Ten Points: Oilers on the up-swing

Looking at the Oilers’ year-over-year improvements from 2010-11, the various predictions for Jordan Eberle’s point totals, the benefits of another season in Sweden for Oscar Klefbom (should that happen) and the proper ways to use and defend against offer sheets.

1. The Oilers improvements at even-strength. In 2010-11, the Edmonton Oilers scored 132 even-strength goals. In 2011-12, they scored 142. They also slashed goals-against, going from 174 in 2010-11 to 162 in 2011-12. Put it all together, and the team’s goal differential at evens went from minus-42 to minus-18. That’s an incredible improvement, and the single-biggest reason for optimism about next year’s team. It’s also a number I’ll be digging into in the days ahead, to see where the improvement came from – a big chunk of it is undoubtedly the Hall/Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins trio, but I’d be surprised if that’s the only difference.

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2. The Oilers improvements on the power play. For all the attention the power play got last year, it really didn’t drive the Oilers’ goal differential improvement. In 2010-11 the unit was plus-42; in 2011-12 it finished the year plus-47. How is that possible, given that the unit jumped from 27th in the league to third in the league in total percentage? Two reasons: first, there were fewer penalties called in 2011-12, meaning that the Oilers got 42 fewer power play opportunities year-over-year, and second the team allowed seven short-handed goals after allowing only two the season before. The fact that the Oilers’ improvement didn’t rely on the power play is actually a good thing, though – because there’s strong reason to believe that the unit will be worse next year.

3. The Oilers improvement on the penalty kill. This is the area, other than even-strength, where the Oilers made huge strides. After going +8/-74 in 2010-11, the Oilers’ kill went +4/-51 in 2011-12 – leading to an improvement of 19 goals. Some of that was because they were short-handed 25 fewer times (mostly due to the drop in calls – the Oilers were still one of the least disciplined teams in the league, finishing with the fifth-highest number of penalty kills in the NHL in 2011-12), but the big improvement was a 5.4% jump in penalty-killing efficiency, leading to 5 less goals for every 100 times short-handed. With new veterans like Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth back on the unit next year, as well as with Nikolai Khabibulin relegated to the backup role, there’s no reason this can’t continue.

4. The “gap” in Jordan Eberle predictions. For all of the debate over Jordan Eberle in the past few days, the actual gap in terms of predicted offense between the optimists and pessimists is pretty minute. Robin Brownlee has Eberle slated for 67 points, David Staples figures 68 and at the other end of the scale Tyler Dellow’s most recent piece has it looking like Eberle will pick up 60 points. If I had to pick a number it would probably be 62 – as I like Tyler’s method but have some quibbles that push the total a tiny bit higher (Note: Lowetide’s “Reasonable Expectations” piece had Eberle pegged for 55 points, but as he’s taken pains to explain it wasn’t a prediction so much as it was a line in the sand). Now, maybe that eight point gap between the high and low ends of those predictions means we should launch holy war, but somehow I doubt it.

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5. Oscar Klefbom in Sweden. At this point it isn’t 100% clear where Oscar Klefbom is going to play in the fall, but the smart money seems to be on another year in Farjestads, where he’ll play a feature role. As interesting as it would be to see him in North America this year, I think this is a good thing overall. Klefbom just turned 19 – there’s no harm in letting him continue to develop at home for another year, rather than throwing him to the wolves in the NHL (which, given the Oilers’ track record developing highly-touted prospects, would almost certainly happen). The Oilers did that with Smid (who was older but clearly could have used a little more minor-league seasoning) and it didn’t speed up his development any. Two other benefits: Klefbom will likely get more offensive minutes this year in Sweden, and his entry-level deal will slide, meaning that instead of his contract expiring in 2015, it will expire in 2016 instead.

