Tom Gilbert Inside Out

Playing defense in the NHL during the post-lockout era is one of the toughest jobs in sports. Gone are the days of clutch and grab, subtle stickwork is now rewarded with a whistle and 2 minutes in the box and the old standby (holding the stick) is now called "holding the stick" and comes with 2 more minutes in the sinbin. An entire player type (the plodding defender with size and a terrific wingspan) was nailed to the Cory Cross when management discovered faster wheels were required in the "new NHL." What happens when a "wheels" defenseman falls on hard times? 

The first thing we need to do is identify what "hard times" look like. When we say "my eyes tell me" history often shows that our eyes are wrong. So, let’s have a look at Tom Gilbert over the last several seasons and see what his plus minus numbers were doing:

  • 07-08: Gilbert -6 on a -14 team
  • 08-09: Gilbert +6 on a +7 team
  • 09-10: Gilbert -10 on a -56 team
  • 10-11: Gilbert -7 on a -17 team (so far)

If we can agree that a fair measure of an "NHL pairing" is one third of a team’s overall plus minus for a season (three pairings, divide the overall number by three) we get this:

  • 07-08: -6 when -5 would be average
  • 08-09: +6 when +2 would be average
  • 09-10: -10 when -19 would be average
  • 10-11: -7 when -6 would be average (so far)

So, a brief summary of his career might go like this: impressive as a rookie (just past average, that’s terrific for a rookie); well above average in seasons two and three and then (so far) about average in year four. Fair?

I know relCorsi is a dirty word around these parts, so won’t get too far into it. I will say that Gilbert is in the black relCorsi this season and has been every season of his NHL career:

  • 07-08: +1.5
  • 08-09: +2.6
  • 09-10: +8.1
  • 10-11: +2.0

I absolutely know Tom Gilbert has been the goat on many plays this season, and that he spent much of last year looking exposed. History teaches us that NHL defensemen lose previous performance levels for (mainly) two reasons: injury and changes in how they are used. I have no evidence of injury in the case of Gilbert (although he blocks a lot of shots so we know he’s banged up a little bit at least by this time in the season), so we fall back on how he’s being used. Let’s list Gilbert’s playing time (and when he’s used) by season:

  • 07-08: 17:24EV; 2:15PP; 2:51PK
  • 08-09: 16:31EV; 2:54PP; 2:32PK
  • 09-10: 16:46EV; 2:59PP; 2:39PK
  • 10-11: 17:54EV; 2:52PP; 2:47PK

Man, that is consistent. Seriously. Tom Gilbert plays every game and plays a lot every game. I bet there aren’t many NHL defensemen who have delivered that kind of consistency over the last 4 seasons. With that kind of consistent playing time, has he been consistent offensively?

  • 07-08: 0.98 5×5/60; 3.01 5×4/60
  • 08-09: 1.30 5×5/60; 3.91 5×4/60
  • 09-10: 0.92 5×5/60; 2.24 5×4/60
  • 10-11: 1.22 5×5/60; 0.00 5×4/60

Pretty consistent at even strength and his PP numbers were good until this season. We should probably assume Gilbert will return to the median in this era and that the putts will drop as the season rolls along (all 10-11 stats will be more reliable as the GP rises). So consistent according to our friend math. Hmmm.

May I suggest something? I think maybe some of us (certainly me) are viewing the game through those pre-lockout eyes and all those mistakes are adding up quickly in our collective brains. Tom Gilbert has been exposed this season (and much of last) but that’s part of the new NHL. If the opposition is going to fly 40 sorties into your airspace every night (and you can’t use the weapons that were previously available) then a lot more bombs are going to drop. And if the goalie is less than league average then some or a lot is going to get on you. It has been this way since Henry Shrapnel was a kid.

I believe that’s partly what we’re seeing here, along with Gilbert being in a bad stretch in terms of decision making. He’s an NHL veteran now, those tentative decisions will soon be replaced by those butter outlet passes. Gilbert should recover, his resume suggests he’s quality and there are no injuries we know about with this player.

