Old Man Power

Awhile back, during the 2010-2011 season to be exact, and in a past writing life, I had said that what the Oilers needed, desperately, was some Sam Elliot kind of leadership.

Lowetide likes to mention Stan Weir playing with another group of kids that came through town once upon a time. I can’t, wouldn’t, argue with that. If Tambellini could find a Weir today and add him to this group, I’d cheer from the rooftops. Watching Ryan Smyth step in to a shoving match last season on behalf of Taylor Hall made me think maybe he’s the closest thing we have right now.

Recently, I decided to take a look into the veteran presence and ability on the Oilers. I’ll be completely honest that this had originally sprung from a debate over at FlamesNation regarding the relative merits of the veterans for the Oilers and Flames relative to the rookies.

I’ve already had a look at the Flames situation and, to put it succinctly, the core is entering the age of performance decline, struggling to keep their heads above water, and unlikely to improve sufficiently to turn back the tide. The club is heavily leveraged in favour of veterans, with their rookie presence being predominantly limited to marginal or complimentary players, outside of Sven Baertschi. Were the club actively pursuing a youth movement wherein a core of young players expected to evolve into a new core group were being sheltered by the graybeards, then it would be understandable. They aren’t and it isn’t.

Age Before Beauty

Now, about the Oilers. For veterans, I included players who have managed more than 200 NHL games and are returning to the team this season. I took a look at their numbers, putting an emphasis on Relative Corsi, which ranks them thus: p>

Player Pos GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Rel On-Ice Sh % On-Ice Sv % PDO Off Zone start % Off zone finish % GF/On/60 GA/On/60
Ales Hemsky RW 69 14.97 1.279 8.6 7.04 919 990 50.3 49.0 34 41
Sam Gagner C 75 14.29 0.575 6.3 10.17 923 1025 54.1 51.8 49 40
Shawn Horcoff C 81 13.58 1.497 -1.0 6.97 909 978 43.9 45.4 34 53
Ryan Smyth LW 82 14.04 1.057 -1.5 9.68 914 1011 48.1 51.7 49 51
Ryan Jones RW 79 11.98 0.711 -2.9 7.89 914 993 44.6 48.6 34 42
Eric Belanger C 78 10.83 -0.124 -4.1 5.88 919 978 43.2 48.9 22 37
Ben Eager LW 63 8.48 -0.838 -8.8 7.51 944 1020 49.3 43.5 16 15

Some things stand out to me in this ranking, mostly that players like Hemsky, Horcoff and Smyth were fed to the proverbial wolves and that they suffered for it. Comparing their Corsi Rel QoC and GF/60 and GA/60, I think we can see that Horcoff is well past being any kind of offensive catalyst, while Hemsky looks to have still been adapting to a his shoulder recovery. Smyth’s numbers would indicate that there is still some scoring savvy in the old winger, although that could be an illusion from his quick start to the season. Suffice to say that, Edmonton’s first line from the 2006 cup run is well and truly buried down the rotation to make room for the young kids, and, as they like to say on the internet, facing the toughs.

The good news there is that they don’t need to be phenomenal. The team last season, and perhaps even more so this season, can afford for these three, or Smyth and Horcoff at least, to be fed to the meat grinder of tough opponents for the time being. Ralph Krueger, when other options are denied due to line changes or injury, has a line that can skate the puck away from the net, keep their heads against some of the brighter NHL lights, and limit the damage that will inevitably be dealt.

If we subtract an eight-point night from Sam Gagner’s point totals he is just a break-even forward on that list, and appears to have the highest shooting % of the group. Gagner is at this time, I believe, a player who benefits from better linemates more than being one who necessarily makes his linemates better. This isn’t an article on his value or comparables, but rather, I think in his case we could make the argument that his play may begin to improve as a result of being sheltered behind a stellar first line and being gifted with wingers like Hemsky and Yakupov. He hardly counts as a grizzled veteran, based on birth certificates, but his NHL CV is already long and it is a positive that his numbers have him high on this chart while still being in his early 20s. However, the 2nd line center position may become a dominant area of concern for this team in two years’ time.

