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.