DEEP THOUGHTS XXIV: SEE NO EVIL

Occasionally, I’m reminded of the time I saw Edmonton Oilers defenseman Boris Mironov stagger out of a taxi in Los Angeles stinking of booze early in the morning after an all-night bender only to have horrified coach Ron Low insist, "You didn’t see that."

Yet another David Staples item over at The Cult of Hockey in The Journal extolling the virtues of Tom Gilbert is one of those occasions — I’m being told I’m not really seeing what I’m seeing. The item is here:

From the headline — Without Tom Gilbert, these Oilers would be hopeless — on down through the item, Staples is directing me to selected statistics and making the argument that in the vast majority of games this season, Gilbert has been a "standout."

The first thing that strikes me is the headline. Haven’t the Oilers been pretty much hopeless even with Gilbert? Of course, I’m just splitting hairs as I read the item with Low’s voice echoing in my ear. That happens when I’m being told I’m hallucinating.

Now, I didn’t just cough up $30 to a taxi driver to help a player avoid a confrontation he was clearly incapable of getting into, as was the case with the blotto Bobo, but I’m pretty darn sure about what I’ve seen with Gilbert this season.

"Standout" is not a word that comes to mind.

THE WAY I SEE IT

The Cult of Hockey is a must-read for me. Staples, as big a fan of the Oilers as there is, is not only an accomplished writer but a fine reporter, so I’m not going to hack on him for this take on Gilbert. He’s offered much the same take before. Staples likes Gilbert and the statistics he chooses to accentuate like Gilbert, too. It’s his opinion. That’s all good.

Likewise, Gilbert’s performance this season is far from the Oilers biggest problem or most glaring shortcoming on a roster that’s full of raw kids, so-so veterans, under-achievers and holes. But a "standout?" Uh, no.

What I see when I’ve watched Gilbert this season is much the same as I’ve seen in past seasons — he’s in over his head when pushed to play a lead role, as he’s been since Ryan Whitney went down with an injury.

I see a good player who can play a complimentary role. A fair number of advanced stats guys were predicting more than that for Gilbert just a couple of seasons ago, when he had 45 points. I didn’t see it them. I don’t see it now. Strictly speaking to his offensive contribution so far this season, Gilbert has produced 5-10-15.

With increased ice time and opportunity in the 19 games since Whitney went out, Gilbert has produced 0-3-3. Yes, there’s way more to the total picture than the boxcars. Blocked shots. The quality of opposition he faces. I get that. Has Gilbert been the best of a bad bunch on the blue line? OK, maybe so. But a "standout?"

I’m not seeing it.

THE WORLD’S LONGEST GAME

If you plan on attending the World’s Longest Hockey Game that starts out at Brent Saik’s Sherwood Park acreage Friday, you’ve got a chance to be part of CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada coverage.

Producer Mike Dodson has let me know that he’d like to include coverage of the 10-day game, being played in support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Cross Cancer Institute, as part of CBC’s coverage on Saturday.

While resources are stretched thin with all the events being held across the country, Dodson tells me CBC will happily accept photos and short videos taken at the game. Jeff Marek and Cassie Campbell will attempt to air them. They should be submitted to: :hockeyday@cbc.ca. 

Like I said earlier this week, if you get the opportunity, get out to Saiker’s Acres — 52269 RR 220 — and cheer on the 40 players attempting to establish a new record for the longest game ever played — the old mark is 241 hours and 25 minutes, established at the 2008 event.

Just as important, Saik is attempting to raise $1 million, almost doubling the $558,000 raised in 2008.

DOESN’T ADD UP

I heard associate coach Ralph Krueger’s explanation for why he mixed up his lines against the Blackhawks, but the game sheet doesn’t add up for me no matter how he justifies his handling of the bench in the absence of Tom Renney.

When I saw that Magnus Paajarvi got less ice time, 10:27, than any other Oiler against the Blackhawks, I had to blink. When I see that Ryan Jones played more (12:53) than Paajarvi and Linus Omark (12:05), it doesn’t register. Yes, 4:35 of the time Jones got was helping the Oilers kill six penalties, but then bump up the 5-on-5 and power-play time for Paajarvi and Omark to compensate.

There’s no how, no way Jones should play more than Paajarvi and Omark. Colin Fraser played more (11:29) than Paajarvi.