  • OilFan

    Gilbert is brutal non way around it. He can’t hit, can’t take a slap shot and is scared of the boards. We don’t have a top pairing dman on this team. Not one. Which oiler dman would be a top pairing dman on anyother team ?

  • Ribs

    He’s in his 4th season, 27 years old (twenty seven).

    Just looking at the ages of defencemen throughout the league can give you a better idea of what being a 27 year old defencman can mean…

    Highest paid defencemen over 27 yrs old: 23

    27 yrs old or younger: 7

    -This list includes Mike Green, Dan Hamhuis, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Joni Pitkanen, Shea Weber…and Tom Gilbert.

    Second Highest Paid Defencemen over 27 yrs old: 16

    27 yrs old or younger: 14

  • C-DOG

    Hi Lowetide,

    I always enjoy your articles and rarely comment unless I find something that doesn’t add up, so I don’t want you to think I am all negative. My silence is my applause.

    For this piece, I mostly agree with what you have read into your math. Some friendly criticisms though: my problem with the way you present and interpret your advanced stats is that I often see you explaining away stats that don’t make sense to your article while throwing wonton support behind stats that fully support your position. Not to mention the selection of advanced statistics for your articles may suffer from selection bias although I can’t prove that since I don’t know enough about the advanced statistics to make the case, but I notice certain stats are presented and others left out depending on the post.

    Now to my point; you have given Gilbert a pass in this article because he has been “exposed” on a relatively bad team. I don’t disagree with this. He is a number 4 defenseman on most NHL teams, and is expected to be a top pairing guy in Edmonton, a team with lots of other holes already. Why don’t you give Khabibulin the same benefit of the doubt? You use his SP as some kind of guiding tool of what Khabibulin has done this season, and have thrown him under the bus in a recent article (my impression). I’ve been playing and watching hockey for an awful long time and I can say that I trust my eyes more than some of the advanced statistics. I agree with you, Gilbert has performed about the same this year as he has in all of his previous seasons. My eyes tell me that. I don’t agree that Khabibulin has been terrible. Khabibulin has been average by his standards (better last year for the first 15 games), but not terrible regardless of what his SP is. He is technically speaking, a very good goaltender, and highly consistent. He rarely lets in a bad goal, and his positioning and reflexes are world class. He has been “exposed” this season to a very high number of excellent quality scoring opportunities which more than explains his SP.

    There is so much luck involved in some of these statistical measures, especially highly processed and refined ones like corsi. Stats might give you a rough idea of what kind of season a player is having, but I think we must be wary of small samples and luck. Gilbert -11 on a road trip? There is more luck than anything at play there. He played reasonably well on that road trip, but the team had a few bad games. I suspect +/- will even out over the season, and if it doesn’t, it won’t change my impression of Gilbert’s ability. I also expect that the Saviour DD’s save percentage will fall through the floor once a larger sample has been registered, but even if it doesn’t, it won’t change my impression of who is the better goaltender between Khabibulin and DD at this point in their careers.

    Thanks for the articles.

    • I’m not LT, but I cant help but completely disagree with you on Khabibulin’s play this year.

      He has not been sound at all this year. He has been letting in a lot of goals from angles that he should not be. He has been square to the shooter and letting pucks go right by him. His 5 hole has been open all year and he’s been terrible at handling his rebounds.

      All this could be a result of being off for nearly a year and having personal issues that are over-shadowing his commitment to goaltending in the NHL. Still, he has not played average. He has been incredibly below average. The Oilers may be the worst in Shots Against per game, but the other teams near the bottom: Atlanta, Anaheim, and Phoenix dont have goaltending like ours with the exception of Mason in Atlanta (who subsequently lost his job to Pavelec).

      NK may have a world class past to fall back on, but he hasnt done that yet. Until he does he doesnt deserve to be the Oilers’ starting goalie.

        • Reference to the Backhand in the shootout against Dubnyk? I agree. I’m not saying Dubnyk is the next Roy, I’m saying that at the moment the Oil have a better chance with him in net than NK.

