Upon further review: Huggy and JDD

Hands up everybody who didn’t make fun of or dismiss Zack Stortini at some point during his first three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers as he grabbed hold of the 23rd roster spot on the team with those scabbed up-meat hooks of his and hung on for dear life.

That’s a rhetorical question because, let’s face it, everybody did — I could dig up 10 screens of comments here to prove it, but won’t — including me, even though I should have known better.

After his first 29 NHL games in 2006-07, I had Stortini pegged as a willing but overmatched palooka who’d never be more than a marginal fourth-liner on a team with no depth at forward.

Egged on by Bob Stauffer before he took Daryl Katz’s hush money, I fell into the misguided mob of Huggy Bear critics. I laughed out loud at what a no-skill meathead and waste of roster space Stortini was.

I remember Sponge Bob and I carving Stortini a new one for half-an-hour straight during one segment of Stauffer’s Total Sports show, one that was broadcast from just outside the Oilers dressing room at Rexall Place. I also recall doing several shoulder checks, wondering if listeners would be treated to the sounds of Zack beating the shit out of Stauffer and I on live radio.

Stortini let it slide.

He’s a player

Even though Stortini proved us wrong long ago, I’ve got to admit I never saw the kind of game he played in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Tampa Bay coming.

He scored the winning goal in the second period, added an assist and traded punches with bloody knuckles soul-mate Zenon Konopka twice. It was his best game as an Oiler, and that’s saying something with how well he’s played the majority of this season, especially during this unlikely four-game winning streak.

For my money, Stortini, who just turned 24 in September, does more with less ice time than anybody on the Oilers roster. He seldom plays more than 10 minutes a night. He played just 6:22 Wednesday.

He fights. He checks. He does the dirty work. He even takes face-offs. Most of all, as those of us eating crow have come to know, Stortini competes every night. He does what he’s told. He’s a team-first player.

Given all the discussion about the DFF around here in recent weeks, and the counter-argument that at least some degree of patience is a virtue, Stortini is looking like Exhibit A when it comes to sober second thought and resisting a rush to judgment.

Stop right there

I don’t know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he’s played since Nik Khabibulin’s back gave out because of wallet strain.

Deslauriers, 25, has had games he’d rather forget during that stretch, notably a 7-3 loss to Vancouver, but the body of his work this season tells me a lot of people were wrong about him.

In 13 games this season, Deslauriers is 7-4-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average, a saves percentage of .917 and one shutout. In 23 career games, he’s 11-7-2 with a 2.89 GAA and a .910.

I’m not saying JDD is the second-coming of Martin Brodeur or has even done enough, yet, to indicate he can be a top-tier NHL starter, but he’s damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as.

His saves percentage in games during this winning streak have been .941, .943, .943 and .964. During a stretch that was supposed to solidify the DFF, Deslauriers has been, for the most part, outstanding.

Hindsight being what it is, I’m guessing GM Steve Tambellini wouldn’t have handed Khabibulin his fat four-year retirement package had Deslauriers put together this kind of impressive streak last season. He didn’t of course, in large part because Craig MacTavish left him to rot behind Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon.

Again, clarity often only comes with time.

Just asking…

— Robert Nilsson was a nice, albeit unlikely, fit with Ryan Stone and Stortini Wednesday, and has been very good overall since returning to the line-up. Is Bobby teasing us again or has he finally, finally, finally figured it out?

— Tom Gilbert has put the brakes on his struggles through the early part of the season since being paired with Sheldon Souray. With a few more weeks like that, and with Denis Grebeshkov close to returning, should Tambellini start making and taking calls on Gilbert? Or is Grebeshkov the guy to go?

— Given the way Stortini, Stone and J.F. Jacques are playing, they’d make a killer fourth line and would free up Nilsson for a spot higher in the pecking order. The question facing coach Pat Quinn down the road is: how in the world does he make room for Mike Comrie and Fernando Pisani?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • Dan the Man

    If the team continues playing the way it is there will be tough choices when everyone is healthy. How could a coach even consider changing something that seems to be working so well right now.?