WHILE I’M AT IT

— Oilersnation radio makes its debut on TEAM 1260 Saturday at noon. I’m looking forward to it, even if I’m likely to hear a lot of dialogue along the lines that I’m not really seeing what I’m seeing.

Here’s hoping Allan Mitchell draws a big audience and that he calls a load of you-know-what a load of you-know-what when somebody starts shovelling it. Agreement is so, well, disagreeable in radio.

— The likelihood Whitney will finish as Edmonton’s top scorer on the blue line with 27 points despite playing just 35 games simply accentuates the obvious. Even allowing for the subtle skills of the under-appreciated Gilbert, GM Steve Tambellini needs to find another rearguard who has half a clue about helping generate offence.

— Taylor Hall and Dustin Penner are the only Oilers on pace for 20-goal seasons. Unless Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner or Jones get ridiculously hot the rest of the way, this will mark the third straight season the Oilers have had just two players crack the 20-goal plateau.

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

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Ya I was wondering what the poop was up with the mixing of the lines. The team actually plays well in Nashville for 50 mins and the lines were showing flashes of having chemistry and then you go and mix up the centres. Couldn’t figure that one out for the life of me.

  • Chaz

    I like Gilbert as a player, but man does his lack of physical play bother me. It’s more noticeble now than in the past IMO. Not sure exactly why this is, but my guess is that opposing players all know they won’t pay the price going into the corner and in front of the net when he’s on the ice. Seems to me that the entire league exploits this, therefore his wimpiness is even more obvious now. I know it’s not in his nature, but he somehow has to develop some grit into his game.

    With that in mind, I think while there has been a positive culture shift in the locker-room this year, until we get harder to play against, we will remain a basement-dwelling team, and ol’ TG is a poster child for this conundrum. Difficult to develop a hard to play against reputation when the “C” and “A”s on our team are as soft as they are. No need to have brawlers take up all the letters, but let’s have at least one guy with tenacity get a letter in this city. Hope Peckham gets one sooner than later. Sick of my team being so easy to play against. It’s embarassing.

    /endrant

  • why was Souray seemingly exempt from such criticism? Not just from Robin and Gregor but from everyone else who likes to pick apart 77’s game.

    Is it because people actually believe 44’s the better dman??????

  • Chaz

    I used to value and respect David Staple’s work until I say your article and immediately went to his blog. I almost couldn’t believe that he was sticking up for Gilbert. Pretty much lost all faith in him and will not follow his work any longer.

  • DoubleJ

    Robin’s critique of David Staple’s glowing assessment of Tom Gilbert’s play brought to mind how soft and reverential the Edmonton sports media are on the Oilers. As one wag said “the Oilers don’t need cheerleaders they already have the local media.” Where are the penetrating articles about how we’ve become the worst team in the league? Where is the honest inspection of team management’s role in this debacle? There is constant talk from the media about a rebuild–but rebuild from what? A rebuild implies that there once was a solid structure in place so is it a rebuild from the glory years of the 1980s, from the two month fluke Stanley Cup run or the past two decades of mediocrity? Some journalistic guts and integrity would be nice.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Yes the rebuild from the ’80s.

      It’s actually a rebuild from the last core of players that were in place. The ones we saw in the ’06 cup run.

      They tried to keep that core together but couldn’t, and had to fill with players that would come here in the aftermath of Pronger. There was a rebuild that happened in the early ’90s that resulted in the playoff runs of the late ’90s.

      Then a transition (not so much a rebuild) in the early ’00s that came to a head with a great run of trades at the ’06 deadline to secure a team capable of knocking off the top teams (Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim) that was anything but a fluke if you actually watched any of that run.

      It is the ebb and flow of professional sports. You build a core that you can try to keep together, then fill with complimentary players (’06). If Pronger stays, so do other players from that team, but we kinda got screwed. Which is why there is another rebuild.

      Is it so horrible to have 2 rebuilds in 20 years?

      …..Or 3 rebuilds in 30 years? 3 rebuilds in almost as long as I have been alive….. sounds ok to me.

      • SumOil

        I did watch that run and it was anything but dominant. There were a LOT of fortunate goals and luck that got them that far. They may have won if Roli didn’t get Ladded. And Pronger completely faded out the longer the run went just to get it on the record.

        As with many other teams that never get a sniff again – Tampa, Florida etc etc – good fortune and luck can make a team look better than they are, which is perhaps why so many bailed on us. They just made the playoffs after all.

        Truly good teams get there, or close, often.

