MAKING THE GRADE: THE WAY I SEE IT

Jason Gregor usually hands out grades for the Edmonton Oilers at the quarter-pole of the season, but with Grey Cup upon us, he’s apparently fallen into a big vat of booze down in Huddletown.

That, or a large drum of Just For Men as he attempts, without much success, to bolster that sparse excuse for a cookie-duster he’s trying to cultivate for Movember — Gregor’s heart is in the right place, even if I’ve dated women with more substantial fuzz on their upper lips.

That aside, I’m going to take a swing at grading the Oilers through 22 games on the heels of Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Dany Heatley and the San Jose Sharks.

This is something I used to do at The Journal and The Sun during my days as the resident Oiler houseman, and it usually garnered a lot of reaction inside and outside the dressing room — often with people telling me I didn’t have a clue. They were wrong, of course.

If you’re looking for graphs, pie charts or tables of advanced statistics here, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’m going by what I’ve seen and what I’ve scrawled in notebooks since the season began. I might even glance at last night’s game notes package and include some numbers.

Mostly, though, this is by-my-eye opinion.

GETTING STARTED

I’m staying old school here, giving grades of A, B, C and D. I’m not even going to get into pluses and minuses, as in giving a C-plus as opposed to C-minus. Breaking it down that fine is fair enough, and might make for reasonable debate, but I’ll leave that to you, if you so choose.

With my grades, A, B and C are straightforward enough. All are varying degrees of success above the failure line. My D is the same as an F.

Like I said, I’m not doing mathematical gymnastics to justify grades. The wildcard is this: what I’ve observed and what I’ve taken from what I’ve observed will be influenced by personal bias, pre-conceived notions and all the other stuff that comes with doing what I do.

I don’t think there’s a formula for that, but most people doing these kinds of assessments work those factors in, whether they admit it or not.

I’m grading based on how players have performed in relation to what I expect from each them at this point in their NHL career. Where they are now and what they are contributing in relation to where I think they should be and what they should be contributing.

HEAD OF THE CLASS (GRADE A)

DEVAN DUBNYK. Hasn’t played enough games for my liking, but his numbers are very good, all things considered (like the defence he’s playing behind). That .911 seems fitting, given how little help he gets.

THEO PECKHAM. None of the Oilers highly touted kids have been as consistent as Peckham. He’s wisely picked his spots as far as imposing his physical will on opponents. He looks way ahead of schedule to me.

RYAN WHITNEY. He logs the most minutes on the team. Framed by that, being a minus-1 with this outfit is remarkable. The Oilers would be absolutely dead in the water advancing the puck without Whitney. Has 18 assists.

NEXT BEST (GRADE B)

SAM GAGNER. Sam’s not far off from where he should be in his fourth full season. He still looks physically overmatched too often, but you can see his mind working. His numbers, 6-7-13, are slightly off where I think they need to be with the ice time he gets.

 — ALES HEMSKY. He’s looked far more engaged this season than in the past couple of years. His 15 points in 20 games is slightly off what I expected, but given the lack of finish around him . . .  He’s a plus-3, which is no small feat.

SHAWN HORCOFF. I don’t care how much Horcoff makes because the money is spent. Thirteen points in 19 games is about right. He’s taken Hall and Eberle under his wing, and that counts in my books. Needs to get back to 50-plus per cent on the dot.

JORDAN EBERLE. As expected, he provided some brilliant moments and others where he has felt his way through games. Added value as a penalty killer with those two shorties on an otherwise miserable PK unit.

TAYLOR HALL. Everybody can see how good he’s going to be. He’s already having shifts where he dominates, even if the puck doesn’t end up in the net. His 11 points are about right. Watch the next 60 games.

STEVE MACINTYRE. He gives you what he’s got when given the chance. The kids breath easier when MacIntyre is in the line-up. His KO of Raitis Ivanans resonated through the NHL and his two bouts with Derek Boogaard in NY took immense courage.

GETTING A PASS (GRADE C)

NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN. For all the distractions and coming off back surgery, he’s been OK. His saves percentage with the Oilers shorthanded is hideous, but then so is the PK.

MAGNUS PAAJARVI. I expected he’d adjust quicker to the NHL than Hall or Eberle because of his time with Timra, but he hasn’t. Played himself out of the top-nine at one point. He needs consistent top-nine minutes or a stint in the AHL.

