Quarter pole results: grading the Oil

Report card time again. Like last season we will have a quarterly report card, at games 20, 41, 62 and then a final season ranking. The rankings will be based specifically on the respective quarter.

A+ Dustin Penner. Penner’s play during the first 20 games this season, could equal the biggest 20-game turn around we’ve seen from any Oiler player in years. He was a force in every game during this stretch. He carried the puck in the zone with confidence, forced D-men to back in, he beat guys one-on-one, he back checked. He did everything that we didn’t see in his first two years as an Oiler. Some wondered that he might just be on a hot streak, but his game didn’t falter once during this stretch, in fact, you could argue his game has gotten stronger each game out.  Twelve goals and 23 points in 20 games, top-ten in league scoring and +/-, means there isn’t much more you could ask from Penner, except maybe a GW goal; but that is just being picky.

A- Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin got off to a horrendous start with the gaffe v. Calgary in his first game, but since then he has been very steady. I would have given him an A if he’d stolen a game or two. He faced more shots, 33.75 than any starter except Tomas Vokoun (35.2), so it might sound strange to say he didn’t. He was very solid, but I can’t recall a game where he wore a balaclava. His numbers aren’t exceptional, 3.11 GAA and a .907 SV%, but I think it’s a case where the numbers aren’t a true reflection of his play. He also played 17 games during this stretch, putting him on pace for 68, which is more than anyone expects him to play. If he has to play close to 70 games this season, the Oilers will be in trouble.

B+ Ladislav Smid. Not only did Smid battle through H1N1 and another flu bug, he is becoming a shut down D-man that Tom Renney can use against the opposition’s top players. The game v. Columbus where he battled Rick Nash all night was his best of the season. Smid Still hasn’t scored, stretching his goal-less drought to 153 games, but when he does you can expect a huge celebration amongst his teammates. His four assists during this stretch have him on pace for career highs in both points and assists.

B+ Jeff Deslauriers. The back up’s main job is to ensure the team has a chance to win, and in every start Deslauriers has done that. His 1.96 GAA and sparkling .937 SV% reflect how well he has played. I liked his fire in the Ottawa game, when he was pissed at Neil for being in the crease. He looks more comfortable than last year, and I’d expect Quinn to use him a bit more as the season progresses. They need to find out if he can play 30 consistent games.

B Ales Hemsky. He might be the most contested grade on the team. His 18 points in 17 games have him tied for 30th in the league, but he only has four goals, and if is going to be a team leader he needs to score more. He has only had three games where he was clearly their best forward, and that isn’t consistent enough. He has played with a bum shoulder, and for a guy who handles the puck as often as he does that hampers his play. If he can get healthy, and inspired by Penner’s play Hemksy has the ability to carry his team for a ten or twenty game stretch, and considering where the Oilers are in the standings he will need to do that if they want to be in the playoffs.

B Lubomir Visnovsky. He has been spectacular at times, but it is clear he needs to shoot more often. Twenty-seven shots in 18 games aren’t enough, considering he has been on the number one PP due to Souray’s injury. He moves the puck very well, has great vision and outside of the Ottawa game, rarely makes bad turnovers. He has to be a leader on this team, and he needs to get a bit more selfish and shoot the puck. He is the best passer on the team, so I understand why he looks for the pass often, but it’s imperative that he starts to shoot more frequently.

B Gilbert Brule. Despite missing three games due to the flu, Brule still finished second in goals this term. Five goals, ten points in 17 games while playing 13:08 per game, which is fourth fewest minutes out of forwards who played ten or more games, just re-enforces how good he has been. None of his points have come on the PP, and he is 3rd on the team in hits, 31, and he is their best regular faceoff man at 51.7%. Before the flu bug slowed him down, Brule was their second best forward behind Penner, and at some point Quinn needs to start using him more.