6. Selling players as a group in Colorado. An idea that has been floated more than a few times is that the Oilers should try and sell their young players on the virtues of keeping the band together. It’s what Pierre Lacroix did in Colorado after winning the Stanley Cup in 2001 – he brought all the key UFA pieces together (Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake) as well as Peter Forsberg into the Avalanche dressing room, which he’d had left in the same shape as it was when they’d won it all, and basically told the entire group what he’d be offering each individual. There was a lot of hardware between that trio – Roy had won the Conn Smythe, Sakic the Hart Trophy, and Blake was only a few years removed from winning the Norris. All three signed, for lots of money but less than they could have got on the open market, but it didn’t happen right away – it took a few weeks before terms were agreed on with all parties.

7. What I like about hockey. I occasionally get asked to expand upon what I like about hockey, since I approach it in such a dry, bookish fashion. I don’t usually spend much time on it, because it isn’t interesting: I like the same things about hockey that everybody else does. I got into the game back in 1993’s Western Conference finals between L.A. and Toronto. My mom, as a Gretzky diehard, was cheering for the Kings while my dad preferred the Leafs; given that I was seven it’s probably not surprising that I picked the Kings because Kelly Hrudey had an awesome red bandana. I’m a fan-boy at heart – I lived and breathed the 2006 Run, and have never lost the soft spot I had for all the guys involved. First on that list, by the way, was Steve Staios – who blocked a shot with his face and then got trapped on the ice, trying to hold off the opposition while clearly in a daze until the Oilers finally cleared the zone. But as a writer, it doesn’t matter: when analyzing and projecting, personal attachment to players and teams gets in the way of clearheaded analysis. I know some fans prefer a rose-coloured glasses look, but it bothers me to read them and I try not to write them.

8. Page-view sluts. It’s been suggested, more than a few times, that some guys write articles specifically to get page-views. In a way, that’s true – this is my job, and the only reason the sites I write for can pay me is because people are reading what I’m writing. So, I do things to maximize page-views – I try to write on things people are interested in, promote articles via social media, and link back to older pieces. But I also write honestly: I don’t exaggerate my opinion to get hits, and I’m not one of those anonymous frauds that make up trade rumours. There’s good money to be made in both fields, as Eklund and HockeyyInsiderr and a bunch of others are showing (and if you do it long enough the best end up with a form of credibility, as Eklund’s cameo on Sportsnet and press pass demonstrate) – because some people just like to be entertained and others are gullible – but I couldn’t do that sort of thing without losing respect for myself. Everybody has their own line, mine’s honesty.

9. The offer sheet. I thought Philadelphia’s offer sheet to Shea Weber was a brilliant play on their part – even though it didn’t work out in the end – but I’d have been aghast had the Oilers tried it. Why? Because in the last five years the Flyers have five playoff appearances; the Oilers have none. It’s a weapon that works best when wielded by a team that’s already highly successful, and a weapon that the Oilers might be able to use once they’ve hit their peak. Right now, though, there’s a pretty decent chance that Edmonton misses the playoffs next year, and it’s far from an impossibility that they end up with another lottery pick.

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10. Signing key RFA’s early. One of the bonuses to getting contract extensions worked out with key pieces early on is that it limits the ability of other teams to hamstring via offer sheet. It’s something the Oilers will be vulnerable to in the coming years if they aren’t careful; Hall and Eberle have expiring contracts in 2013 (at the same time that Ladislav Smid turns UFA), and then the trio of Nugent-Hopkins, Petry and Justin Schultz all expire in 2014 (the same time Nick Schultz turns UFA). Getting extensions done early will keep teams from trying to poach.

  • DaveChamp

    I have to say, Willis, that if you were writing when Gretzky was scoring 50 goals in 39 games, you’d be writing up articles about how he could never sustain it. Sometimes you gotta be optimistic and hope for the best. I understand stats guys like you are just trying to read the numbers, and I respect that, but writing articles about how Oilers players aren’t going to match previous totals serves only to anger the fan base, which is I think your intended goal, as it gets more page-views, as you mentioned earlier.

    • No, I don’t have to be optimistic and hope for the best. Fans can be optimistic and hope for the best; when I’m writing I’m trying to be accurate, not trying to be a fan.

