play similar roles (left-handed one-timer from the point). This may necessitate putting them on different units.

Sheldon Souray is a powerplay beast – although he did have the advantage of playing on an incredible (seriously, this was a league-best unit) powerplay in Montreal, where he collected 48 points in just one season. Even keeping that in mind though, Souray’s gold with the man advantage – possibly the best powerplay shooter in the NHL. Lubomir Visnovsky isn’t as good as Souray, but he’s still highly effective.

Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov look bad in comparison to the other two players, but they still post very decent totals for powerplay defensemen, and there’s nothing to worry about with this group.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    Chris wrote:
    Horc is still a better player Gagner. He is bigger, stronger, smarter, and has underated skill…
    If great “hands” were the most important quality of a forward: Schremp would be entering his third NHL season.
    I never said that Horcoff wasn’t a better player that Gagner.
    I simply said that Horcoff might not be a great option as our first line PP forward even though the stats that JW posted say as much.
    I have questions regarding the relavance of the PP points/stats because not all players were given the same opportunities. I don’t think points/minutes played works that well because of the different PP combinations, timing of each PP, etc (ex. Horcoff played primarily with Hemsky – some of the other forwards rarely did – and a lot of minutes for some of the other players came within the last 30 seconds of a PP, etc).
    The intent of my initial post was not to be confrontational with anyone. I simply mentioned to JW that I wasn’t sure of the validity of those PP stats when I see different things on the ice.
    At any rate, is there anything better than good old hockey debate??
    I said it is tough to compare waht type of points other forwards would have have out up if they were in Horcoff’s position.
    I would also think that the PP is where you would want to try players with more skill rather than players with all around good hockey skills?

    The fact that Horcs PP numbers stack up well (very well in some cases) with some of the top offensive players in the league is pretty solid proof that the guy is a legit #1 PP unit player.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ Darrell:
    That’s an interesting idea – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a defenseman play low on the powerplay (aside from in front of the net – Chara (and others) have had that role before).
    I instinctively dislike it, but I think that’s the traditionalist in me more than anything else.

    I think it's genius. It would cut out the whiffs Horc was doing on a consistent basis.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    At any rate, is there anything better than good old hockey debate??

    Nothing at all. I love this site.
    rindog wrote:

    I never said that Horcoff wasn’t a better player that Gagner.

    Fair enough. But shouldn't your best center be on PP#1?
    rindog wrote:

    I have questions regarding the relavance of the PP points/stats because not all players were given the same opportunities.

    Horcoff played 299 minutes on the powerplay. Gagner played 232 minutes. Gagner, at times, played with Hemsky when Horc was coming off a PK, or sometimes for just a different look. Gagner also had some PP time when Souray manned the point… It's difficult to breakdown who played what minutes with who (particularly on a Mact run team) unless you break things down shift by shift. Sufficient to say, Gagner has been given more opportunity to succeed on the PP than most players in the league… specially when you consider how young he is. If Gagner, looked better than Horc playing with Hemmer, I'm sure MacT would have left him there. MacT would have done just about anything to win more games… he might have even put Smid on left wing…*wink*.

  • Hippy

    @ Word:

    I'm old enough to have seen Kurri "whiff" on tonnes of Gretzky passes. (They don't save those plays for the highlight reel) Sometimes playing in the presence of greatness makes really good players look more human. Hemsky can land some pretty incredible feeds, at some pretty incredible times… not every one-timer is going to connect.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    The fact that Horcs PP numbers stack up well (very well in some cases) with some of the top offensive players in the league is pretty solid proof that the guy is a legit #1 PP unit player.

    And yet we were ranked #22 in the league on the PP??

    Do you think that was because we didn't have a good playmaker to run the PP? Is it because we didn't have capable puck moving defenseman? Maybe we didn't have the big shot threat from the point? Was our net presence the problem?

    As far as I can tell the biggest deficiency of our PP (besides the overall system/plan) was in the area of off-wing shooter and puck retrieval on the right side.

    I don't know if any of the other players could have done a better job (they weren't given the opportunity in my eyes) but I don't believe thta Horcoff is the right answer for the role.

    Can that role be filled wityh any of the players we currently have? I'm not sure – but we will never know until we try???

  • Hippy

    Chris wrote:

    Fair enough. But shouldn’t your best center be on PP#1?

    That is a whole other debate…

    Do I think Horcoff should be our #1 center???