B Ryan Stone. No one, outside of Stone, thought he’d make this team going into training camp, but he not only made it, he found his niche and became an impact player. He had 19 hits in eight games, and chipped in with three assists. His 19 hits are fifth on the team, which illustrates how valuable his consistent grit and energy are to this team. Stone’s injured knee started the Oilers downward spiral towards becoming a soft team again. He isn’t a one-man wrecking crew, but it has become clear the Oilers lack a player with his tenacity, and when he returns, he will need to play with the same fire and determination with the hope it jumpstarts this team.

B- Steve Staios. Like Stone, Staios’ value was more noticeable when he was out of the lineup. He isn’t flashy, but when he was out for 12 games they missed his shot blocking and consistent compete level. He isn’t a great passer, and at gets himself in trouble when he tries to do too much, but many of the young players should try to compete as hard as he does on most shifts. Throw in four points in eight games from Staios, and that is pretty good production from a stay-at-home D-man.

B- J.F Jacques. Even though Jacques started the season on the first line, he didn’t try to be a skill player; rather, he maintained a consistent physical presence. Jacques’ 53 hits in only 15 games has him top-ten in the league, and he has 19 more hits than any other Oiler. They’d like him to be a bit more assertive with the puck, but until his back injury it looked like he finally realized the style of game he needs to play to stay in the NHL. He might be ready to return Saturday against the Blackhawks.

C Zack Stortini. Stortini is always working on improving his game, and Quinn clearly likes his work ethic. But Stortini has been as much of a pain-in-the-ass this year as he was last year. He works hard, and you never question his commitment, and while it might not be fair to ask him to be more physical, I think he has to be. He has to get under the opposition’s skin a bit more, because his teammates see that and it seems to energize them. He has missed some glorious chances this year, and while you don’t expect him to be a 15-goal man, I think he is capable of getting ten goals and he needs to at least create more chances.

C Taylor Chorney. The rookie has been a pleasant surprise considering he wasn’t expected to play this much. He started out really strong, making few mistakes, but in the final five games before he got hurt, those usual rookie mistakes started to creep into his game.

C Sam Gagner. He is still too inconsistent, and his eleven points in 20 games illustrate this perfectly. He started strong on the fourth line, earned a promotion to the top line, but once he got there, he wasn’t able to maintain the same consistency. I like his willingness to mix it up, but eight hits in 20 games isn’t enough. He needs to limit the peaks and valleys in his game. Some nights he has been very good, but he’s had just as many, if not more, nights where you didn’t notice him.

C Mike Comrie. You wonder how much better he would have produced if the flu didn’t affect his breathing as much as it did. He is tied with Brule for second in goals, and he is an opportunistic scorer. His vision and ability to read the play in the offensive zone is the best on the team, and he always seems to find an open seam. He also isn’t afraid to mix it up and most importantly, as a small guy he understands he needs to go into the tough areas to score. The small kids, Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson better should try and mirror that.

C Andrew Cogliano. He is averaging the 6th most minutes of any forward, but he doesn’t get much PP time. He has played mostly with Moreau and Stortini so you could argue that he isn’t playing with offensive players. His biggest issue is still his faceoffs, 39.4%, really limits Quinn’s ability to put Cogliano on the ice in certain situations. I think it is becoming clear that he might have to move to the wing if he wants to play in more offensive situations.

C Jason Strudwick. The veteran has played more than he expected due to all of the injuries, and he has been okay. He doesn’t take any penalties, but he hasn’t been as physical as he was last year. He never tries to play outside of his skill set, so he rarely gets into serious trouble. I was a bit surprised that during the stretch where this team wasn’t very physical, that he didn’t drop the mitts at least once. Last year, he did well in his fights and it seemed to energize the team, they could use a bit more of that from Strudwick. His biggest asset is his leadership and presence in the locker room, which will never translate onto the ice.