      As for angering the fanbase getting pageviews, I think you missed what I wrote earlier: I’m honest in what I write. So, if I honestly think that Eberle’s totals are going to fall, that’s absolutely what I should write. Not writing it for fear of angering people is cowardly. It’s important to have the courage of one’s convictions.

      • I completely agree. It’s my job, and the job of the fans to bleed with biased posts. Obviously you are a fan, but it just can’t come out in your writing. I agree that the odds of Eberle repeating are against him. It is simply a regression to the norm. I’d be willing to bet that 80%+ of players who see a jump in their numbers over one seasone like Eberle did regress back to more normal numbers the following year.

        I do believe Eberle has the ability to pot 40 goals one day in his career, but if you ask me to put money down… then I’m betting against it. Id be more than happy if he puts up 25g and 35a this year.

        One thing I’d like to see as a poll question though would be
        “What do you think is more likely?”:

        1) Oilers finish in a playoff spot in 2012-13.

        2) Oilers finish in 30th

        I’d like to know how many people think we are closer to one over the other, and which one.

        I imagine the results would be around 50/50 amongst fans and writers… but I’d still like to see.

    • As for the Gretzky thing, two points:

      1) It’s completely fair to take some time, enjoy the moment, and realize how ground-breaking 50 goals in 39 games is.

      2) If you were Glen Sather trying to figure out how many goals your team is going to score the next season, betting Gretzky keeps scoring at a 105-goal pace is a pretty stupid thing to do.

      Sportswriters, as a whole, spend lots of time on the former. Fans spend even more time on it. But if what drives you is a desire to understand what’s going on, then it’s important to recognize the second fact too.

      • DaveChamp

        Fair enough, but I think there is a difference between writing what you think and intentionally angering the fan-base to elicit page-views. I think you can just as easily use stats to show why Eberle can easily maintain his scoring pace and even increase it. I think stats can be used however one wants.
        I don’t mean to be overly critical, because I know you take pride in your work and I do think you’re a talented writer and for the most part I do agree with your articles. I simply disagree that always criticizing the Oilers on an Oilers fan site is the best thing to do.

        • I think you can just as easily use stats to show why Eberle can easily maintain his scoring pace and even increase it. I think stats can be used however one wants.

          No, they can’t. Not if the person using the statistics is being honest. That’s the whole point of Mark Twain’s line about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’. I mean, sure, I could say ‘Jordan Eberle improved by 16 goals in his second season – if he does it again he’s a 50-goal man!’ but that’s an incredibly stupid thing to say and not grounded in reality.

          I simply disagree that always criticizing the Oilers on an Oilers fan site is the best thing to do.

          You do realize that you’re making that comment in an article which includes “Oilers on the up-swing” in the title and that spends the first three paragraphs explaining that the Oilers are massively better at both even-strength and on the PK and that even though the PP might fall off it’s not going to matter much?

          If you think I’m wholly critical of the Oilers, you’re not reading huge chunks of what I write.

        • The fundamental error you’re making is an assumption: you’re assuming that I start with ‘gosh, the Oilers are stupid/bad, how do I show that?’ and then manipulating numbers to back up a preconceived viewpoint.

          What I actually do is ask ‘what does X mean?’ or ‘what is the likelihood of Y?’ and then delve into whatever objective information I can find on the topic. Then I form an opinion.

          My opinions aren’t always right, but they’re generated from data; I don’t generate data from preconceived opinions.

    • DaveChamp

      Except Gretzky couldn’t sustain it. He scored 50 in 39, then scored 113 in his next 121 games (which for the record is still fantastic).

      Saying Eberle won’t match his point totals doesn’t mean the Oilers will be terrible either. For every Jordan Eberle there is an Ales Hemsky who you expect will have a bounce back season.

      Maybe Eberle is an 18% shooter who can lead his teammates to a 12+% on-ice percentage. It’s possible, but I certainly wouldn’t rely on it.

      We went through the exact same thing at the end of 2007-08 when the kids lit it up and the Oilers barely missed the playoffs. There was so much talk about optimism back then that people ignored the issues.

