Are The Oilers Going To Spend Another Year In The Cellar?

Last night’s loss to the Phoenix Coyotes feels like a turning point, somehow. Flush with the successes of October, fans largely forgave the Oilers a disappointing six-game road-trip. Alternating wins and losses over a two game home stand and a four-game road trip was accepted, because with five games at home coming up on the schedule the Oilers could make up some ground.

They didn’t. Instead, the Oilers dropped four of five, most of them to teams well below them in the standings. That stretch was followed by an ugly loss to Calgary, and then last night’s embarrassment at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes – a team the Oilers should have had an advantage on, given their five-day break and the fact the Coyotes had lost to a miserable Anaheim club the night before.

Now, over the team’s last 19 games, they’ve gone a miserable 6-12-1.

If we ignore the Oilers hot start to the season, that 6-12-1 pace translates to 56 points – six fewer than last year’s 30th-place club managed. Understandably, it’s provoked a lot of reaction.

In a strong piece last night, Robin Brownlee argued that the truth lies somewhere between the Oilers’ glorious start and the ineptitude of the last month and a half. He argues that the Oilers’ current 12th-place position is right in line with what sensible fans should have been expecting from day one. Jason Gregor wrote earlier today that “the same problems that have plagued this team for years have crept back into their game.” Both points are valid, and both takes make sense.

Yet, with respect to both of my Oilers Nation colleagues, the most interesting item I read today about the Oilers’ latest struggles came from the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples. Staples breaks down the scoring chances over the last 17 games and finds an ugly comparison to last season’s team:

  • 2011-12 Oilers, first 14 games: 17.6 chances for per game, 17.8 chances against (-0.2 per game)
  • 2011-12 Oilers, last 17 games: 15.8 chances for per game, 20.8 chances against (-5.0 per game)
  • 2010-11 Oilers, full season: 14.8 chances for per game, 19.1 chances against (-4.3 per game)

Put simply, the Oilers scoring chances over this last stretch tell us the same thing their record does: that they’ve been playing a lot like – maybe even a little worse than – last year’s team did over their full season.

Goal differential tells a similar story. The Oilers 8-2-2 start was powered primarily by goaltending and a hot stretch for two lines – and it resulted in them outscoring their opposition 22 to 14. Since then, the Oilers have scored 53 goals and allowed 70 (this includes a 9-2 defeat of Chicago at home) – a full season pace of 229 goals for and 302 against, for a goal differential of minus-73. Last season, the Oilers posted a goal differential of minus-76.

There are extenuating circumstances. The Oilers have played 11 of their last 19 games on the road, and just eight at home, and teams typically perform worse on the road. Given how Edmonton’s young players have struggled away from Rexall, that’s particularly true in the Oilers’ case.

If anything, after reviewing the data I’m a little less optimistic than Brownlee was in his piece. The Oilers are just two points up on where they were one season ago, and while teams like Columbus and Anaheim have been racing to the bottom the Oilers are only three points up on Tampa Bay for a spot in the draft lottery.

Also worth noting is that the schedule stays ugly for the rest of December. The Oilers finish the month with a game in Long Island, but before that will play the Sharks, Red Wings, Canucks and two games against the Wild. If the team can’t find a way to power through some tough opponents, they could be in a lottery position before Christmas.

  • If this team can stay at or near .500 after the season, I’ll be happy. Not impressed but happy with the improvement.
    They really have trouble with the slow, trapping teams like Phoenix. Perhaps we should do a breakdown of which teams they can play run & gun offense against vs the trap and see how their record compares?

  • Message to everyone and thus, no one, in particular:

    Breathe. Chill. Take it easy.

    Right now, it’s a slump. It’s not really anything more than that … until it becomes more than that.

    Such are the ebbs and flows of the season. Sometime’s the tide is in. Sometimes it’s out. Sometimes when it’s out, what’s left behind stinks up the harbour.

    But things are generally never as bad (or, of course) as good as they appear to be.

    Don’t get me wrong. If the harbour’s still stinking come the trade deadline (or a few weeks before), then it’ll be time to lament.

    But now, it’s hard not to look at this as anything more than a fairly typical mid-season doldrum-styled slump.

    I’m sure many will disagree, but I’m having a tough time getting worked up over this.