C-Denis Grebeshkov. His offensive numbers, three goals and ten points, should give him a better grade, but he six points in the first six games. Since the great start, he has stopped shooting and reverted back to turning over the puck as often as he did in his first season. He didn’t register a shot in eight of the previous ten games, and considering he averages the most minutes, 23, on the team, that is unacceptable. He isn’t ready to be a top-two D-man, and with the return of Souray, he probably would have played better because his role would have diminished a bit. Even with this grade, the Oilers will miss him during the next quarter.

C- Ethan Moreau. Moreau is averaging 12:49 a game, only Nilsson, Stortini, Stone and Reddox play less than him. It is clear he has become a 4th line player on this team, and with reduced minutes it is harder to make an impact. But Moreau hasn’t had only a few games where every shift he is making life difficult for the opposition. Moreau has always been honest about his game, and he doesn’t vary from that style too often. His work ethic is still high, but he has very few shifts where he changes the momentum of the game. That was one of his strengths in the past, and he needs to find that game again.

C- Patrick O’Sullivan. It might be strange to grade a guy this low, despite being third on the team in scoring, but O’Sullivan hasn’t impressed me at all so far. While he is tied with Penner for most shots at 61, he has missed way too many good opportunities. He has 23 missed shots, and I’d probably twice as many blocked shots. His shot selection hasn’t been good, and he must find a way to get more shots through. He is their best shoot out guy though, having scored three out of four attempts this season.

D Tom Gilbert. He is playing 21:31 minutes a night, 2:48 or that on the PP and yet he only has four points. He needs to be better offensively, and it seems clear that he is struggling with his puck handling confidence. It is surprising how unproductive he has been considering he had three goals in five preseason games and had loads of confidence when the season started. Gilbert has 28 shots in 20 games, and is the poster boy for a team that doesn’t shoot enough. His only goal came on seeing-eye shot from the blueline, and if that isn’t proof enough that he and his teammates should just put pucks on net, then I don’t know what is. He also needs to be start winning more one-on-one battles in his own zone.

D Robert Nilsson. He is minus 12 in twelve games, has one empty net goal, has six hits and he isn’t an offensive of defensive contributor. It is obvious that he won’t produce in Edmonton, and it seems he will only stick around if the injury bug continues to infect the locker room.

D- Shawn Horcoff. Horcoff truly cares and this grade isn’t a reflection of his effort, more so it is a barometer of his execution. He plays the most minutes, 19:49, of any forward, yet he only has six points in 16 games. He needs to produce more, regardless of his salary. His shoulder had bothered him for a few weeks leading up to the Andy Sutton hit, but if he is going to play that many minutes he needs to produce. Quinn doesn’t have a better option to eat up the minutes that Horcoff plays, but if Horcoff doesn’t start to produce Quinn will have no choice but to give Brule, Gagner or Cogliano more time, even if they struggle.
***Souray, Pisani, Reddox, Potulny, Peckham and O’Marra didn’t play enough to garner a grade.

C TEAM GRADE: This team has been incredibly banged up during the first quarters, and injuries and flu bug can’t be overlooked. However, they are in 12th in the West, and two games under .500. They are great at home and awful on the road. Their special teams are both in the top half of the league, and outside of the past three games, they were continually out-shot. Funny thing is they are 0-3-1 when they out shoot the opposition, so maybe they should keep getting out shot. I gave them a C, rather than a C- because of the injury factor, but with Staios, Souray and Horcoff back playing they have to be better.

C+ Coaching grade. Some think Penner’s success is all on the coaches, and Quinn does get some credit for giving him a clean slate, but I still say most goes to Penner. While Penner has made huge strides, many others haven’t and that has to be partly on the coaches. Quinn has been a great quote, and has been very honest regarding his teams play. He has said on countless occasions they needs to be smarter, tougher and more energetic. But coaches are still based on their record, and they can’t get a higher grade when their team only has eight wins in 20 games. I’m very curious to see how the team reacts this quarter to their coaches. The honeymoon stage is over, and now we will see how the two groups interact.

What about the competition?