          Goaltenders should be treated like Rechargable Batteries. You should use them until they no longer work, then you use another one until its out. Wash, Rinse, Repeat until the battery doesnt charge anymore. Then you throw it out and get another. You dont keep using a dead battery around because it used to power your remote back in 2001. If it doesnt work, it doesnt get used. Same with goalies.

  • Gilbert has been terrible this year. I dont even know if I can say that I’ve seen him compete for the puck in 80% of the games this year.

    He might be shellshocked after having 3 different sets of coaches telling him what to do in his 4 NHL seasons, but that’s just an excuse for a millionaire that I dont want to believe in.

    He needs to pull himself together and soon. He might not be a garbage player, but he’s playing like one.

  • Horcsky

    If Tom Gilbert is on a team where he’s a 5th or 6th dman, that team is equipped with a D corps ready to go deep into the playoffs.

    Lets be careful about the “Gilbert is overpayed” argument. I don’t see the relevence of his contract to his play, just like it doesn’t apply to Horcoff, Penner, Foster, etc. The team has cap space, we aren’t handcuffed by large contracts.

    • DSF

      There so much nonsense here I don’t know where to begin.

      If a player, like Horcoff or Gilbert is overpaid they become dead money because they are playing below replacement value…AND…they cannot be traded unless you take a similar bad contract back in return.

      How’s that Vandermeer thing working out?

      • Horcsky

        Not sure why we need to move Horcoff or Gilbert, because they are actual NHL players on a team full of fringe NHLers that may never play for a team not in last place. Horcoff and Gilbert were paid because the GM at the time wanted to ensure that these actual NHL players remained career Oilers. They were never intended to be moved, and have become franchise cornerstones over the last few years (and for the next few), whether you like it or not.

        Jim Vandermeer, if looked at in a vacuum, is not working out very well. His play has been marginal. However, taken in the context of how he was acquired, and the circumstances of this team, he is an upgrade on Patty O’Lanterns. O’Sullivan was waived by the ‘Canes, and would’ve been waived by the Oil if Tambo didn’t pull the wool over the Coyotes GM’s eyes. O’Sullivan didn’t fit on a team overloaded with developing wingers, and Vandermeer fills a need as an NHL journeyman D, even if he’s filling it poorly.

        • DSF

          If nearly 20 percent of your cap space is tied up in 2 players who can’t possibly play up to their contracts, you have a problem, whether you like it or not.

          When there are others like Khabibulin compounding that problem, you have an issue whether you like it or not.

          If we’re to be believe the media rumours, Tambellini has tried to move both Horcoff and Gilbert but can’t, whether you like it or not.

          • Horcsky

            You’re right, it’s probably not advisable to spend that much on two guys who aren’t carrying the team on their backs. However, and I can’t stress it enough, it’s not holding them back from adding another player of a similar contract, because they have space. They just can’t because of the reasons we’ve been over and over. Free agents are reluctant to sign, and we have few movable assets to bring such a player over in a trade.

            Is there any player that’s been on the team since Tambellini was hired that he hasn’t tried to move? Besides, what do we get back even if these guys are on “bargain” contracts. There’s no point in trading for players of similar skill, since the team is going nowhere without a major overhaul. So it’s just picks and prospects coming back in a trade, and we’re in the same position we’re in now, except the games are even more painful for the fans, players, and coaches.

          • DSF

            Try and think beyond today.

            Horcoff and Gilbert are going to be on the books until 2015 and 2014 respectively.

            If you believe that everything is hopeless until then, I guess you have a point but,if the team tries to build a winner in that timeframe, then those contracts are important in that they will limit other moves.

            And, of course, they also affect the team’s salary structure since other players and their agents will use them as benchmarks when they negotiate new contracts.

            If Hemsky, for example, re-signs with the Oilers, how do you think he and his agent will view Horcoff’s contract? Based on the dollars involved, it would be reasonable to assume Hemsky would be asking for $6M or more although any sane person would think that to be excessive.

            If Whitney continues to be the team’s top defenseman (heaven forbid) and is still sheltering Gilbert, what do you think his salary expectations will be?

            The contracts are signed and the players aren’t likely going anywhere until they expire but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Did I say that?