    • Mike Krushelnyski

      Slumps don’t normally last for 5 seasons. They’ve completely wasted the goodwill they built to start the season.

      The BS that management is gunning “for the playoffs” is so thick you can taste it. They’ve got glaring holes that management refuses to fill. A coaching staff that doesn’t utilize it’s roster correctly and a large group of players that play with no passion what-so-ever. Coming off 5 days rest against a team that played the night before, and they got their show absolutely run. It’s a Damn embarrassment.

      These teams are quickly eclipsing the dark “90’s” teams that were actually statiscally better.

      As if you can’t tell, the constant futility is wearing me down and I’m getting fed up. just my opinion.

    • stevezie

      I agree it’s a slump but the lack of experienced defensive depth is showing. The fact is when Gilbert and Smid have an off game, and they will like any other NHL player, the Oilers are in trouble because then it falls to kids like Peckham & Petry and inexperienced/rusty/or lower depth dmen like Potter, Whitney, Sutton to carry the load. The fact is the Oilers need at least a couple of defenceman to help carry the load.

      Peckham in particular is struggling this season as he seems to be trying to do too much and also is not communicating well in the defensive end as too often he gets lost and allows the person he’s covering open space.

      The 4 forward lines are not in as much dire straits but they do need a strong aggressive forward with size. Is it time to give Hartikainen a shot at the NHL just to see how he fits in with this line up? He consistently threw at least 2-3 hits per game last year and was a force along the boards. He also showed some adaptability as far as moving across the top three lines. The Oilers need a player like that and I’d prefer they take a look at this kid before trying to make any trade.

  • Enough is enough this team has talent they are better than 3 teams ahead of them in the standing yet they come out with no work ethic no desire to compete. We have picked top ten since 07 how many more picks do we need time to turn this around it’s getting pathetic. Hall, Eberle have been winners Smyth knows what it takes to compete so does Horc why doesn’t the team follow. Make a deal for a top 2 D-man we have the assets our top six should compete with 20 of the teams. Come on man we have supported this rebuilt all the way now throw the players and FANS a bone and atleast try to make the playoffs Tambo make a move, like Renney says don’t react be the first to act, lets go here

  • OBC'84

    Scott, I feel the same way. Not overheated about the situation. We have a very bright future with a very talented cadre of kids and some smart guys in charge. I will say it again: enjoy the process or you miss out on the joy of the prize. I was there when it was getting going back in the early 80’s and we just marvelled at the flashes of brilliant play from our emerging superstars. I feel very similar feelings today and will gladly wait out the bitter cold wind of losing to Phoenix with the warm glow of hammering Chicago still in my belly. It will happen.

  • m3sh

    Yo Yo Yo – what’s with the sad faces. It’s all going to plan, don’t get your kilts in a knot.

    Look, it would be fun to go out and fight for a playoff spot this year, but really what would that get us – at best a first round loss.

    Look at Hall, look at RNH and just try and tell me that we aren’t better off with them than some 12th overall pick in each of those years. Imagine what this team can be if we add just one more of young player of that caliber.

    Look, the key guys on this team are locked up thought next year so I the Oilers don’t need to worry about losing any key players to free agency. Yeah, Hall and the gang will be sad, but they all return next year, and next year is where it’s at – that’s when the plan comes together. A winning season next year will wipe out the memories of two decades of losing and Edmonton will be a key place for free agents in 2013/14.

    Renny is being a good soldier and has abandoned line matching and is back to focusing on development. The AHL team is cooking. We bring up a couple of guys next year, sign the missing elements (looks to be a goalie and a couple of solid D-men now) and away we go.

    Merry Christmas all – take solice in the future this holiday season – don’t worry about this year, its all under control.

    Steve T¡

    • m3sh

      Or, we are the western version of the islanders. As likely?

      I shudder to think. We have too much a foundation for something special here. I kind of agree with Steve T, not in the sense this is a midseason slump, cuz I think we just plain still suck overall defensively, and once our goaltending came back to earth this became obvious – but moreso, this is what a rebuild is all about. Peaks. Valleys.

      They gotta pull themselves up by their bootstraps and battle back in. If they don’t, we draft a really good defenseman.

      The major downside to sucking again (should they continue to) is back to watching meaningless games – however, we at least have RNH and the Calder race to follow.