  • Chainsawz

    JW, if you’re a page-view slut (and I say this with tongue-in-cheek and with all due respect) what does that make my thrice daily checks on Oilers Nation in the hopes of a new article?

    Being an Oilers fan from southwestern Ontario I have to say that your articles (along with others from the great sites) are a breath of fresh, non-Leaf tainted, air. Well written and supported, keep up the great work.

  • John Chambers

    This season is lining up to be better, however still unspectacular.

    Finishing with 87 points or thereabouts is going to be such a burn … big enough improvement to sustain interest, and just a top-pair D and backup goalie away from making the bloody playoffs.

    And next summer we can start to get all excited about how we’re now ‘ready’.

  • Chainsawz

    Any point prediction concerning Eberle that isn’t a two digit number that starts with 7, 8, or 9 is low ballin’.

    Just being honest so don’t go around calling me an “optomistic fan”.


  • Chainsawz

    With our type of youthfull elites we should finish minimum top 5 in west , and perhaps first or second . Any Gm should be able to give these outstanding kids a solid base if he’s worth a grain of salt . No excuses for management this year can / should be acceptable . What other GM would not want the youthfull elite talent we have here to be honest . Playoffs should be a cinch considering !

  • John Chambers


    Probably the biggest reason for reading a) Willis, b) ON, and c) the blogosphere is that the content is always challenging the status quo, sensational nonsense, and traditional armchair bullsh!t.

    Keep it coming. The establishment is showing their cracks!

    Just like the gays who are going to conquer Chik-Fil-A this weekend. Anything that challenges the establishment is a positive step for humanity.

    Have a great lw, everybody.

  • Chainsawz

    Haha, the author claims to use numbers to form an opinion but dismisses increased ice time, better quality of linemates, and more shots on goal and just focuses on a “predicted” shooting percentage drop.

    Lordy, lordy, lordy, pull the other one.

    • Yes, yes, and in his dismissive, pessimistic way predicts exactly three goals and two assists less for Eberle than Robin Brownlee does. THE HUMANITY.

      If that’s not a good reason to launch a crusade or at least fire up an angry mob, I don’t know what is.

    • 1. Willis has discussed those factors repeatedly. Does he really need to repeat the entire thing every time he references Eberle from here on out?

      2. Eberle’s most common linemates last season: RNH and Hall. Who are the “better quality of linemates” you have in mind?

  • Every writer needs to be a story teller. It can be different stories told in different ways but no one will read a pile of sh*t uncompellingly written by some clown-shoe wearing hack.

    I like JW’s “dose of reality” stories. When I want to watch an informative program I watch a documentary or PBS, when I want to be entertained mindlessly and lied to I watch the History Channel (see- Aliens, Ancient). When I read a JW article I’m not expecting him to tell us that Ancient Aliens are responsible for Eberle’s shooting percentage. I just wouldnt see that coming.

    ON has all kinds; writers with access, writers with humour, writers with a predilection towards Rap music. I dont think JW needs to tip toe around the hurt feeling of whiny p*ss babies who cant confront the reality that Eberle MIGHT not score 70+ points next season.

    • Chainsawz

      He might not, but saying the numbers show that he won’t with I’m right and you are all just “fans” retort isn’t going to help his cause with some people.

      Here’s a dose of reality: Eberle scored 76 points last year.

      Here’s a 50/50 shot: He may or may not make that mark next season.

      Here’s a good way to make traffic: Say he won’t.

      Here’s a good way to make discussion: While focusing on the negaitve numbers, ignore the positive no matter what.

      I fall for it everytime.

  • Craig1981

    Is schultz a UFA after his contract is done? I remember blake Wheeler being a RFA after his contract wirh Boston was done

    BTW. In 2012-13 Eberle score 80 points, cures cancer, and finds Atlantis

  • And, might I add, JW’s ability to write so many articles with such a high quality of work WHILE maintaining a professional (read: unbiased) eye is most likely the reason why, out of all the quality Oiler bloggers, he is the one that has articles printed in the Journal’s Sports section from time to time.