    I think you know my answer.Chris wrote:

    Horcoff played 299 minutes on the powerplay. Gagner played 232 minutes. Gagner, at times, played with Hemsky when Horc was coming off a PK, or sometimes for just a different look. Gagner also had some PP time when Souray manned the point… It’s difficult to breakdown who played what minutes with who (particularly on a Mact run team) unless you break things down shift by shift. Sufficient to say, Gagner has been given more opportunity to succeed on the PP than most players in the league… specially when you consider how young he is. If Gagner, looked better than Horc playing with Hemmer, I’m sure MacT would have left him there

    I have to totally disagree with the notion that MacT would have put another player in that role. MacT had his favorites and in his eyes, Horcoff earned that spot. MacT rewarded a hardworking, somewhat skilled player and stuck with him out of…loyalty??

    I also would debate the notion that Gagner got an equal shot at that position. I am not even arguing for Gagner. I just see a few more skilled players that I think would have performed better given the SAME opportunities.

    I will 100% agree with your comment about it being difficult to break things down based on shifts played with certin players,etc. That is why I am not a big fan of the initial numbers posted by JW (the start of this whole debate).

  • Hippy

    Chris wrote:

    I’m old enough to have seen Kurri “whiff” on tonnes of Gretzky passes. (They don’t save those plays for the highlight reel) Sometimes playing in the presence of greatness makes really good players look more human.

    I think there is a big difference between Kurri whiffing on a few passes and scoring 45, 52, 71, 68, 54, 43, 44 (and over 100 points every year) and Horcoff whiffing numerous times and potting 22, 16, 21, 17 (and barely getting over 50 points).

    I sure hope we are not trying to compare Horcoff to Kurri…are we??

  • Hippy

    Poo Czar wrote:

    The team has 3 out of 5 gears working on the transmission, but the brakes are almost completely shot. I can live with mediocre acceleration, but a nearly complete inability to stop is more worrying. The brakes are worse off than the transmission, and you gotta fix that first, cuz that’s just dangerous.

    So you still think the majority of the Oilers problems are on the back end?

    Playoff teams score goals, non-playoff teams do not. When you have two players leading team scoring with 23 goals and one of them is a D you got big problems up front. Also, the D numbers would be much better if the forwards could keep posetion for a decent amount of time.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    The fact that Horcs PP numbers stack up well (very well in some cases) with some of the top offensive players in the league is pretty solid proof that the guy is a legit #1 PP unit player.
    And yet we were ranked #22 in the league on the PP??
    Do you think that was because we didn’t have a good playmaker to run the PP? Is it because we didn’t have capable puck moving defenseman? Maybe we didn’t have the big shot threat from the point? Was our net presence the problem?
    As far as I can tell the biggest deficiency of our PP (besides the overall system/plan) was in the area of off-wing shooter and puck retrieval on the right side.
    I don’t know if any of the other players could have done a better job (they weren’t given the opportunity in my eyes) but I don’t believe thta Horcoff is the right answer for the role.
    Can that role be filled wityh any of the players we currently have? I’m not sure – but we will never know until we try???

    So your trying to pin the problem on the 3rd most productive player on the team? He produces as well or better then stars like E Stall/Lacv/St Louis/Sedin/Doan etc etc ect. This case really should be closed.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    I sure hope we are not trying to compare Horcoff to Kurri…are we??

    No I'm not. My point is that players better than Horcoff still "whiff" on some passes. I was trying to lend perspective.

    On a side note, Kurri was putting up 100 point seasons in an era where as many as twenty players a season hit that mark… Last year only three players in the whole NHL hit 100pts. Also, at least four times during Horcoff's NHL career, not a single player reached the 100pt mark during a season…

    I guess what I'm trying to say, is it's difficult to compare stats between players from different era's. Some proration may be in order.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    The fact that Horcs PP numbers stack up well (very well in some cases) with some of the top offensive players in the league is pretty solid proof that the guy is a legit #1 PP unit player.
    And yet we were ranked #22 in the league on the PP??
    Do you think that was because we didn’t have a good playmaker to run the PP? Is it because we didn’t have capable puck moving defenseman? Maybe we didn’t have the big shot threat from the point? Was our net presence the problem?
    As far as I can tell the biggest deficiency of our PP (besides the overall system/plan) was in the area of off-wing shooter and puck retrieval on the right side.
    I don’t know if any of the other players could have done a better job (they weren’t given the opportunity in my eyes) but I don’t believe thta Horcoff is the right answer for the role.
    Can that role be filled wityh any of the players we currently have? I’m not sure – but we will never know until we try???

    Oh, and to answer your question, I feel the net precense was the problem, ie we didn't have one. Two years ago Penner had 13 PP goals (the year before he had 9 in substantially less min), this past year he only had 5.