Eric Belanger and Ryan Jones are the insurance policies in this regard. Last season Anton Lander was stubbornly held in the NHL when it was apparent that he didn’t belong. If Horcoff needs a break, this season he can have it, because I think the coaching staff has decided that Eric Belanger can be outstanding at imposing the infamous Belanger-Triangle that stifles offense, and turning it against the opponent. Belanger struggled offensively last season, but his zone starts and finishes showed positive results, and of the veterans who played an average of 10 minutes of ice time or more, he had the fewest goals against. If Belanger is your 4th line center, things are going in the right direction.

Experience on the Blueline

Defensively, the Oilers have been gifted with some developments that were question marks for the team during the early days of their rebuild. The development of Jeff Petry and the inclusion of Justin Schultz has jump-started the development of their blueline and pre-empted the possible need of dealing a forward for help on the back end.

Player Pos GP TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Rel On-Ice Sh % On-Ice Sv % PDO Off Zone start % Off zone finish % GF/On/60 GA/On/60
Andy Sutton D 52 14.62 -0.043 6.0 7.71 933 1010 48.7 49.2 29 25
Ladislav Smid D 78 16.89 1.366 -0.6 9.22 916 1008 49.3 52.6 54 51
Theo Peckham D 54 13.83 -0.031 -6.0 10.39 921 1025 51.2 48.6 32 32
Nick Schultz D 82 16.19 0.401 -7.2 5.75 941 998 43.8 48.2 31 42
Ryan Whitney D 51 17.15 0.187 -8.5 7.20 919 991 51.4 45.3 27 38

Last season the defensive corps was rescued by the emergence of Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry, the former appearing on the above veteran list. In fact, of the blueliners listed, Smid was the only defenseman to noticeably improve the zone start for his teammates until the inclusion of Nick Schultz. He and Sutton were the only two to be on the ice for a positive goal differential. Based on his gradual development over time, it appears that Smid, perhaps along with Petry and Schultz the Younger, is to be one of the cornerstones of the new defensive group. Vindication for the player who was a key piece of the Pronger deal.

Peckham and Whitney are the outsiders on this list (putting aside Andy Sutton, due to injury) as either one, or perhaps even both, could be headed out this season. Peckham needs to become what Sutton used to be in order to have a long NHL career. It is very likely that he could be lost to waivers in the coming months. If not, his stock isn’t likely to ever be higher than at this year’s trade deadline and the position of the Oilers at that time may preclude the option of trading him for a depth draft pick. Whitney needs time to come around after two horrific years. He has traits that this roster will come to need, in experience, character, and a burning desire to win. Whether those traits outweigh his diminished play, of late, and nagging concerns over injury is up to management. It is very likely that the Oilers may evaluate their defensive prospects at the end of the season, and based on their progression, choose to let Whitney walk as an unrestricted free-agent. While I despise losing assets of value for nothing in return, Whitney has been a good soldier and his career is in real need of a jumpstart. He’d look pretty good in Detroit red.

The consequence being that the blueline next season may look even younger than this year, as players like Colten Teubert and Oscar Klefbom are expected to make a push for roster spots. In that event, Smid, Petry, and Schultz the Elder will be the grizzled veterans showing the new players the ropes.

Essentially, the Oilers have a collection of veterans who are in their waning days but whose defensive game is sufficient to take the brunt of an opponent’s counter-attack and keep the team afloat. So long as they are not being relied upon for complementary offense, or to shut the door defensively, the roster appears to be moving closer to the range of balance. If the younger players around whom the offense is built struggle, it is unlikely that the veterans are going to be able to dig them out. But given that this roster is currently entering year four of a five-to-six year rebuilding plan, I would say that it is more or less on schedule, and the assets in play are being utilized, more or less, as their skills would dictate.

I still wish we had Sam Elliot on the roster somewhere.

  • This article features a chart. On this chart Horcoff, Hemsky, and Smyth have the highest CorsiRel Qoc on the team.

    According to http://www.broadstreethockey.com/pages/bsh-advanced-stats-glossary, Corsi is a simple plus/minus-style rating of the total number of shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots directed at the opposing net while a player is on the ice at even strength.

    Relative Corsi measures the difference in Corsi between a player’s on-ice performance and his team’s performance when he’s on the bench.

    Corsi Rel QoC is the average relative Corsi of OPPOSING players, weighted by head-to-head ice time.

    This basically means that when they (Horc, Hemmer, Smyth) are on the ice the play against the toughs is generally going in the direction you want.

    Yet the comments section overflow with ‘Horcs a bum’ and ‘trade the vets they are the source of our problems’.