    It would be a shame to throw away all those qualities that have worked so well for him and brought legitimacy to sites like this all because being critical is a buzz kill to Dave Champer.

  • MessyEH!

    Eberle operated on Taylor hall’s shoulder. He was the only one Hall thought had sick enough hands to perform the operation. Little “”Nuge” couldn’t make the flight there was a dumptruck in the sandbox calling his name.

  • MessyEH!

    So what about Omark. Shouldn’t the oilers offer him a 2 way deal that’s loaded on the AHL side. And has a 1.5 million NHL number. Still our best call up from the OKC.

  • Oilers on the up-swing?

    For the two seasons they placed 30th, there was only one direction to go, up. From 29th place last season, they have two directions they can go, up or down (back to 30th).

    With their untradeable assets and unperforming veteran forwards, Belanger, Eager, Hordichuk, Horcoff and Petrill filling valuable slots, and with questions in goal, what will be the Oilers’ probable finish in the tough Western Conference? How will Gagner perform? How many games will Hemsky play? Sutton is 37. Will Whitney rebound from all his foot injuries? Will Peckham and Potter be capable?

    It is safe to say ST’s rebuild isn’t half done yet.

    As to statistics pointing the way, British PM Disreali is believed to have stated: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” as a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments.

    Statistics are interesting. Points count in the win column.

  • WeridAl

    Last season Eberle got off to a slow start, if he gets off to a good start and RNH stays healthy, he’ll beat his points from last year. If J.Schultz performs well, he should beat it by quite a bit.

  • It is like playing poker. If you do not know the probabilities you are not going to do very well. All the instinct in the world doesn’t make up for ignoring the fundamentals. If there is only one heart left in the deck don’t gamble on filling in your heart flush. If a players makes a huge points jump in one season don’t expect a similar jump the next one, although it does happen sometimes.

    If you remove emotion, collect the relevant information and assess it rationally you have a good chance of being right more often than people that make their predictions on hope and hunches. If you start the season with realistic expectations you are less likely to be disappointed, although inevitably some players will over achieve and others will under achieve. Who could have predicted Petry and MP would have had the season they just completed for example?

    I like all those who write articles here but JW is my favourite because his assessments and predictions are the most grounded. Like LT he is a little conservative, which is healthy for us fanatic fans.

  • Lofty

    One thing I know for certain is the Oilers have come a long ways from having Patrick O’Sullivan in its top six.

    I think many teams make a rediculous jump when its not expected before they become a respected competitor. It’s rarely a straight line liniar progression to the top. Next year may not be a playoff year but I think the first year the rebuild makes the playoffs could be a long run.

    Oiler fans have been through a lot but better times are ahead. Next seasons lineup will be exciting. What if next years team has the same fast start that lasts 2 months longer?

    Optimistic, definetly, but still much better than watching POS flutter weak wrist shots from nowhere land. That was the worst year in the history of oiler fans.

  • Lofty

    @ #46 Pouzar99

    I think the Pouzar99 has it right. Props to Johnathan Willis.

    One way to test a persons conviction is to see how much they would be willing to bet on it. (For example who would put $100 on over/under Oilers points where the over under is 85 pts, or Jordan Eberle Points where the over under is 59pts) Unfortunately we can’t do that here.

    While I do like the grounding in stats alot, just for fun, what I would like to see is some predictions about things that will/might be unforseen.

    For example for each of SN writers to guess at/come up with 3 things that would be unforseen that nobody is talking about. I’ll give it try:
    1) Khabibulin has a comeback year and plays a significant role in the teams overall progression
    2) Magnus Pajarvi surprises with 20 goal season
    3) Hemsky gets moved BEFORE the trade deadline.

    Give it try……just for sh*ts and giggles

  • Jonathon

    Do you not agree that statistics are interesting while points count in the win column?

