The Oilers have decided to bring in another coach to save the day. Before we begin to discuss the new coach, let’s ask a simple question: what did Tom Renney do wrong?
Ask an Oiler fan about what’s wrong with the team and the answers come flooding out. I’ve heard a bunch of things, but the one that I’ll take issue with today is the following: the coach didn’t play Hall, Ebs and the Nuge enough. The reason I believe it would have been a mistake for Renney to overplay the kids is simple: with the exception of Taylor Hall none of them would have been able to handle it.
I’m going to do a quick comparison here of the four main centermen. I’ll begin with the toughest competition faced, and follow the depth chart down. These players are listed in the order that Renney used them: toughest opposition to easiest, but we should also be aware of the extreme zone starts. Horcoff and Belanger were both in the low 40s.
- 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.04
- Qual Comp: toughest among centers and all forwards
- Qual Team: 2nd best among centers and 5th best among forwards
- Corsi Rel: -1.0 (7th best among regular forwards)
- Zone Start: 43.9% (2nd toughest, 13th easiest among regular forwards)
- Zone Finish: 45.4% (11th best among regular forwards)
- Plus Minus: -23 on a team that was -26
Horcoff had the toughest opposition, the most severe zone starts among centermen and clearly he did not handle it as well as one would hope from the highest paid center on the roster. The coach decided–and I think rightly–to sacrifice his veteran as opposed to overwhelm his #1 overall pick. I don’t think you can blame Renney for this move. Horcoff’s offense isn’t strong enough to deliver under these circumstances but his CorsiRel suggests he’s miles from being the problem.
- 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.98
- Qual Comp: 2nd toughest among centers, 4th toughest among regular forwards
- Qual Team: best available among centers, 2nd best teammates among regular forwards
- Corsi Rel: 5.6 (6th best among regular forwards)
- Zone Start: 62.5% (easiest among regular forwards)
- Zone Finish: 53.6% (2nd best among regular forwards)
- Plus Minus: -2 on a team that was -26
The Nuge faced the 2nd toughest opposition among centers, not a huge surprise when you consider he played with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle quite a bit and that’s the line the other side would focus on. He got a really nice zone start, credit Renney there with trying to help the team’s offense. RNH’s CorsiRel is solid, but in a classic case of Who’s Zooming Who it is important to have a long look at the name at the top of the charts.
- 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 1.96
- Qual Comp: 3rd toughest among centers, 8th toughest among regular forwards
- Qual Team: 3rd best among centers, 6th best teammates among regular forwards
- Corsi Rel: 6.3 (4th best among regular forwards)
- Zone Start: 54.1% (4th easiest among regular forwards)
- Zone Finish: 51.8% (4th best among regular forwards)
- Plus Minus: +5 on a team that was -26
Gagner got a push this season and delivered very good numbers across the board. His Corsi Rel, plus minus and 5×5/60 were impressive and he clearly had the puck going in the right direction. Gagner had a good season, although the club should expect him to perform this well against tougher competition as he matures. His 5×5/60 was the 91st best number in the NHL among forwards who played >50 games this past season.
- 5×5 points per 60 minutes: 0.64
- Qual Comp: 4th toughest among centers, 10th toughest among regular forwards
- Qual Team: 7th best available teammates among regular forwards
- Corsi Rel: -4.1 (10th best among regular forwards)
- Zone Start: 43.2% (toughest among regular forwards)
- Zone Finish: 48.9% (8th best among regular forwards)
- Plus Minus: -13 on a team that was -26
Belanger was a disaster but he was also gifted with the toughest zone starts. On the other hand, he played the easiest competition and with decent linemates and delivered a ghastly plus minus, Corsi Rel and 5×5/60. It’s almost unbelieveable, and I think the Oilers will be tempted to see if this was just a lost season. That may be a mistake.
HOW DID THE VETERANS HELP?
Horcoff hung in there and I believe coach Renney correctly identified him as the best available talent to handle the toughs. His CorsiRel indicates he can still play tough opposition with drastic zone starts and land in the "average" range compared to the rest of the roster. Horcoff’s offense against that kind of pitching tells us the new coach may look elsewhere in an effort to get more offense power v power.
The role Horcoff played this year and may play next season–believe it or not–has value in that the Nuge and Gagner had the opportunity to play softer opponents. It was also wise in that the club sent their two best offensive centers out there with a chance to succeed–Horcoff’s offense is not close to being good enough to cover those minutes and deliver a strong 5×5/60. Belanger was a good bet but a terrible result. His age makes him a poor bet moving forward.
HOW CAN WE KNOW THE OILERS ARE SERIOUS ABOUT WINNING?
At center, the Oilers have two guys who can impact the offense 5×5 in RNH and Sam Gagner. They also have a PP savant in the Nuge. So, what the new coach will need to ask for is an upgrade on Horcoff and the flushing of Belanger. This coach will need to argue strongly against using Anton Lander as an NHL option in 12-13.
I don’t think that will happen. If the Oilers run the same group out there next season, or if (more likely) they squeeze Anton Lander into the lineup, the new coach will lack a strong outscoring option to face the opposition’s best.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The answer could be Taylor Hall at center. He had the best CorsiRel on the team against tougher opposition, he could continue to protect the Nuge if the club moved the young man to wing for a year.
Can Hall do it? He’s Edmonton’s best player, and he has shown an ability to get results against ever increasing difficulty in terms of opposition. The new coach is going to cast about and look for his leader, and that leader up front is going to have to spearhead the attack against those ultra-tough centers and defensemen.
Taylor Hall at center is an idea whose time may have come. Tom Renney talked about it, suspect the new hire will make it happen.
NATION RADIO–TEAM 1260–NOON EDMONTON TIME
I’d love your questions today, we have excellent guests and the best questions always come from you. You can drop the ? in the comments section, email email@example.com or tweet @lowetide_ or @ItsNationRadio.
Scheduled to appear:
- Jonathan Willis: On Sutter, on the Oilers summer, on the #1 overall pick, on Taylor Hall’s future role.
- Bruce McCurdy: We’ll discuss the incredible Oil Kings run, the wacky WHC’s and the coming attractions in astronomy.
- Tom Lynn is a player advisor, agent and attorney, certified by the National Hockey League Players Association. He has acted as General Manager and Assistant General Manager of the Minnesota Wild and we’ll talk about the draft. Trades, moving up and down on draft day and the CBA.
- Corey Pronman has quickly become a credible source on the draft and we’ll pursue answers with him with a special focus on some of the "trending" players at the draft.
- Kent Simpson from the Oil Kings broadcasts on Team 1260. We’ll talk about that stunning opener last night and what the Oil Kings have in store for the rest of the week. Kent also played for Tom Renney, I’ll ask his opinion of the Oilers coaching change.
- Allan Hamilton, legendary member of the Oilers and Oil Kings. We’ll talk about that 1966 Memorial Cup team and I’ll ask Mr. Hamilton about what the current Oil Kings are experiencing at this year’s Memorial Cup.
Please post questions early, I want to make sure to get them all in.