    Just 4 more PP goals (which would be resonable to assume with Penner in front) would have bumped the team to 15th in the league for PP success… which is probably where they should have been based on their skill level.

  • Hippy

    Lofty wrote:

    So you still think the majority of the Oilers problems are on the back end?

    Not in the least. The defencemen are the strength of the team. I'm more alluding to the fact the Oil need to focus more on allowing fewer goals than scoring more of them.

    But your point reinforces that – the top 4 on this team are known primarily as offensive defencemen, meaning additional defensive responsiblity for the forwards, which brings us back again to Horcoff's value to the team.

    Regardless of position, top to bottom the team needs to improve defensively.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    So your trying to pin the problem on the 3rd most productive player on the team? He produces as well or better then stars like E Stall/Lacv/St Louis/Sedin/Doan etc etc ect. This case really should be closed.

    I guess my advice would be to close the case…but before you do – answer one more question.

    If we were going to make personel changes to our #1 PP unit; what would be the first change you would make?

    Hemsky
    Penner
    Horcoff
    Souray
    Visnovsky

    The way I see it – Our PP is able to ice two of the better PP point producing defenseman over last few seasons (excluding Souray's first season with the Oilers…injured). We have a guy that was 15th in the league in PP goals (tied with Heatley no less) a few years ago (not to mention the dirty work he does in front of the net). We also have one of the best set-up/point producing wingers in the game (on the PP). The one area that we are lacking (besides the actual coaching of a good PP) is in the shooting winger department.

    Horcoff has never finished better than about 70th (for forwards) in the league in PP points (even his allstar year he was only on pace for about a 50th place finish).

    In conclusion, I think any team would love to have 3 (maybe 4) of the 5 guys we have on our first unit. I am not sure that many teams would want to go with Horcoff in their first 5?

    And again, I will repeat – I am not sure that we have the replacement on our current roster – but then again, nobody can be sure. We have never had a coach that will let us find out.

    And just to touch on your analogy of Penner potting an extra 4 goals?

    Where would be if Horcoff would have been able to accept and one-time a quarter of the great passes Hemsky fed him???

  • Hippy

    Chris wrote:

    No I’m not. My point is that players better than Horcoff still “whiff” on some passes. I was trying to lend perspective.
    On a side note, Kurri was putting up 100 point seasons in an era where as many as twenty players a season hit that mark… Last year only three players in the whole NHL hit 100pts. Also, at least four times during Horcoff’s NHL career, not a single player reached the 100pt mark during a season…
    I guess what I’m trying to say, is it’s difficult to compare stats between players from different era’s. Some proration may be in order.

    I was just giving you a hard time…

    That being said – I don't think there is any amount of proration that would allow us to compare Horcoff and Kurri in terms of offensive production…is there?

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    We have a guy that was 15th in the league in PP goals (tied with Heatley no less) a few years ago

    Oh. You mean Penner. Seriously? A few years ago he was effective? A few years ago the Oilers were in the cup final!

    Clearly Horcoff had an off year. (Although he was pretty good "a few years ago") I agree that Horc's timing wasn't quite right last season; and he fought the puck more than usual in all three zones… No excuses, but I wonder if the shoulder injury plays into this. IMO Horcoff is still the best player on the roster to work with Hemsky on PP1. Just an opinion. Many of us were hoping for changes to the top six, but c`est la vie. Here's to hoping that Quinn's staff can breathes some much needed life into some pretty dismal special teams.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    That being said – I don’t think there is any amount of proration that would allow us to compare Horcoff and Kurri in terms of offensive production…is there?

    Probably not. Proration, however, may narrow the canyon between them to a mere gorge. Two totally different players, though.

  • Hippy

    rindog wrote:

    Ogden Brother wrote:
    So your trying to pin the problem on the 3rd most productive player on the team? He produces as well or better then stars like E Stall/Lacv/St Louis/Sedin/Doan etc etc ect. This case really should be closed.
    I guess my advice would be to close the case…but before you do – answer one more question.
    If we were going to make personel changes to our #1 PP unit; what would be the first change you would make?
    Hemsky
    Penner
    Horcoff
    Souray
    Visnovsky
    The way I see it – Our PP is able to ice two of the better PP point producing defenseman over last few seasons (excluding Souray’s first season with the Oilers…injured). We have a guy that was 15th in the league in PP goals (tied with Heatley no less) a few years ago (not to mention the dirty work he does in front of the net). We also have one of the best set-up/point producing wingers in the game (on the PP). The one area that we are lacking (besides the actual coaching of a good PP) is in the shooting winger department.
    Horcoff has never finished better than about 70th (for forwards) in the league in PP points (even his allstar year he was only on pace for about a 50th place finish).
    In conclusion, I think any team would love to have 3 (maybe 4) of the 5 guys we have on our first unit. I am not sure that many teams would want to go with Horcoff in their first 5?
    And again, I will repeat – I am not sure that we have the replacement on our current roster – but then again, nobody can be sure. We have never had a coach that will let us find out.
    And just to touch on your analogy of Penner potting an extra 4 goals?
    Where would be if Horcoff would have been able to accept and one-time a quarter of the great passes Hemsky fed him???