  • Zamboni Driver

    I respect all of the fine stats work that Oiler fans and Desjardins have done – I try to learn about the game through it.

    Despite decent stats, I also see Gilbert repeatedly fail when put under pressure, and not as a result of a rookie partner. He has a really hard time clearing the puck out when the team is pinned and it needs to be dumped. He also loses position one on one battling guys, again when there is heavy pressure.

    If you’re going to be a stick checking, puck moving D you have to get the puck out every time when you have a chance, and position is everything if you don’t check.

    Perhaps there needs to be a stat that somehow measures timeliness. In the way that some goal scorers pile up points when the opponent is having a bad night, but don’t get points in tough games. For defense it’s losing battles when the heat is on. This is a really important difference for a team that wants to be a playoff contender.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Rypien is due back soon for the Canucks, any interest in Rick Rypien Robin? Not sure what the personal reasons include for his absence but pound for pound a good deterent with capable speed.

    Would Vandemeer or a third be too much?

    • I like Rypien, but I have not asked anybody with the Oilers if they do — outside of Stortini, and he doesn’t much care for him.

      As to your earlier question about the game at Saik’s, they are playing all day and all night long for 10 days in shifts, so pick the time that is best for you.

      I’ve been early in the morning and late at night. Once they start, the game keeps going from start to finish. Like I said in the item, if you’re of the mind to take some pictures or video of the event and submit it to the link I provided, it could end up on national TV.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Thanks for your reply Robin.

        I read what Jason had mentioned about his involvement a year or two prior about taking shifts, 2hrs on, 2hr break, 4hrs on, 4hr break etc. I failed to realize there was probably another group on the ice while they were resting. I’m not up on how these Guiness world record things work, thanks for your patience.

  • I tried it at home

    Hey, I love the old war stories, esp since Im entering dino status myself. Something I always wondered, ever since I read about Mirinov’s excuse for being out all night as ” I was looking for Kovy”. Where I come from ( right about here) that would be considered as trying to hide behind a teammate to deflect the wrath of the coach. Was Mirinov and “Kovy” ( I cant actually remember the big lazy Russian’s real name offhand) friends, or was there some backstage hostility? I know youre not really into spreading gossip but hey, enquiring mind, etc etc Thanks

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    cult of hockey is terrible. had to stop glancing that thing last season.

    Gilbert being a stand out is like seeing a peanut in a turd is a standout. its still a turd.

    dudes a 3-4 at least on a decent team – at best. like always, the Oilers always pay out to dudes at the wrong time and then get burnt. its great.

  • 24% body fat

    Gilbert is terrible, over paid (thanks again Kevin Lowe, one good year on an ELC and he pays out). He can skate and jump in in the offernsive zone but at what cost? a two on one the oter way. Also it seems like his is on for every goal against the Oil. Move this guy now for a bag of pucks or what we can get. He is not part of the future. Wont hit either.

    Dont see why Kruger mixed up the lines. Gagner with Hall and Eberle fine, but with the swedes they had chemistry. What I did like was horcoff on the bench at the end of the game.

  • DK0

    @whysobitterallthetime

    …why do you bother kid…your parents should be ashamed of how they brought you up being so disrespectful, they truly failed you if all they could do is turn you into such a ne’re do well…

    you’re “kind of sickening”

    if you’re looking for attention go elsewhere…please!

  • SumOil

    Gilbert suck…he is no good.
    It doesnt matter that he has been the leading shot blocker on this team for some time now
    It doesnt matter that he has been forced to be playing the toughest competition out there and is holding his own
    It doesnt matter that he is carrying a rookie with him
    It doesnt matter that he has been healthy and sturdy
    It doesnt matter that he plays a smart reliable game.
    It is his fault that he is the de-facto #1 d man on this team
    It is his fault that the team is 30th in the standings.
    It is his fault that the on ice sv% with him is .884
    It is his fault that our special teams are shit.
    Numbers they are deceitful. They lie. It doesnt matter who comes up with what statistics, it can never be right if it puts Gilbert and Penner in the black!

  • SumOil

    Gilbert really sucks a lot
    It doesnt matter if he has been the best shot blocker for the Oilers, no hit = no grit
    It doesnt matter if he has been facing the tough competition and holding his own…where are the points my man?
    It doesnt matter if he has been carrying a rookie and been covering for his mistakes time and again….its expected of him
    It doesnt matter if he has been the healthiest D man while others have gone down like flies around him…..nah that we take for granted
    It doesnt matter that he plays a smart positional defense and the puck moves in the right direction with him on the ice as evidenced by his rel corsi of 6.0
    It is his fault that he has become the de facto #1 d man on this team…
    It is his fault that out special teams suck
    It is his fault that his on ice sv% is .884

    No he sucks…completely….