            .95ish PPG guys get 5.5+. I expect Hemsky to get 5.5+ regardless of what Horcs contract is. (baring some form of cap cheating deal.)

          • DSF

            Do they really all get $5.5M +?

            Corey Perry makes $5.3M. Bobby Ryan $5.1m

            Boston doesn’t have one forward making that kind of dough.

            Joe Pavelski makes $4M

            I could go on and on and on but if you think Hemsky is automatically worth more than $5.5M it would be pointless.

            Teams don’t win by overpaying second tier players like Horcoff and Gilbert. They just don’t.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F


            You are trying to pretend that because Horc is overpaid, Hemsky will make more.

            Even if Horc made 1 million they could look around the league and point Drury and Gomez making 7+ for far less $$$….. ie your point is irrelavant.

          • DSF

            Hemsky is NOT going to arbitration.

            He and his agent would be negotiating a contract based on his value to the Oilers.

            He is more valuable to the Oilers than Horcoff ergo he will want to be paid more.


          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Wait, what? You mean he isn’t going to arbitration??? Wow, thanks for the info!!!P>

            Hold on a second, where do you think a guy has more leverage??? When he’s in front of an arbitrator??? Or when he actually can walk away and sign with the highest bidder??? Boy that’s a tough one.

            Now assuming you can access any team in the league, what do you think would be more profitable?? looking at the other 12 contracts of forwards on your team?? …. Or, could it be looking at the 360 contracts league wide??? … another tough one….

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            His value to the Oilers is not relative to Horcoff it’s relative to what else is available to the Oilers across the rest of the league. Trying to crystal ball into the future is pointless. If there are 4 other players of similar productively and any one of them is willing to sign for a number less than Horcoff, Hemsky takes the what the market will pay him, not what Horcoff’s contract suggests he should be paid.

            I’m not sure what the point is of referencing Gilbert and Horcoff as a roadblock for future growth. UFA/RFA market is based on league wide market price not what individuals on a team make. Of course if the Oilers want to extend him before his contract expires this puts the ball more in Hemsky’s court.

            If no one else is available how much money is Hemsky’s points worth to the Oilers then? do they say no because DSF said it would be crazy to overpay or do they look at there own situation and decide if they are willing to pay the price.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            A knife to a gun fight? Pretending his agent doesn’t have 600 contracts to look at when negotiating his next contract is bringing a knife to a gun fight.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Just for the hell of it (not that throwing out those numbers had anything to do with the original point)

            Everyone you listed signed as RFA’s, not UFA’s so they didn’t have the levarage of the true, open market.

            Savard has a cap cheating deal and other then that they don’t have a forward that was/is a consistant .9+PPG game.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Seriously? The reason the Oilers have cap space is because they are doing everything in their power to weaken the team for another DFL finish and thus a lottery pick. By deduction you are okay with the money and therefore the value in Horcoff, Penner and Gilbert. Not me.

  • DSF

    Hi Archaeologuy,

    Thanks for your comments. There have been a few bad goals this year, but they are few and far between. Many of the 5 hole goals I can recall were deflections or excellent screens on shots from the point (or poor defensive clearing of the screening offensive player, depending on how you look at it).

    As far as shots against/game, I am sure that the Oilers do lead the league in that category, but again, I argue that we are falling into a stats trap. Shots against only tell part of the story. The quality of those shots and the goaltender’s view of the incoming shot are of critical importance. The shots against and SP stats ignore those qualitative measures. So I disagree with your impression and and rationale for Khabibulin’s performance, but I am happy that we can agree to disagree. Completely.

    • Lowetide

      My understanding, from past reading around the internet, is that the importance of quality of shots against, in terms of influence on sv % over a season of shots, is much smaller than most fans believe – that the “team effect” is much smaller than most would think as far as impacting a goalie’s sv %.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    There are a whole bunch of players on the team, either by lack of talent/experience/slumping etc. are making a whole bunch of players bad on a whole bunch of nights.

    It’s like negative synergy: 1Bad + 1Bad = 3Bad. Gilbert is one of the players who both contributes to and suffers from both sides of the equation. I suspect if/when the team improves so will he.