DUSTIN PENNER. His seven goals and 13 points on this offensively challenged team is nothing to sneeze at. As always, he shows flashes that leave you wanting more. That’s not going to change.

RYAN JONES. Like it or not (I didn’t), he got a roster spot out of camp and has provided some grit and a touch more offence than I expected.

LADISLAV SMID. I’d argue he’s been surpassed by Peckham as the likeliest candidate to become a true shutdown guy, and that’s not a good sign. Adjusting to his neck surgery will take time.

J.F. JACQUES. Just six games to go on, but Jacques has been passable. He’s become physically involved when he’s had the chance. Crazy Train needs to stay healthy and establish himself as an every-night option.

KURTIS FOSTER. He’s a third-pairing guy with a big shot that was supposed to take up some of Sheldon Souray’s slack on the PP. Lots of shots, but just two goals. Suspect in his own end. A no-hit big guy who doesn’t move particularly well.

FAILING SO FAR (GRADE D)

JIM VANDERMEER. He hasn’t delivered the physical presence the Oilers overpaid him for. Slow and passive doesn’t work in his job description.

ANDREW COGLIANO. I really like the try and the fight in him, but the results have not been good enough. His minus-10 is worst on the team.

COLIN FRASER. Like Vandermeer, not nearly gritty and edgy enough for the role he’s expected to play. He hasn’t delivered in the circles, either.

JASON STRUDWICK. He’s been mis-cast and over-used, which isn’t his fault. I don’t think he’s an NHL defenceman at this point in his career, but he’s still drawing a cheque as one.

ZACK STORTINI.  I might be marking Stortini a bit tough here. He’s even through 15 games. I don’t think he’s been as much of a pain in the ass for opponents as in past seasons.

TOM GILBERT. His horrible road trip really knackered his numbers, especially plus-minus. Too many giveaways. Too many soft plays. Too many times caught chasing. Is Gilbert better now than he was in his second season?

GILBERT BRULE. Four points and a minus-8. Rightly or wrongly, I expected another step up from Brule this season and it hasn’t happened. Is he an offensive guy or not? If not, what does he bring?

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • D-Man

    I like your “shoot from the hip” persona on ON, Robin, it looks good on you. You have two numbers guys in LT and JW, so your “see what you see” approach is refreshing.
    I trust your take more than someones corsi anyday.

    Well done. Love the grades. Nice and simple for me. That fourth line needs to pull up their socks more than anyone, I believe, which is dissapointing. With an improved pk and checking line we might not be in the basement. They seem to be improving.
    The end of this year is decision time for Cogs, do we have a space for him anymore or not? If he can morph in to Todd Marchant, I think we have a fit.

    • smiliegirl15

      If Cogliano can morph into the one-time 60-point Marchant, he’s the top centre on this team . . .

      I had a long talk with Andrew the other day after doing an interview with him for a piece I wrote for CP, and I brought up Marchant.

      Late in his first season, Matty and I were talking to Andrew and we mentioned that we thought he might turn into Marchant. With 18 goals as a rookie, Cogliano reacted at the time like that was a bit of an insult. It wasn’t. Todd’s had a long career.

      I got the feeling the other day he’s figured out that scoring 18 as a rookie doesn’t mean he’s a lock for 20-25 down the road, as I think he believed a couple years ago.

      Skinny is this: he’s not as edgy as Marchant, but he could follow a similar career path if this current stretch of nothingness doesn’t break him — third-liner, PK, 35-45 points a season. That gets him $20-25 million over the next 10 years.

  • smiliegirl15

    Eberle may not have had a goal in the last 13 games but he’s had quite a few assists. I think that should count for something.

    As for Penner, he may be able to give a heck of a lot more but he’s also producing. I think the C is a little harsh.

    I’m glad Cogliano finally got a goal!

  • Robin,

    You had me at, “If you’re looking for graphs, pie charts or tables of advanced statistics here, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

    What I like about Hall, he doesn’t whine like Crosby did coming into the league.

    Hall hasn’t been concussed or devastated by anyone yet either.

    He’s doing better than I thought despite lower numbers than I’d hoped but they’re coming.

    TWO HANDS TAYLOR!!!

    And quit hijacking RW…