    • mr_nihilism

      You bring up an interesting point with Renney abandoning the line matchups.

      Maybe he’s purposely putting guys in a sink or swim situation by not giving anyone the easy minutes, and making them work harder (especially for ice time), which would be a key point in the ongoing development of the younger players on the team.

      But I can’t say anyone’s taken that by the horns and run with it yet…

  • m3sh

    The Vancouver Sun is reporting that Milbury has been charged with assault of a kid who was playing against Milbury’s son in a game.

    As for the Oil, still early yet but they better box up some of the deadwood and get a solid D-man with some scoring or the lights will be out by mid January.

    Eberle was horrible last night and Theo…well I’ve seen enough of him…makes me want Cam Barker back…sort of!

  • bazmagoo

    I think Brownlee’s article was spot on. Most of us knew this team was going to finish 12th or so in the conference, and probably 22nd to 26th in the league. Our defence currently has 2 players (Peckham and Petry) who aren’t NHL level players yet. It’s pretty difficult to win games when you have to give them ice time.

    Personally, I love the way it’s going. The early season form gave the fans and the players a view of what’s to come over the next couple of years. Steve T isn’t making any panic moves, and the farm team is developing quite nicely. Internal competition is high except on defence and in goal, but this will change over the next couple of seasons. I don’t think any of us want to sacrifice the future just so we can get a little taste of the playoffs. I want Lord Stanley back in e-town, and I can see him arriving in 3-5 years if we stay the course.

  • Lofty

    Problem is if we get a lottery pick and take a Dman it will probably take a couple years for him to mature. An ideal rebuild would start with the D and be finished with the forwards.

    Might be better off trading a great pick at the draft for a established D man otherwise salary problems could arrise if Tambo waits 5 more years to make his move.

  • Travis Dakin

    Place the blame squarely on Tom Renney. The man has all the tools at his disposal but has no idea what to do with them. He rode the magic of the kids the first few weeks but then got exposed. His line combinations are a complete mind fu*k and he is totally letting good prospects waste away.

  • A-Mc

    Something really did change after that game last night.

    i think my hope and optimism snapped along with every other fan. We can weather the storm, but it sure SUCKS to have to wait until next October for a chance at a team that might make the playoffs.

    H.O.P.E really CAN die (Damn you 100.3 The Bear For LYING to me with your Jingle!) Omark is injured and back in Sweden. Paajarvi is basically poised to be sent to the AHL. All we have left of HOPE is HE or as us Canadians say it. EH!

  • A-Mc

    Ya I wish we dumped Renney and got Boudreau before Anaheim. I`d say get rid of Tambo to for leaving this team woefully inadequate on the blue line too, but that won`t happen.

    Half the forwards give any effort any night, not much different around here then the last couple years. Who`s fault is this…Is this a problem with confidence, then its Renney. If its a problem with personel is Tambo. I think the problem lies somewhere in the middle.

    I don`t care if they make the playoffs, but half ars efforts make me wanna turn off the tube, and don`t make me wanna buy minipacks after Christmas.

  • A-Mc

    I don’t know why this happens – it’s either coaching or personel.
    My frustration watching most the games this year is that the pressure is almost always on the Oilers.
    David’s chances for/against show a difference of 5. Last night it seemed to me that it was a lot more lopsided than that. Dubby bailed them out many times. Some good defensive plays. Some missed chances. Pressure is constantly on the defense. It’s bound to break down.

    I’d like to see a stat for how long the puck is over each blue line, or each side of centre through the course of a game. I’m sure that over the past couple seasons these numbers would be quite similar. Decidedly at the oppositions favour.
    . . . our D must have legs of rubber by the end of the game.

  • mr_nihilism

    Oh, and on a positive Friday note: The Calgary Flames are ahead in the standings.

    Why am I note surprised? Right, I remember now. Years and years of watching the same thing.

  • striker777

    I would like to remind everybody we finished in 30th place last year. There were so many missing parts. If Oilers made it into playoffs next season, that would be a huge achievement. We are on track.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Hey, hey, hey!!!

      Quit with this rationality. What do you mean that it is unrealistic to have a 45 point increase in one year to make the playoffs?