  • Ribs

    Who is sheltering Ryan Whitney, who happens to be a month younger than Gilbert?

    The same guys that are sheltering Gilbert?

    Seeing as Whitney has the same cap hit as Gilbert, I guess you could put him in the same category as Gilbert as a teams top paid defenseman at 27yrs old or younger. Would you have the same expectations for either of these guys that you would from the other 27yrs old and younger crowd (Weber, Phaneuf, Green, etc.)?

    Whitney’s played over a full seasons worth more games than Gilbert and by all rights should be further along than him. I don’t think the gap is that big and that gives Gilbert the edge for me. To each his own, I suppose.

  • reaperfunkss

    Gilbert had 1 decent year and has never gotten back to it. He has looked nervous and lost on most nights the past couple seasons. A change of teams may help turn him around or may not. Expectations can be a bitch sometimes.

  • RB: you know you’re allowed to like both 6 AND 77 because I have noticed you have been a huge fan of 6 from pretty day Day One:)

    That being said, I think 77 will bounce back but if you’re right and he doesn’t then you won’t win any prizes.

    I was dead right about Lowe and I still haven’t received a gdamn thing;)

  • Horcsky

    Length of contract is definately important, if you want to use that as the basis of your argument, I’d agree with you almost completely. There’s not too many players that should be signed into their mid to late thirties for the same amount of money they’ll make during their prime years.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Hear, hear!

      Gilbert has had a mediocre start to the season, but he still has a reasonable value as a player and asset.

      People can bitch about Lowetide’s use of statistics being misleading, but he is pretty straightforward and honest in the way he lays it out. If LT wasn’t so good at making his points, people wouldn’t follow him here and at his own blog. He doesn’t trick us with slickness and chicanery.

      If LT’s detractors like DSF were as clever as they think they are, they might have people follow them on their own blogs…instead of having to lower themselves to the unpaid scrum of message boards.

  • DSF

    Gilbert has gone the way of all Oiler prospets (Smid, Gags , Cogs, Nilsson, Brule etc): downhill. There is a common denominator. What´s the reason ? What are these guys doing off the ice ?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I would love to see that stat as well. In most cases, a goal is scored because several players make a mistake on any given play. Thats hockey and you do that by putting pressure on players. Gilbert is a good at the first pass out of his zone, when he has all day. If he doesnt, he is a turnover machine, who appears to have little desire to try a second or third time to get the puck back.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Wish I believed in Tom as much as you do. Al ii want from Gilbert is to play to his contract $ level. That’s it. I think that’s what anyone should expect. Any less, and you’re overpaid. Tommy has been in that catagory for awhile now. To long of awhile. It’s like he can’t think the game anymore. Good luck to him. I hope he comes out of it.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Great article LT, good to see both sides of the argument,.

    IMO, where Gilbert has fallen apart was last year during those many games when the Oilers couldn’t get the puck out of their own zone, which caused shellshock.

    Now, he’s lacking the confidence to make the right quick decision, because in the back of his mind, that kind of “trapped in the zone” thing could happen at any time. I also think that Gilbert doesnt really have a comfort zone on defense, and is most relaxed when moving the puck the other way.

    It seems other players have bought in to the coaching staff and their system and aren’t making the same defensive zone mistakes as last year, but Gilbert has this mental block to get over.

    He’s played better the last two games, despite yesterday’s giveaway, so hopefully he’s turning the corner a bit.

    I hope he does, since he really could be a difference maker with the puck, especially if the team decides to invest more in the defense in rebuild year 2.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Not going to lie, I believe I just lost all respect for you and your writing. Tom Gilbert has been a horrendous defenceman for a long time now. Obviously that contract is what keeps him around and not being shipped. He has made glaring/exposed defensive miscues that any junior player can make, and the worst part is, he does it on a consistent basis. Second assists tell one story, the eyes say another.

    He’s not a young defenceman learning the reigns, he’s considered a vet now and what should be the prime of his career while making prime time dollars. If you’re using numbers as a crutch, you might as well just watch boxscores and grade if from there.