    This is akin to reading an article entitled ‘Blue is the best colour’ and posting in the comments section that YES, you agree that red is the best colour.

    Does anyone even read anymore? Is this HF boards?

    Am I wrong?

    • RexLibris

      That the veterans are generally taking a 2×4 to the face, nightly, and getting back up each time is more or less the same conclusion I came to.

      I suspect that the Oilers may not buy out Horcoff until they can determine their free-agency options . If they feel they have a guy signed-sealed-and-delivered, and not named Nylander, then they might make the move to buy out Horcoff. But eliminating him right now from the roster would pretty much sign the team up for another top five pick, in my opinion. Belanger couldn’t shoulder that load all by himself.

  • DieHard

    I don’t know how anyone could think the Oilers veterans are helpful to this team. Hemsky, Horcoff, Smyth, Whitney are taking time and development away from prospects that can do their job just as well as they can. We have WAY too many entitled veterans on this team.

    Hemsky – Defensive liability on an already defensively weak line. He is worse than Yakupov defensively. That team needs a solid hitter and defensively worthwhile forward. Only an idiot would dangle the puck into a wall of opposing players.

    Smyth – Father time CANNOT skate in this system. We want a speedy system but he is the exact opposite. He needs to go to a team with a slower system.

    Horcoff – Belanger is better at everything that makes Horcoff worthwhile for a quarter of the price.

    Whitney – I want to believe he will bounce back but he is currently awful. I’d give him about 10 more games to bounce back but knowing Oilers management, he will be resigned to some stupid contract regardless if he’s good or bad.

    These 4 guys are bleeding this team out. They are over the hill and taking a spot from a potential well developing forward. They don’t hit and don’t put pressure on the opposing team.

    Buyout Horcoff, Smyth and Trade Hemsky. Whitney is at least a bottom pairing if nothing else.

    Gagner – I am liking Gagner right now and DO NOT think he is a problem.

  • DieHard

    The last 2 years of this rebuild should be about drafting for the future (3 – 5 years out). At the same time solidifying the goalie and defense positions and building a proper bottom 6. This will be done thru trade and UFA signings. If we could get Getzlaf, that would go a long ways.

  • This is the type of analysis a good GM does and then orcherstrate changes. Since we have a GM that is soley focused on finishing last, and drafting first we will never assemble complimentary players to the core group.

    As any Oiler fan will tell you we need more size, toughness, and balance on the lines. You do not need to be hockey GM or expert to know what we need……..it’s in plain sight. The question then becomes, if it is so obvious then why is nothing being done about it?

    The answer is also very obvious, our GM is Tamby……totally outclassed, and out performed by his peers!

  • @ trueoiler

    I would have to agree with you re: some more size in the top 6 and would love to have a Horton or a Clowe. I have always liked Regehr but wouldn’t want him at this point in his career.

    Watching that Calgary game though, it wasn’t size that would have made the difference. The Oilers were beat by a team that executed their game better and made less mistakes.

    However, I think we do need more of a checking (not necessarily coke machine/enforcer) presence as a good forecheck can build momentum when the skill game isn’t clicking.

  • I think this offseason could be huge for the oilers. 4 UFAs that I think they should make a push for are: Nathon Horton, Ryan Clowe, Robyn Regehr, and Manny Malhorta.

    Everyone says that the oilers need a big 2nd line center, but we just need size in the top 6. Hortan/Clowe would answer that question. Regehr could add veteran and size on the back end. Manny could help fill the hole left by horcoff

  • Pat Hughes ruled

    Ryan Smyth is on this team? Hardly noticed him playing which for an o-lineman is good a hockey player not so good. Horc has looked fine so far as has 83. Eric B. well why bother as the guy has been kicked more than a soccer ball. Can he honestly not feel guilty when he gwts paid? I would if I was him but thankfully I am not. Sprry Nail but he won’t skate after you to celebrate a goal with you. I know this breaks your heart.

  • Pat Hughes ruled

    Ryan Smyth is on this team? Hardly noticed him playing which for an o-lineman is good a hockey player not so good. Horc has looked fine so far as has 83. Eric B. well why bother as the guy has been kicked more than a soccer ball. Can he honestly not feel guilty when he gwts paid? I would if I was him but thankfully I am not. Sprry Nail but he won’t skate after you to celebrate a goal with you. I know this breaks your heart.