      We must fire the coach! And the GM! and trade Gagner and Horcoff and Hemsky and Whitney and anyone else that has played more than 200 NHL games!

      It’s already December! Why haven’t we won the cup this year?!?

    • Wax Man Riley

      Hey, hey, hey!!!

      Quit with this rationality. What do you mean that it is unrealistic to have a 45 point increase in one year to make the playoffs?

      We must fire the coach! And the GM! and trade Gagner and Horcoff and Hemsky and Whitney and anyone else that has played more than 200 NHL games!

      It’s already December! Why haven’t we won the cup this year?!?

  • OilLeak

    This team is not quite as bad as last season, but there are are more actual NHL players on this squad then there was available for most of last year.

    3 causes outline the Oilers return to the cellar.

    1. The forwards are regressing to reasonable performance outputs.

    2. Goaltending is regressing to reasonable expectations(However, not fully corrected yet and could get potentially worse still)

    3. The defense is beyond putrid. The Oilers have 2 legitimate NHL defenders at this point with the jury still out on Cory Potter. Whitney is a shadow of his formal self and will remain that way until the new year.(Serious injuries to his ankle and knee will incapacitate any athlete)

    Young inexperienced team with over worked veterans that are wearing down because they cannot make-up for the errors of the kids and horrid defense.

    In summary, this is not a very good team, and the holes are pretty glaring. Try to outline 1 NHL team that has a worse defensive group than the Oilers; you can’t, it doesn’t exist.

  • OilLeak

    This isn’t the same as a great team underperforming, this team isn’t the Washington Capitals.

    Sooner or later, though, Tom Renney’s going to come under some real scrutiny. I think he’s kind of a stubborn individual in terms of his approach to coaching, and it’s clear that this team cannot be counted on to be mentally and emotionally prepared for hockey teams on its own. Neither the captain nor his assistants are going to hold teammates accountable or fire them up emotionally, so I think there becomes a point where the coach needs to change his approach in this respect.

    What would be the problem with Renney becoming more animated with his players from time to time and getting them on the right track? I’m not in the dressing room previous to or during these debacles that the Oilers are generating, but I have a feeling that the coach might be a bit passive in his approach to his players and dealing with the appearance that they’re not emotionally engaged going into and during these important hockey games.

  • OilLeak

    Striker777 stated:

    “I would like to remind everybody we finished in 30th place last year. There were so many missing parts. If Oilers made it into playoffs next season, that would be a huge achievement. We are on track.”

    What makes Striker777 think that the Oilers under their current trend, coaches, GM, won’t make 30th place again this year? Does three years of last place somehow guarantee a huge achievement next season, i.e., the playoffs?

    From all appearances, this team is currently regressing, particularly some of the veterans (Horcoff, Hemsky, Smyth, Whitney, Eager, Sutton). And then there was the addition of Barker! Unfortunately, the Oilers are a turnover machine (even the players acknowledge this fact).

    Merry Christmas to the Oilers’ bloggers. Don’t count on the playoffs.

  • stevezie

    I still believe, and you want to know why? Because belief is free, makes me feel better, and no one is paying me to make a serious, sober evaluation of this team and it’s deficiencies. So please put not stock in me saying that I like I forwards and expect Whitney to improve enough to make us a 500 hockey club. We still won’t make the playoffs, but we’ll be better than we were last year!

  • stevezie

    I’ve been a fan for long enough to know that this team will rock it in the future. We are rebuilding, what would be the point of finishing in the playoffs and losing first round? I hope we finish last and trade Hemsky and Omark for another lotto pick before deadline. Grigorenko can fill in his spot and we can draft Murray/dumba/ceci/rienhardt with the other. Go after the big free agent d-men this year. You people want a cup overnight! Shut up, grow up, sit down enjoy the show, as it will take time. The best things in life come with a little patience!
    I will agree that Tambi needs to grow a set and trade assets like Hemsky, possibly Whitney, Omark, Mps for ones they will use in the future. Renney placed too much focus on winning and not enough on player development.

  • stevezie

    Tamby is not a Dale Tallon so we should all stop pretending he can make good trades……….it appears he has no vision for building a team.

    He and Renny went to the same speech coach………they say and do nothing of substance.

    Oh we all knew that this was a process that was going to take at least three years.