  • Jmask5

    Nilsson with a D ? How about F- One can't name 1x positive thing this guy brings to the team. Same grade as Horc… At least Horc wins couple draws … Other then that good analysis !

  • O'Sullivan leads all Oilers forwards with 19 blocked shots. The only other guys in double digits are Comrie (12) and Horcoff (11). He's been one of the best penalty-killers on the team. He has 12 points in 20 games. He's 3 for 4 in the shootout. He leads the Oilers with 61 shots.

    Somehow, C- seems low.

    • Jason Gregor

      That is your opinion. O'Sullivan blocking shots means nothing for me. And he is tied in shots with 61 with Penner. Penner has 12 goals, O'Sullivan has 3. His shooting % is horrific, and when you consider how many quality chances he has had and not buried, he is hurting the team. He has been put in positions to succeed and so far he hasn't got it done goal wise.You might think his rating is low, but I don't.

      • And that's fair enough. These are, after all, your rankings and you don't need my approval.

        Personally, though, I think O'Sullivan's PKing and shot-blocking gives us a more nuanced view. Add that to the fact that he's third in team scoring, and I have trouble seeing him ranked down with Moreau and below luminaries like J-F Jacques and Jason Strudwick.

        It's just my opinion.

        • Jason Gregor

          WHich makes it a good debate. If we all saw the game the same way it would be pretty boring. I look at Jacques as a guy who did his role. Be physical. O'Sullivan, given all the opportunity he has been given has to produce more.

          I base them a bit on how a player is playing his role. THe fact is guys like Grebeshkov, Gilbert, Horcoff and O'SUllivan are four of their top six minutes guys, and they are all below average. Guys like Jacques, Stortini and STrudwick are role players, and ultimately they won't have as much of an effect on the overall outcomes of games.

        • MrOiler

          I agree with Willis. POS has struggled on the shot, but he deserves at least a C+ or B- compared to other players. Hemmer only has 4 goals and he gets a B – so goals alone can't be the only criterion.

          No one gets the quality time that Hemsky gets.

          p.s. – I'm not making a case with Hemmer's grade. I think "B" nails his play so far.
          p.p.s. – I also think you are correct in 95% of your grades. I would only make a case for POS and Horcoff to be higher.

      • I'm going to agree with you here. Patty O has been getting some prime ass minutes of play, and he hasn't been putting it to use. I would rather see one of the other kids get top PP mins or last minute, shut down mins than Sully.

        As much as I like what Gagner's done this year, I would also agree. He needs to be more consistent there, but I'm willing to give him a bit of a pass because he's been bounced around with so many different linemates. In fact, I think a lot of the guys have, so it's hard to find chemistry with the illness and injury that has plagued the team. I know the coaches don't have any choice,so I hope that the flu is behind us and getting some key guys back like Stone will help put us in the win column.

  • Jmask5

    No Oiler has been as snake bitten as O'sullivan since Adam Oates signed with the Oilers in 2003. He is very much deserving of his grade.

    I'm just glad that the Fire Mact morons have been shutup. It sure is nicer when people are whining about the actual players.

  • Milli

    Agree for the most part, but I think you have to have O'sully ranked at least as high as Gagner/Cogs… maybe even C+ for O'sully.

    Also, as bad as Horc has been, he has to have been better then Nilsson.

    Also part 2… can't remember which game but I'm thinking Bulin "stole" one game.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      He may be better then Nilsson which isn't hard, but if these are based on individual expectations then Horcoff is horrible.

      Horcoff suppose to be 1st line center, Nilsson wasn't even considered for the roster. Horcoff has been a third liner at best and Nilsson has played like a 14th forward. So I can say I somewhat agree with Gregor, if that is how he is looking at it.

  • I also have impressed with Smid this year. It's nice to his game coming around after the work he has put in since being acquired for that other guy. Good for him. A goal would nice, wasn't his last one actually highlight worthy where he rushed in off the point?