  • Willi P

    keilan,

    I was addressing the abilty to sign Getzlaf by the Oilers or any other Canadian team. I think he will stay put. If not, he signs with a true contender. This is not Vancouver, Ottawa or the Oilers (or any other Canadian team).

    Shultz is in it long term. I think he has great potential. He was drawn by the young talent of the Oilers. This may be a good decision, time will tell. Getzlaf, if he moves, will want to win now, not in 2 years (or more).

    Ciao

    • Bonvie

      Yeah because we know Saskatchewan boys don’t want anything to do with a Canadian team, let alone the Edmonton Oilers especially the hockey players from Regina(see Eberle, Dubynk). We know Saskatchewan guys don’t grow up cheering for teams like Montreal, Edmonton, Vancouver, or Toronto.

      Who are the true contenders by the way?

      I am glad you are able to give everyone else insight on what Getzlaf is thinking, and where he will sign.

      Anyways for the record I don’t believe Getzlaf is the right direction for the Oilers anyway.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    My comments on this board since October of 2011 have been consistent and the message has been, until the veteran core group of players are traded, contracts expire or bought out this team will struggle….

    What’s worse is that injuries to our young core will result because other teams will take liberties with these guys. Remember guys on other teams are playing for their jobs too and they’ll not take kindly to our young guys beating them.

    Secondly our veteran core is not good enough on the ice or in the dressing room and it scares me that our young guys become complacent like so many of our older players.

    Eager (concussed) Gagner, Horcoff, Smyth, Whitney that need to be moved asap. We’ll still need to acquire another defenseman preferably two. Goaltending can be addressed this off season.

    Getzlaf would be huge, he’s done it all and has good years ahead of him. Someone the kids would respect!!

    • Willi P

      Sorry to burst your bubble keilan but Getzlaf signs with the Ducks or a contender. A contender is not a Canadian team and Getzlaf will not be blown away by the unproven talent of the Oilers recent draft picks like Shultz was.

          • Willi P

            When someone writes the following type responses they’ve pretty much discredited themselves and any further dialog generally goes south.

            A contender is not a Canadian team – Vancouver went to the finals two years ago! Ottawa’s time is now provided they stay healthy! Edmonton will contend with the right personnel decisions over the next two years.

            Getzlaf will not be blown away by the unproven talent of the Oilers recent draft picks like Shultz was.– Not sure what you’re referring to, sounds trollish!

            Ain’t your pal

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I don’t understand people saying this team would be hurting without Horcoff. The only thing he can do above average is win faceoffs. Every other part of his game is not NHL worthy. Him and Smyth need to be dismissed. Forget there age, these guys are SLOWWWWWWW.

    • Willi P

      Actually Horcoff’s back-checking and defensive support is pretty good. The problem is that Horcoff hasn’t been given the proper checking wingers like Todd Marchant was given back in the day. Grier and Moreau in their prime were very aggressive forecheckers who hit everything and applied constant pressure and pain to dmen who would pick up the puck along their own endboards.

      I agree that Smyth is done though. He was never a defensive forward like Horcoff and has just been cast in that role because he doesn’t fit any other. While it was great morale-wise for Edm to sign Smyth I was never a huge fan of this acquisition. He would have been better off coming back and then retiring this year and the Oilers could have looked for someone who is in their prime age or fits the bill of a defensive foward. What are the chances of someone like Samuel Pahlsson playing for the Oilers? I’d like to see them target someone like Eric Nystrom, Blake Comeau, or Chris Higgins this offseason. Players who are more aggressive on the forecheck and can still skate well.

      Horcoff has looked a little off and Smyth looks really gasses out on the ice.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Jason Arnott may have fit the bill, and been affordable. The Minister in charge of everything 80’s Oilers (Kevin Lowe) must feel he’s the only leader they need.

    Lest we forget, the same peeps who drove this face first into the mud, are still in charge here. They probably feel they’re doing an amazing job with futility being their ultimate goal. They know how to wreck things but they’ve left the responsiblity of restoring the pride in the brand to the lot of new kids. Outside of the Fab 5….the rest are just putting in time here to draw their salary.

    Arnott would’ve been a capable short term solution, a guy like Shea Weber would be one with a longer term affect. It may be a little late for a Sam Elliot type to have a lasting impact on this group. These kids being rewarded with 6 million dollar deals on the heals of 30th and 29th place finishes must certainly scream team failure is also a rewarding path.