    • Wax Man Riley

      You sound like a child having a tantrum.

      I’m not reading that Gilbert sucks from anybody with half a clue, so where are you getting this from?

      Gilbert doesn’t suck, but neither does he walk on water. There’s some middle ground to stand on if you’re not intent of teetering on the edge of opposite ends of the extreme.

      • SumOil

        This was not pointed at you, but towards all people who keep calling him out for no reason.

        “you sound like a child having a tantrum”
        Damn right I am. I am tired of people saying as to how we should trade him in a heartbeat. Or that he is soft or that he is a marginal top 4 forward on a championship team. He is a solid defenseman whose play/contribution needs to be recognized.

        • “Calling him out” for no reason?

          What does that mean, exactly? What percentage of people are saying Gilbert should be traded in a heartbeat? Does criticism of aspects of his game constitute being “called out” or is there room to question the performance of a professional athlete who earns more in eight months than you or I will in a lifetime? I’d suggest there is.

          Gilbert’s contribution is recognized — he earns $4 million a season to play a game. He has that opportunity because he’s in the minute minority of people who are dedicated enough and talented enough to put himself in line for that kind of wealth. Good for him. That said, along with the fanfare and the money, the deal also includes being subject to criticism and the expectations of fans and media.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Do you think it’s possible to develop a meteric that reflects timeliness of play?

      For example goal scorers that pile up points in a easily won game but don’t score when it’s difficult? Or D that play well until pressure is heavily applied?

      I think Gilbert is a good D and will likely produce at least decent points as the team gets better, but I see him fail when the pressure is on, and his lack of physical play provides absolutely no dis-incentive to opposing forwards.

      I expect they enjoy playing against him, as they thought they did against Lidstrom until they realized he could shut them down, which at 27 or 28 Gilbert is not going to do.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Brownlee

    You did really say much when Spector brought this up, so what is your opinion on what he said about bringing an Eager who is a 4th on a contender to be a 3rd liner in Edmonton?

    Isn’t that what we’ve been doing in Edmonton the last 2 years? Bringing in guys that are 13 fowards or #7 d-man on a good team, but playing them over their heads?

    • Jagrbaum

      I don’t see Eager being brought in. When i sold a tv to JF jaques i asked him who was the cleanest and who was the dirtiest player in the league. The moment i said dirties, he immediatley responded….Ben Eager(surprised he didn’t say cooke but oh well). I prolly should have asked Fraser when he came in, but I failed to do so. I don’t Fraser would mind as they were team mates but w/e.

      Also, i realize that one man’s opinion of another player, especially a 4th liners, is prolly not enought to sway the opinion of management when it comes to the make up of a team. Or at least thats what i think.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        I don’t know if Spector specifically meant get Eager, it was more the thought of bringing in a guy and giving a chance to play in a position he wouldn’t get with a contender.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Nice article Robin. I agree and disagree a bit I guess. Yes, Gilbert is underperforming for his contract, but who isnt on this team outside of the entry levels?
    I think when this team gets good, Gilberts numbers will look a whole lot better. Good teams make good players and vice versa. I’m not completely defending Gilbert, but I disagree with those who call him out because “he doesnt hit enough” or he’s “not mean enough” when those are clearly not his forte. He is a puck-moving defenseman! Remember that year when we had none, and would have given our right arm for one? Now we have too many, and we are crying about it.
    He’s not the worst player on the team, nor the worst paid. Next.

  • SumOil

    Ok Robin, here is the thing. Tom Gilbert has been a workhorse since Whitney’s injury and has performed admirably. However, you have never acknowledged that. You keep on stressing that he is a good second pairing, but that is not the issue here. The issue is that how he has dont as the team’s number 1 defenseman. He has done a very good job. A lot of people expected Gilbert to fail, but he didn’t.
    So I think its time that we start praising his efforts than just saying its meh.
    You have lauded Whitney a lot. However, he has a PDO number of 1060. That is massive. his on ice sh% was 12.50 a full 4 points above average and on ice sv% of .935 again very high. Those things are bound to come down. on the other hand Gilbert has suffered due to a on ice sv% .884.