Scapegoats

At 8-10-2, the Oilers through 20 games are just slightly behind last year’s pace (9-9-2). Last year, the majority of people following this team seemed to blame coaching, claiming that Craig MacTavish had lost the room and demanding he be fired; their wish came only at the end of the season.

Still, Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini apparently believed coaching was the issue, as he opted to start the season with a nearly identical roster and with an all-star group of coaches. The reputation of the coaching staff combined with the less-than-middling results so far have some searching for a new scapegoat.

On Friday, David Staples suggested what many others have, that injuries are the underlying cause of this team’s struggles. Quoting one line in particular:

I like this Oiler team, the team we saw at the start of the year, before the flu hit so hard.

Staples goes on to talk about the flu that decimated the Oilers’ ranks, and he cuts them slack because of it.

I couldn’t disagree more, because that 6-2-1 record wasn’t really indicative of the team’s play. I’m going to get into numbers in a second here, but before I do I’d advise those of you who have no faith in them to go back and listen to Pat Quinn’s post-game press conferences during that stretch. I’ve never seen a coach on a 6-2-1 tear sound so miserable about his team. I’m guessing that was a combination of two things: first, because Pat Quinn firmly believes in scoring chances and the Oilers were getting killed by that measure, and second, because Quinn was watching the Oilers’ poor execution and defensive breakdowns then, and knew that at some point his team’s record was going to reflect their play.

Now, for the numbers, courtesy of Tyler Dellow’s October 24th post (a post which he was ripped hard for over on the message boards):

The Oilers have been outshot 300-226 to date. I’ve had my head buried in other matters, but about all you can take from the results to date is that any team can get results in a short period. You can get a quick and dirty feel for this by just adding up a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage for a given span of games. The Bruins led the league in shooting percentage and save percentage last year; they added up to 103.4%. The Oilers are currently at 107.3%. I haven’t seen enough games to really have any opinions about what’s going on but you don’t make the playoffs like this. The shooting rates will presumably get closer over time; 300-226 is horrific, but it’ll take a lot to make up for the percentages falling back to earth.

Let’s quickly compare the per-game shot totals and the percentages over those first nine games (6-2-1) and over the last 11 (2-8-1):

Dominant (6-2-1) Oilers

  • Shots For Per Game: 25.1
  • Shots Against Per Game 33.3
  • Shot Differential Per Game: -8.2
  • Shooting Percentage: 15.9%
  • Save Percentage: 91.3%
  • Combined Percentages: 107.3%

Garbage (2-8-1) Oilers

  • Shots For Per Game: 28.2
  • Shots Against Per Game: 33.3
  • Shot Differential Per Game: -5.1
  • Shooting Percentage: 6.5%
  • Save Percentage: 90.4%
  • Combined Percentages: 96.9%

Notice that the Oilers have actually improved on their shot differential through this nasty stretch where injuries and flu have been blamed for most of the problems. They’re snake-bit right now; perhaps that’s the result of the flu but at the end of the day we would expect them to be close to the 100% mark on the combined percentages. That’s a positive – their record over the last 11 is a little bit worse than we would expect from their shot differential. That fits with what I’ve seen, in some games (notably the Ottawa shootout loss) the Oilers played as well as I’ve seen them play this season.

That said, his isn’t a good team. With some good luck, they could be a middle-of-the-pack, playoff-bubble team. With bad luck, they could very well be in the draft lottery.

This isn’t sky-is-falling stuff, either. This team hasn’t been competitive since Game Seven of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. We’ve had three seasons, from 2006-09, of lousy results, with the only bright spot being an illusory 20-game stretch at the end of 2007-08 – a stretch built more on players riding hot streaks than on solid team play. The G.M. chose not to change over the roster after a lousy showing last year, seemingly buying into the belief that Craig MacTavish was to blame.

This year, Pat Quinn has sounded a lot like Craig MacTavish in his post-game pressers. His team’s results have borne a striking similarity to MacTavish’s team last year. It isn’t injuries. It’s this roster.