  • Pajamah

    How about Management? Tambellini should get an F. How long does it take to evaluate the talent you have and realize there isn't much. Love the rant when he fired Mac T that changes were coming and players were going to be held accountable. Easy there Brian Burke wannabe.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      he has been a little tied down the some brutal deals k-lowe handed out.

      i agree 110% something has to be done, but in the cap era, it isnt an easy task when you have little space to work with

  • Khabibulin B-

    That first goal in Atlanta shouldn't have went in. It was a one timer from the left D to the left winger. Khabby was set and it blew past him.

    I bring this up because although he faces a tonne of shots and makes big time saves, but he usually leaves us with at least one turd a game and many nights he's letting in 4 or more.

    How about two if the three goals in Colorado where he jumped out of his crease giving both goal scorers an open net.

    Bottom line, it's tough to win games when your goalie has a 3.11 GAA and typically has one gaffe a game where you wonder how the hell he let that in.

    Maybe he's tired, but that doesn't effect my grade. I don't think he's the reason the Oilers are losing, just one of many.

  • Pajamah

    I really don't get what everybody sees in Staios the year. He completely frustrates me. Sure, his effort and work ethic is always top notch. But it seems every time he touches the puck, he freaks out and coughs it up or falls down.

  • Pajamah

    these grades are relative to individual expectations, yes?

    No Kidding!

    His 18 points in 17 games have him tied for 30th in the league

    Hemsky is over a point per game
    And, he gets a lower mark than the back-up goalie?

    Plus, he and Horcoff had to carry 220 lbs of Crazy Train around for several games.
    No wonder they both wrecked their shoulders.

    at some point Quinn needs to start using him [Brule] more.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s “inconsistent” defensively.
    How many GF with Penner, how many without Penner?

    Staios’ value was more noticeable when he was out of the lineup.

    Let’s fix that:

    Staios’ value was more noticeable when Strudwick was in the lineup.

    D Tom Gilbert

    He plays mostly with Grebeshkov. His numbers are better. But his mark is worse?
    How could he possibly be worse than Jason “Slowfoot” Strudwick?

    if Horcoff doesn’t start to produce Quinn will have no choice but to give Brule, Gagner or Cogliano more time

    That’ll help with the Ws.

    • Jason Gregor

      "He plays mostly with Grebeshkov. His numbers are better. But his mark is worse? How could he possibly be worse than Jason “Slowfoot” Strudwick?"""

      Grebeshkov has ten points to Gilbert's four. Grebeskhkov is worse +/-, and how many games has Gilbert played with Strudwick? He and Grebeshkov played more games together than apart. Gilbert needs to be more than one goal in 20 games type of defenceman.

      "I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s “inconsistent” defensively. How many GF with Penner, how many without Penner?"

      Brule's offence has come without Penner. His two goal game came playing with Stone and Jacques.

    • Just a few things:

      "Hemsky is over a point per game And, he gets a lower mark than the back-up goalie?"

      Absolutely. They have two completely different roles. As Gregor pointed out, JDD's role as a back up goalie is to not crap the bed when he's playing. So far so good.
      Hemsky on the other hand is supposed to be leading this team offensivly, and while yes, he does have a PPG numbers, it's been far too inconsistent. One game he'll get 5 points and then he'll go pointless for 3. His goals to assists is also way too lopsided. He needs to start scoring more, and more consistently.

      "He plays mostly with Grebeshkov. His numbers are better. But his mark is worse? How could he possibly be worse than Jason “Slowfoot” Strudwick?"

      Again, he's playing 22 minutes a night, and 3 on the PP, and yet he still can't find any offense. He's been pretty brutal in his own end on most nights, is losing the majority of battles for the puck, and just hasn't looked good overall. I'm not sure what you're seeing, but I'd love to get a pair of your rose colored glasses.

  • Ender

    Rigger wrote:

    Patty O has been getting some prime ass minutes of play, and he hasn't been putting it to use. I would rather see one of the other kids get top PP mins or last minute, shut down mins than Sully.