    With that being said, chances are that the Oilers may lose at least one game before the end of the season so it's always the fringe players that get moved in and out. Nilsson, Potulny are the obvious choices, not based on play right now mind you. Maybe someone like Patty O'Lantern should be the one to sit for a game or 2 though? It probably wouldn't be good for his confidence but it may be a good perspective for him.

    It takes a big man to admit they were wrong and I know you've said it on the radio in the past that you've apologized to Stortini for what you've written and said about him Robin. Very classy move.

    I've become a huge Stortini fan myself, he has a tough job and I think a lot of people tend to forget just how young he still is.

    I saw him last winter in front of Sportcheck down town talking to a homeless guy. At first I thought it was 2 homeless guys but as I got closer I realized the big homeless looking guy was Zach. The conversation ended with Zach handing the other guy some money and patting him on the back.

  • @ Jason Gregor:

    I'm not saying that Deslauriers is Raycroft, although the minor league numbers are somewhat comparable.

    I'm saying that a goalie who we know is a marginal NHL'er (Raycroft) looked very solid over the short stretch where Luongo was injured. It was one example of many; I could cite others.

    In short: while short-term success is nice, I'm going to see more from Deslauriers before I'm convinced he's more than a marginal NHL'er. He's done well so far, but more time is needed.

  • @ Robin Brownlee:

    I've questioned whether he could ever be a 1B goaltender; I think I've always supported the idea he could have a career as a backup (I may be wrong here, but that's how I remember it).

    But I do appreciate what Deslauriers' doing and what it means; if he does go on to have significant NHL success, I think it would invalidate a lot of the assumptions myself (and others) have made based on minor-league save percentage.

    • Bob Cobb

      I remember you saying that JDD would be lucky to put up numbers that compare to Kevin Weekes, who is a career backup with the exception of the time he saw last year with NJ, based on his record when compared to Weekes at various stages during their hockey careers.
      Sometimes stats dont tell the whole story, and honestly I would rather take JDD over either Raycroft or Weekes at any point in their careers.

  • misfit

    *raises hand*

    I've never made fun of him. Seriously. As for dismissing him, I've definitely dismissed him as a 1st liner, 2nd liner, or even 3rd liner, but I've always had him penciled in as the team's 4th line RW and toughguy, and always felt his spot on the team was justified.

    To be honest, I didn't even realise there was so much animosity towards the guy around the blogs and message boards until this morning when I came online and read all the posts on the subject. I mean, I know there was the whole "huggy bear" thing, but I had no idea there were so many that had it out for 'ol Storts.

    I definitely can't say the same about Deslauriers though. I've probably been one of his biggest critics over the years, and even though his numbers this year are very good, he provides me with zero confidence when I watch him play. He just looks so damned shakey all the time. He makes a lot of saves during a game where I'll think to myself "he got lucky there" or "that was way closer than it should have been". I like him, I want him to succeed, but I'm not quite a believer yet.

    • I've never bashed Storts either, I took him for what he was, an element of toughness on a team that needed some. Did I reconize that he isn't of elite skill, sure, but I never pissed on him for it. Dude is doing a decent job, and he's cheap so that's good news on both fronts.

  • BINGOFUEL: Thanks for posting another picture of Raitis Ivanans, a reminder of the last time my life passed before my eyes.
    Short story . . .

    With the Oilers out during the lockout, I covered the AHL Road Runners. The RR were hosting Hamilton at Rexall Place one night.

    The old visitors dressing room was one door down from the designated writing room for reporters. Visiting AHL teams had a habit of trying to take over the writing room — they carried lots of bodies and guys who weren't playing would do dry land workouts before the games. More than once, I'd go into the room to work on a story and have to shoo a couple of players, complete with their workout gear, mats, weights etc out of there. I bitched and moaned about it a lot.

    The night against Hamilton I walked in and, sure enough, there was a player doing sit-ups on a mat. I got pissed off and barked something like, "Hey, this isn't a workout room. It's for reporters. You're not supposed to be in here."