How to fix the roster is a question worth looking at. I imagine that the usual suggestions (trade Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani, and for the really delusional, Hemsky) are going to get tossed out there. Before they do, I’d like to ask the people prone to those suggestions to look back at the 2006 team. Count the veterans. Count the kids. Then perform the same exercise with the current roster. This team’s been rebuilt, with kids who aren’t proven at the NHL level (Cogliano, Gagner, Brule, Jacques, Stone, Nilsson, Stortini, and Smid) filling roles that used to go to veterans.

This is a rebuilding team, as it has been ever since Pronger and company left town. And as a rule, rebuilding teams lose.

  • jave_911

    I think there's a typo on the oilers web page. It says this game is on SNET-W?? i thought they're only on PPV, kinda like UFC.

    So is 20 games without MacT enough to realize it wasn't just the coaching? I know trading NHL players isn't like pogs, but Tambi could pull off somthing small to at least show he's not just gonna stand by and watch the same team play the same way they did last year.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Trade for Matt Cullen if this team does plan on making the playoffs. Perfect fit in my mind. Faceoffs are usually over 50% and he plays at both ends of the ice. Not overly physical but big enough he doesn't get pushed around.

  • How recent are we talking about Penner's "less flattering" track record?

    This year all his numbers are good, whereas last year only his advanced stats, such as shot differential, were good.

    As for the Oilers, yes, I do think the flu hit them hard. Who knows what their shot differential would have been with Souray in the lineup, and if they had all got the vaccine?

    I suspect it would have been better.

  • I'd have no problem with the current status of the team if Tambellini just came out and said exactly what you did above.

    "This is a rebuilding team, as it has been ever since Pronger and company left town. And as a rule, rebuilding teams lose."

    I could buy that. My guess is most everybody else could too. It seems the problem with this team has been that management simply cannot be honest with their fans. It seems its just not in their DNA.

  • @David Staples:

    Fair enough. And in your defence, you're hardly the only one who has pointed to the injuries as the real issue.

    I just read your site far more often than I read the Edmonton Sun or listen to local sports radio, and I happened to remember that article.

  • Even the veterans don't have a long track record. Outside of Hemsky, Horcoff, Visnovsky, and Souray, veterans either have a short track record (Gilbert, Grebeshkov, O'Sullivan) or a less than flattering recent history (Moreau, Pisani, Staios, Penner).

    • Pajamah

      Even so, short of Souray, Visnovsky……no one on the team is a superstar, and the 2 are debatable as well.

      This team tries so hard to dress a 5 as an 8, and other than the homers, we've come to realize the kids potential is still only that, potential. Nowhere is it written that Gagners 40-some point seasons will equate to an 80 point per year career is a foregone conclusion.

      And as for Moreau, Pisani, Staios, you can completely take "recent" out of the quote, none has ever been good enough, short of Pisani's 06' playoffs. Moreau has been a leader, and nothing else since we got him from Chicago. Staios was a leader in Atlanta, but can be a middle guy here.

      Fact is, we need better superstars, and better role players (save Khabibulin)

  • Ender

    To be fair to my own position, I don't think I've ever said the Oil were more than a playoff bubble-type team, which seems to be the same as your position, Jonathan.
    Regards,
    The Straw Man.

  • easymoney

    Great read – I think for the most part you've perfectly summarized the Oilers this year and what the problem is. Yes the injuries are making it tough, but let's be honest: even healthy this team is barely good enough for the playoffs, if at all.
    I believe the MacT reign had run its course; there was obviously a problem with him behind the bench…but this year has proven that even with a skilled coaching staff it's going to be tough to win games.
    We were 6-2-1 at one point, IMO, mainly due to the weakness of the opposing teams goaltending. Once that trend reversed winning games became that much harder.
    I agree this team is "rebuilding", and perhaps if management admitted this we wouldn't be so distraught over watching the Oilers lose the way they do.
    I just hope Tambo and Co. have a "plan", and aren't just writing the script as they go along…

  • Ender

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    This isn’t a good team. With some good luck, they could be a middle-of-the-pack, playoff-bubble team. With bad luck, they could very well be in the draft lottery.

    "So you're telling me there's a chance . . ."

    Lloyd Christmas