Measuring Up Against The Champions: Edmonton Oilers Edition

It is a time-honoured tradition for the people following NHL teams to compare their squads against the Stanley Cup champion each and every summer. While parts of the tradition are unhelpful – stylistic comparisons, for example, are generally useless because the Red Wings don’t need to play like the Ducks to win and vice versa – it’s an interesting measuring stick in a lot of ways.

With the Edmonton Oilers finishing their second straight year at the bottom of the league, such an exercise might be regarded as needless fault-finding, but I don’t see it that way. The ultimate goal of any rebuilding team is a championship win, and it can be useful to compare just to see which areas the team needs to work on, and which areas can be regarded as relative strengths.

What I propose to do here is a limited comparison – a comparison of scoring by forwards and defensemen on each team, at both five-on-five and on the power play. This is naturally a limited picture, as scoring totals don’t take into account other things that a defensive ace like Patrice Bergeron does, and doesn’t take into account penalty-killing. I’ve chosen to minimize my focus on those areas, because they are difficult to quantify, but that does not mean they should be ignored altogether.

Additionally, I have left out the goaltending comparison. Tim Thomas is the Conn Smythe (and likely Vezina) winner, and any comparison between his performance this season and that of Nikolai Khabibulin would be such a mismatch that it almost isn’t worth doing. Anyone looking at these comparisons does well to add the caveat that this Bruins team was able to win the Cup… with one of the strongest goaltending performances in recent memory. Subtract Thomas, and this roster had no chance of competing in the Stanley Cup finals.

Players below are ranked by their place in the line-up (based on ice-time and games played) rather than by scoring totals.

Up The Middle

Boston EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60 Edmonton EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60
David Krejci 2.76 2.16 Shawn Horcoff 1.47 4.99
Patrice Bergeron 2.46 2.61 Sam Gagner 1.91 2.51
Chris Kelly 1.37 Andrew Cogliano 1.33
Gregory Campbell 1.46 Colin Fraser 0.48

The difference in strength between the Bruins and the Oilers is highly noticeable at centre. David Krejci was the Bruins’ top offensive forward, with Patrice Bergeron their top defensive forward, and both outscored any of the Oilers’ options by a country mile. I’d argue that either Shawn Horcoff or Sam Gagner would be viewed as the third-best centre on the Bruins roster at this point in time (with Horcoff on the downswing of his career and Gagner not yet realizing his potential). After that, Andrew Cogliano is at more or less the same spot he would be in Boston, with the caveat that he’s far worse at face-offs than any of the Bruins options. The 2010-11 edition of Colin Fraser would simply not be an everyday player for Boston.

One positive note we can make about the Oilers is on the power play, because the Bruins’ unit was awful in the playoffs and not that much better than the Oilers during the regular season. Sam Gagner during an awful year was competitive on the man advantage versus both Krejci and Bergeron, while Shawn Horcoff had the best power play performance of any player in this group.

Bottom line: The big difference is at the top of the lineup, where Boston possesses both a top offensive and defensive centre that outclass their comparables in the Oilers lineup.

On The Wings

Boston EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60 Edmonton EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60
Milan Lucic 2.64 3.96 Ales Hemsky 2.88 3.47
Nathan Horton 2.48 2.25 Taylor Hall 1.78 3.27
Brad Marchand 2.12 Jordan Eberle 1.79 3.92
Rich Peverley 1.36 2.72 Magnus Paajarvi 1.36
Mark Recchi 1.85 3.77 Linus Omark 1.78 3.35
Michael Ryder 1.63 4.74 Ryan Jones 1.38
Daniel Paille 1.68 Gilbert Brule 0.96 1.17
Tyler Seguin 1.44 1.81 Jean-Francois Jacques 0.85
Shawn Thornton 1.53 Steve MacIntyre 0.5

There is a lot of good news in these numbers. First off, Ales Hemsky is a legitimate force who was more likely to record a point on any given shift this year than any Bruins’ forward, and that’s a point worth remembering the next time some East-based commentator calls him a ‘good second-line winger.’

Beyond that, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Linus Omark all come in as top-nine options for the Bruins, and given that each was a rookie this year that’s a huge positive. Hall in particular is undersold by his numbers, thanks to a lengthy dry spell to start the season; he seemed to get better every game up until his injury.

The bad news starts with the depth players. On the Boston side, every player was over 1.50 PTS/60 at evens with two exceptions – last year’s second overall pick, and a defensive specialist (Peverley) picked up after spending most of the year with another team (Atlanta). Magnus Paajarvi would have been hard-pressed to make this team. Ryan Jones probably wouldn’t have been an everyday player. Both Jacques and MacIntyre pale in comparison to Shawn Thornton, who holds a similar role but contributes far more in terms of actual hockey ability than either of the Oilers’ end of roster options. Gilbert Brule in a bad year is totally lost.

Beyond that, the biggest factor is experience. The Bruins had young players contributing – guys like Marchand and Seguin – but they were far outnumbered by capable veteran players. It’s safe to say the Oilers won’t be winning many games until they either add veterans or their young players get a few years under their belts.

Bottom line: There’s a lot to be hopeful about in the Oilers’ top-six, but even if those players grow into their roles the bottom lines need an overhaul.

The Back End

Boston EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60 Edmonton EVPTS/60 PP PTS/60
Zdeno Chara 1.06 2.71 Ryan Whitney 1.58 2.91
Dennis Seidenberg 0.84 3.45 Tom Gilbert 0.61 2.63
Johnny Boychuk 0.72 1.73 Ladislav Smid 0.43
Andrew Ference 0.72 Jeff Petry 0.21 1.67
Tomas Kaberle 0.9 3.6 Theo Peckham 0.7
Adam McQuaid 0.94 Jim Vandermeer 0.71
Steve Kampfer* 0.73 2.56 Kurtis Foster 0.55 2.93

* Kampfer was replaced by Shane Hnidy for the playoffs, but Hnidy didn’t play enough in the regular season to get representative scoring numbers.

The first thing that jumps out for me is the offensive contribution Boston got from its depth players. Tomas Kaberle and Adam McQuaid contributed a lot of offense in lesser roles. This is something the Oilers used to get from depth defensemen – guys like Marc-Andre Bergeron, and the old Grebeshkov/Gilbert pairing – but Kurtis Foster had a tough year and the talents of Vandermeer and Peckham lie elsewhere.

The big gap here, of course, is the top pairing – the Oilers don’t have a pair like Chara and Seidenberg. If they did, and could push one or two guys down the depth chart, they would compare pretty favourably to Boston.

Bottom line: The Oilers need at least one and possibly two top-end defensemen before they can compare favourably to Boston.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    The stat of so many points at even strength/power play is great for guaging offensive output but I think it should be directly followed by plus minus. The writer also overlooked goaltending, a position where the Oil are vastly inferior to the Bs.