    The player was Ivanans. Flat on his back, he didn't look like much. It was, ahem, different when he stood up. I'm six-foot-two and 270 pounds, but when Raitis got up all ripped and jacked from working out and looked down at me, I almost shat myself. He's an honest six-foot-five and was 255 at the time. He smiled and said, "Sorry, no problem."

    Good thing. I would have taken him down . . .

  • Milli

    I'm real happy for JDD, he looked terible in Vancouver, cost me big $$$. But, after the game, he owned it. He didn't hide, he didn't shy away, he took it, used it and moved on. Can he keep it up, I don't know, but I sure hope so. Anyone wonder if Patty O see's some press box time when we are healthy? I don't knbow if it's just me, but at the start of the year, I thought he was gonna light it up, but lately he seems to be lost.

  • Hemmercules

    I'm pretty happy with the way the team has been playing these last few games. They seemed to have turned a corner here, and we're getting healthier and seem to be buying more into the system that got us a better start to this season. I like the lines right now, they seem to be working fairly well. I hope Bobby can keep it up, but I have little faith based on years past. I'm not sure I'd rather see MAP there instead of a guy like Potulny or any of the other call ups though. With what we have right now, there is a nice balance. I don't think MAP really adds to that. I'd like a better chance to see what a healthy Comrie will do though, and for that I think Nilsson is the odd man out there.

  • Hemmercules

    Is Grebs playing friday??? Struds is out then I would guess.

    At this point choosing who to keep between Grebs and Gilbert is a toss up IMO. Grebs has been pretty bad at times this season after a pretty nice season last year. Gilbert clearly can't put up the points he did last year and looks pretty soft most of the time. Tough choice. If it's a money decision, lose Gilbert and try to sign grebs for 2.5 mil.

    • I wish an hope struds is out then our back end will be locked up tight. we have a great goalie the d-lines are put together right, for 5-5 hockey. The next thing is to find the right chemistry with the forwards.

      Work around horcoff being 2nd line forward and find scores for him i recomend cogs and patty 0.

  • Jason Gregor

    Re: JDD –

    I don't disagree that clarity only comes with time and I'm happy to see you paying attention to the numbers. With that said, I'm not quite sure that "time" equals "13 games". Here's the list of guys with a .917 save percentage or better in seasons in which they played 10-20 games since 1995-96: link. I might hold off on declaring that JDD is "…damn sure better than people who were citing his lack of pedigree and so-so minor pro numbers were projecting him as."

    As far as Stortini goes, while he's certainly improved, I don't know that anyone ever questioned his effort level. He's shed the Huggy Bear fighting style (with some encouragement from Laperriere). He's undoubtedly improved – the question is whether he's improved enough that he's a fourth line asset.

    The Oilers still get outshot by a ridiculous margin when he's on the ice though and he's riding an extraordinarily high save percentage and shooting percentage at the moment. I bear no ill will towards the guy but he's the kind of guy who fans of losing teams love. I'd rather have a team that was good enough to have no spot for him.

  • MrOiler

    Nilsson has been surprising on the 4th line, but you can't tell me that a ready to play Pisani or Comrie couldn't do the same job.

    Robert is the odd man out unless some bodies move.

  • It's nice to see some skill on the 4th line but it's pretty clear Stone and Storts are carrying Bobby. Can't imagine the effectiveness would drop if Potulny or Mono was playing there. What do they do MAP when his weenie is healed?

  • I'm still not sold on Deslauriers. He's had a fine stretch to be sure, and done everything anyone could expect of him, but sometimes even middling goaltenders get hot.

    I don't mean to take anything away from the guy, but he hasn't proven himself as anything more than a capable backup to this point.

    • Jason Gregor

      Who cares what others do, people have to judge Deslauriers on what he has done in the NHL. His numbers don't lie, he has been good. And why do you compare him to Andrew Raycroft of all people?

      Raycroft was a 5th rounder, Deslauriers was the first pick in 2nd round.

      I just don't see how you can realistically grab one guy and say this is Deslauriers.