    I wouldn't make any changes to our #1PP (the one you listed anyways) those 5 give the team the best chance to score.

    I'm not really sure where you get your PP #'s for Horc from, last year he was 59th. The year before he was 103 but in only 53 games, his 82 game pace would have put him with 25 points which would be a 7 way tie for 41st.

    The real frustrating part of this is that you seem to ignore the fact that he's out producing some pretty big names around the league.

    From my previous post:

    Horc: 4.7

    Ribeiro: 3.74
    Toews: 4.03
    E Staal: 4.13
    Kopitar: 4.38
    Doan: 4.69
    Heatly: 4.66
    H Sedin: 4.72
    St louis: 3.95
    Lacv: 4.39

    And I'll add a few more just because:

    D Sedin: 4.4
    Kovalchuk: 4.71
    Heatly 4.66
    Smyth 3.87
    Jokenin 3.88

    Now if those were the names on our #1 PP, you wouldn't say boo, but because it's "Shawn Horcoff" we need to look for other options…. this is a firm a proof as you'll find in the internet world, the man is a legit #1PP talent.

    Really all your left with is:

    "And again, I will repeat – I am not sure that we have the replacement on our current roster – but then again, nobody can be sure. We have never had a coach that will let us find out."

    Ya maybe we do, but don't you think it's a little ridiculous to think we need to "try out" an unknown on the PP to replace a guy that is already out producing Kovalchuk/Heatly/Lacv/St Louis/Staal etc etc etc?

  • Hippy

    Chris wrote:

    rindog wrote:
    That being said – I don’t think there is any amount of proration that would allow us to compare Horcoff and Kurri in terms of offensive production…is there?
    Probably not. Proration, however, may narrow the canyon between them to a mere gorge. Two totally different players, though.

    I ran some numbers a few years ago to come up with some rough comparables from the 80's to today.

    80 – 90 teams averaged roughly 3.75 GPG with roughly 1.5 assists handed out per goal, or 9.4 "points" available each game. since the lockout teams have averaged roughly 2.875 GPG again with 1.5 assist/goal gives 7.2 points available each game.

    Or in other words a point today is worth 1.3 points in the 80's.

    To pro-rate a few players of today given that function:

    Crosby's big year = 156 "80's points"

    Malkins last year = 144

    Hemsky best year = 96

    Kovalchuk last year = 118

    And it kind of makes sense based on # of league wide 100 point guys, ie last year their would have been 23 100 point guys, which was pretty average for the 80's.

  • Hippy

    Ogden Brother wrote:

    The real frustrating part of this is that you seem to ignore the fact that he’s out producing some pretty big names around the league.

    Again, I have a tough time comparing any of the PP players stats because they are not playing with the same players, same systems, etc.

    As far as Horcoff stats; you're right – I made a mistake on the totals. I had the wrong field hilited. Sorry about that (although there wasn't much of a difference).

    I am assuming that you are then happy with the PP and wouldn't change a thing? And I am also assuming that if we were to acquire a St.Louis or Lecavalier, you would play them behind Horcoff on the PP?

    I know that is not your point – but I just don't think that Horcoff is giving our PP the best chance to be effective on a regular basis when I keep seeing him make the unforced errors that he does.

    We have beat this to dealth and please don't think my intent was to be confrontational.

    I was skeptical of Horcoff (and his icetime) during the year of the cup run and then I was extremely disappointed with the season following that (06/07). I made a conscious effort to have an open mind the next year (07/08) and Horcoff almost made me a believer (then he got hurt). I came into last season with the expectation that he had evolved and was a legitimate choice for our #1 center. After about 20 games I couldn't help but fall back on my previous feelings about him and saw basically nothing form him that led me to believe he was a true offensive player.

    So if you look at it from where I sit – I see a decent season statistically (05/06) coupled with a fantastic year in 07/08. When you compare that to the horrendous year in 06/07 and the equally brutal (if not worse) season last year – you might further undertand my reluctance to categorize Horcoff as a great option (at his postion).

    I don't even care how much he makes (unless it holds us back from making improvements) I just wish he would be used in a different role.