    By interesting, I believe statistics can provide valuable insight into hockey performances and are markers. To disregard statistics is folly. The sport that makes the best use of stats is baseball, next is football. These are start and stop sports, while hockey flows.

    As to Oilers on the up-swing, going into training camp the roster isn’t much different from last season’s final roster. Where is the up-tick? Other than Yakupov and Schultz, both promising rookies, there isn’t any apparent improvement. We can expect the young guns will be better while the vets’ performances will continue to slide (one year older, slower, prone to injury). ST hasn’t been able to make a trade that would improve the roster’s makeup and some of the vets will take slots away from promising prospects. Unless there is a major shakeup in the roster, the Oilers promise to be another lottery team. Maybe that is the strategy going forward.

    • Id argue that the Gilbert trade will help us more than you are aware. Gilbert’s inability on the breakout was getting worse every year so to remove him and bring in N.Schultz should result in a few more wins alone.

      Our PP should still be 10th or better and I hope gags and Nuge improve enough on the draw so that we don’t always see Belanger and horcs out there. Dubnyk playing 55+ games is also a fairly big change as well. There’s no guarantee that will happen, but id lime to think the odds are in Dubbys favor. Also, it is a contract year for Khabbi… take a look at his stats for his last 3 contract years. I get that it shouldn’t matter, but for some players it just does.

      Whitney will be a much better player than he was last year as well. I also wouldn’t expect another dreadful year from Hemmer.

      With Schultz, Schultz, and Yakupov added. We are 5 wins better minimum.

  • I do look forward to your articles,and with the stats you seem to be able to put things in perspective.I do believe when you compare our top six to the rest in the western conferance it would be unlikely to be a lottery team players like Taylor Hall would get p**sed off.look for the Oilers to challenge for the playoffs.the core is getting more mature and the vets have to contribute more.

  • While I’m not expecting a playoff birth this season, my biased views on the oilers’ offensive potential have reached a new low (or high, depending on how you look at it). Having the first overall pick in my hockey pool has completely screwed me since we are now doing a snake draft and the last pick gets 2 in a row. I took RNH FIST overall for fear of all the Oilers’ big guns going in the first thirty picks. I realize that it is likely RNH will only get 50-60 pts but having a top Oiler in my hockey pool just makes the whole season that much more exciting.

    After 6 seasons, my patience has run out. I need the oilers to become outliers this season and make the playoffs. I know it is a long shot but unlike most leafs fans, I don’t think I have it in me to go 3000 days without a playoff birth. Thankfully the players sound like they expect to make the playoffs as well. Even though the odds are very slim, I’m glad they are able to set aside reason and play with the mindset required to win a cup. I’d like to think that their goal is to win the cup. That’s why they are playing. You play to win. So why tell ppl you are hoping to have meaningful games in March. How about , “We are hoping to have meaningful games in may”.

    I’m not betting the farm that they finish better than 12th but that doesn’t mean THEY should expect the same. Id like to hear an Oiler just say “The plan/goal is to win every game and bring the cup home to Edmonton. That will be my goal every year until I retire. That is why I play.”. Obviously it can be dangerous to look too far ahead and the prep going on right now is for training camp, but I’m sure you get what I’m saying.

    Let’s see if this team is Gangster Enough this year. If RNH gets run from behind, Id like both Hall and Ebs to go gangster on the culprit. Screw ethics and a fair fight, if Hordi and Pecks are on the bench then just let Beauchemin know that he will have four fists flying at him. Maybe we will even get a bench brawl. I think Hall’s ankle injury was a fluke and don’t consider his previous fight to be a good reason not to defend his teammates. I’m fired up(as Gregor would say) and I’ve decided to check reason at the door. If our stars get run this year without risk of real punishment, I will lose some hope for this team in the future.

  • OutDoorRink

    Everyone can agree that it’s going to take some astute moves by management to steer the ship in the next few years, but the Oilers are in a position of strength with all of the skill and depth that we’ve aquired. Heck, Nail hasn’t even played a game for us yet.

    Our D can only get better.

    Time to find out if Dubey is a No.1 goalie.