      No one knows if he will be a starter until he plays 40+ games in consecutive seasons. A Goalie's success in other leagues doesn't mean much, unless they get a show in the NHL.

      It is the hardest position to evaluate because only one guy gets to play. A forward or D-man can start on the 4th line or 3rd pairing and work his way into more icetime. A goalie gets in a game, and if he struggles it is very noticeable and likely will cost his team.

      I don't know many cases that would mirror Deslauriers' so it is hard to compare him to anyone. He will be judged on what he does, and like Robin pointed out he has been great on this trip.

      Now if his next five games go south then it is clear he is still a major question mark.

      • Hemmertime

        Willis Wrote:

        I don't know many cases that would mirror Deslauriers' so it is hard to compare him to anyone. He will be judged on what he does, and like Robin pointed out he has been great on this trip.

        Pretty much resembling Deslauriers right now is Tukkas Rask. Lets hope hes doing what Steve Mason and Chris Mason did stealing starting spots. However due to draft position and time it took to get in the league I'm hopping his mirrors are Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Tim Thomas, oh how I hope that is true.

        *edit Not sure why its @Gregor but meh

    • You've argued this at length in the past, so I don't expect you to change after a relatively short look of 23 career games.

      But, even when you factor in a couple of hummer starts to go with his play of late — no way he replicates the last four games long term — I say the numbers come out favourably in terms of at least the possibility of him being a "competent" starter.

      I've been wrong before, at least once or twice, but I'll get you on this one. If not, at the very least, I recall you questioning that he'd even be a capable back-up, no?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I don't expect Nilsson to keep it up, but is it really far fetched that could be a 40 point guy? I still look at moving him as he can turn that switch off in no time.

    JDD seems to be doing quite well, but it is too early to say much more then that. It wouldn't be the first time that a goalie played well when one of our other's was struggling or injuried.

    Stortini, that a boy.

    Comrie and Pies, well like we had to do already this year we will just deal with that when we have too. Potulny get short end of the stick?

    • Hemmercules

      I could see Nilsson and Potulny out if those two come back. By the time they come back it's almost a guarantee someone will be playing horrible or be hurt though. There's no way Nilsson keeps it up, everytime you think that guy has turned a corner he just falls right back.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        Ya that would be my guess, but I don't worry too much. I did that at the start and we really haven't seen it be a problem when injuried guys came back the first time.

  • danjo1

    RE Comrie and Pies:

    I was just thinking about that this morning. I don't know where Comrie fits into the whole scheme of things on this team. The question as to why he was signed in the first place surfaces again.

    As for Pisani, I just hope he gets better and stays healthy — I don't know anyone who's had a worse stretch.

  • HansBaurMesserschmittWatson

    i think gilbert will go before grebeshkov. i think the reason gilbert hasnt been fcuking up so much, is the souray pairing. he is still not as good along the boards as grebeshkov, and i think souray presence down low doesnt leave gilbert so lost down there.

    do you guys think the czech republic and slovakia will be getting back together, so they dont miss out on the wonderfull pairing of lubo & ladi ?

    i hope bobby keeps his play up until we trade him, so he could provide some value in return.

    stone is a good compliment for zachory. still uncertain at him being at the center position. i know i shouldnt be, i been saying the same about horcoff for years.

    as for JDD, i knew he would be a stud. he is only gonna get better.

    • BarryS

      Defence pairings work as much by talents meshing and chemistry as raw ability. Yes, Souray makes Gilbert better, but seems to me Souray is playing better as well since paired with Gilbert.

      @Jonathan Willis

      At the moment we need JDD to be a very good backup, he has proved he is. Now he is working on being a very good starter. Not proved but giving very good signs.

      Don't forget, good goaltending also depends on the working relationship/trust between goalie and defence and backchecking forwards and this takes time.

  • I don't know about you, but from where I sit Jeff Deslauriers has pretty much shoved it up the backsides of his critics once and for all as to his ability to be a competent NHL starter during the 10 straight games he's played since Nik Khabibulin's back gave out because of wallet strain.

    Wallet strain. I love it.