    You can't have your cake and eat it too; As JW points out, Sully is one of the best penalty-killers on the team. It's reasonable, then, to take all the 'shut-down' minutes and give them to the 'other kids'? In addition, since he is third in team point-production behind only Penner and Hemsky, it seems a bit unfair to single out Sully as the player who hasn't been capitalizing on his ice-time. If you take minutes from Patty-O, you're more likely to cost your team points and goals-against than you are to help.

    • Jason Gregor

      I'm not talking about PK, I'm talkign about PP, or the extra man opportunities at the end of the game when our goalie is out. Look, I like Sully, I do, but right now he isn't effective and maybe it's time to give someone else a chance to shoot. His production is third yes, but it's only one point ahead of Gagner's. Not exactly steamboating ahead really, so why not let someone else have a stab at it for a game or two, that's all I'm suggesting.

  • Crust

    I think Bulin is a good goalie, but I question whether his style is a good fit for this team. He likes to control the rebounds, which works well for a team that has no trouble getting it out of their zone. For this team, covering up the puck when they are caught for an extended time would be helpful…or shaking off the mask to get a stoppage would work too.

  • "Gilbert needs to be more than one goal in 20 games type of defenceman."

    Fine, no arguement,
    he's still better than Strudwick and Chorney,
    and been better than Grebeshkov too.

    "His two goal game came playing with Stone and Jacques.'

    I'd like to retract my statement re: Brule's scoring

  • I dont see the fascination with Sam Gagner, og yeah i get that everybody views the guy as the saviour the future franchise player. Well from what ive seen your dillusional, this guy spends more time picking himself off the ice then he accually spends on his skates being productive. i dont see the talent from him that i see from some other players his age.

    What this team needs is a huge shakeup, and im talking a Hemsky, Gagner, Nilsson for Kovalchuk, Little type deal.

    • Jason Gregor

      I love how you say Gagner is no good, but then turn around and have him and Nilsson, who is garbage, and Hemsky for one of the top five scorers in the game.

      Where is the logic in that. IF you think Gagner is no good, that is fine, but then don't suggest he can be part of package that gets you Kovalchuk.

      • i didnt say Gagner is no good, i just dont see the player that some other people see, i`m just saying hes 20 yrs old i dont like what ive seen from him so far, but hes young and he still has value amongst the NHL gm`s. If we could get something good for him along with hemsky that will change the face of our franchise then i wouldnt hesitate.

        • It's not really that far fetched. If Kovalchuk makes it clear he wont re-sign in Atlanta (which is very possible) then a guy like Hemsky+ would be a very nice return for him. In fact, if it's a true rental situation then that would be a huge overpay on the Oilers part.

  • Milli

    I agree that Mgmt needs to be graded, for doing nothing. I still hold out hope for Tambo, and think it must be a little tough be saddled with some HORENDOUS deals. But, the time has come for him to make some kind of an impact on this team. PLEASE.

    • The Oilers management has spent 3 years trying for the home run deal to transform this franchise. We've spent the last few off-seasons chasing after Jagr, Hossa, Heatley, etc. and have let other "minor" players slip through our fingers (Glencross comes to mind).

      I have been caught up with the excitement of chading the big fish, but I think I'm starting to chage my tune; I think it might be a better idea to make the smaller, incremental changes with role players that might be easier to swing.

  • Giving a D to Nilsson should make all the D students here rise up with me and revolt – what an insult to us and our D brethern!

    Actually, I'm curious what he would have had to do to get a failing grade. How low does Nilsson have to set the bar to get an F on the 41 game card? Maybe if he scores into our empty net? Oh right, several Oilers have already done that this year.

  • Milli

    I agree with josh rose.No where does he say gagner is no good just that it seems other people seem to have this high opinion of him…you included.Are you saying now that his value is low than you are also contridicting yourself.His nickname should be "zambonie"as he seems to be cleaning it all the time.Have a drink every time he falls to the ice and you wont make the second period!!!!