The Chicago Blackhawks are off to the greatest start in NHL history, 21-0-3, and they are less than three years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, yet many Oilers fans, bloggers and pundits have suggested the Oilers should mirror the Hawks success.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t see that happening, at least not right away, if ever.
Recently the buzz has been that since the Hawks rarely outhit their opposition then the Oilers don’t need to add any gritty forwards because hitting is overrated. I’d hope you don’t actually believe the Oilers are anywhere close to the Blackhawks. Side note, the Hawks don’t hit that much because they have the puck more often. They also are +4 in SF/SA ratio, while the Oilers are -6. That is a massive swing, and can’t be blamed just on the 4th line.
Most winning teams have a nice balance of skill and grit. Right now the Oilers don’t enough proven skill, and they have even fewer gritty forwards who can play in their top-nine. I’m not for adding guys with grit who can’t play, they need to find some who can.
The major difference is the Hawks best players are veterans, with at least five years experience, who play incredibly hard and vary in their skill sets. The Hawks also have players like Dave Bolland, Dan Carcillo, Brian Bickell and Andrew Shaw who play in their top-nine and get in the face of the opposition.
It is unfair to compare the Oilers to the Hawks for numerous reasons. The obvious one is the difference in experience.
Jonathon Toews, 24 years old: He’s in his 6th NHL season and is one of the best overall centres in the game. At the 2010 Olympics he was arguably Canada’s best player. He’s extremely serious and doesn’t accept losing. He’ll do anything to win. Score, block shots, kill penalties and even fight Joe Thornton. One of the best leaders in the NHL. He’s had seasons of 54, 69, 68, 76 and 57 points. His two 50-point seasons came in 64 and 59 games. Incredibly consistent.
Patrick Kane, 24 years old. In his 6th season he is their consistent offensive scorer. Not physical, not great defensively, but a killer in the offensive zone. In five years he’s tallied 72, 70, 88, 73 and 66 points. He has a flair for the dramatics and he is one of the best SO guys in the league with 26 goals and a 42.6% success rate.
Patrick Sharp, 31 years old. In his 10th season he is very well-rounded. He’s had five straight seasons with at least 25 goals, 36, 26, 25, 34 and 33 and he’s a solid two-way player. Excellent at driving the net from the outside, beating the D-man and taking the puck to the crease. Very reliable and can play in any situation.
Marian Hossa, 34 years old. In his 14th season he’s still a model of consistency. His last 12 years his goal totals have been 29, 32, 31, 45, 36, 39, 43, 29, 40, 24, 25 and 29. He’s an excellent skater, and at 6’1", 210 pounds he’s very strong on the puck. He’s the only player in NHL history to play in three consecutive Stanley Cup finals for three different teams.
Duncan Keith, 29 year old. In his 8th NHL season he’s already won a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medal. Excellent skater with excellent hockey sense and one half of one of the best D-pairs on the league.
Brent Seabrook, 27 years old. In his 8th season he’s also won a Cup and Olympic gold medal. In his first seven years he’s averaged 32 points and has just enough of an edge to ensure opposing forwards keep their head up. Works incredibly well with Keith and excels on the PP, PK and ES.
Keith, 2nd round pick in 2002 (45th), Seabrook 13th overall in 2003, Toews 3rd overall in 2006 and Kane, 1st overall in 2007 were drafted by the Hawks. Sharp was acquired from the Flyers on December 5th, 2005 for Matt Ellison and a 3rd round pick. Turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades of all time. Sharp is a rarity because he ended up producing better numbers in the NHL than he did in the AHL or college. Hossa signed a 12-year, $62 million deal in July of 2009.
Supporting cast: Draft picks
Dave Bolland, 26 years old: 2nd round pick, 32nd, in 2004. Excellent two-way centre. Hard to play against and has a very high competitive streak.
Brian Bickell, 26 years old: 6’4, 225 pounds drafted in 2nd round, 41st, in 2004. Big power forward that rotates amongst top-three lines. Not flashy, but adds a different dimensions. Leads team in hits.
Marcus Kruger, 22 years old: Drafted in 5th round, 149th, in 2009. In his second season with the Hawks, he’s their leader in PK minutes amongst forwards. Average size, not very physical, very good skater, leading shot blocker amongst forwards and very aware defensively.
Andrew Shaw, 21 years old: A small, aggressive forward in his 2nd season. Drafted 5th round, 139th, in 2011. Not big, but very tenacious and plays 6th most minutes of all forwards. Quenneville uses him lots, but he protects him well and doesn’t make him face the top lines very often.
Brandon Saad, 20 year old: 2nd round pick, 43rd, 2011. Good size and a strong winger. He’s had luxury of getting to play a few games with Toews and Bolland. They can show him the intensity necessary to compete in the NHL. Nine points in 23 games for a rookie is nice.
Niklas Hjalmarsson, 25 years old: 4th round pick, 108th in 2005. Very mobile, good passer and a solid-second pair defender. Plays almost the exact same minutes as Keith/Seabrook on PK and ES. He doesn’t play any on the PP. Good passer and this season he has faced the toughest competition of any blueline. (2.33 Corsi Rel)
Cory Crawford, 28 years old: After five years in the AHL he is now in his third full NHL season. He’s playing above his head at the moment with a ridiculous 1.53 GAA and 0.940 SV%, but he’s only had 1 game out of 14 with a SV% lower than .905. He’s been unreal on the PK allowing only 3 goals all season.
Supporting cast: Trades/Signings
Viktor Stalberg 27 years old: In his 4th NHL season the big Swede is strong on the puck and does almost all of his scoring at ES. 12 of his 13 points have come 5-on-5. He does play the easiest competition of any forward on the team, but he outscores them and that’s what matters. He was acquired along with two minor leaguers for Kris Versteeg and rights to Bill Sweatt.
Michael Frolik, 25 years old. In his 5th NHL season, the former 10th overall pick in 2006 who scored 21 goals in each of his first two seasons has become a 4th line PK guy in Chicago. The Hawks can afford to have him on the 4th line, because they have productive sandpaper/grit guys in their top-nine. He was acquired at the trade deadline in 2011 for Jack Skille.
Daniel Carcillo, 28 years old. He was signed as UFA after Philly didn’t give him a qualifying offer in the summer of 2011. He’s rugged, emotional, at times undisciplined but his coach isn’t afraid to play on any line. He’s usually on the 4th line, but Quenneville will play him with Kane and Toews as well. He had Carcillo on the ice in the final minute of a 2-2 game last night, and Carcillo rewarded him by scoring the game winner with 49 seconds remaining.
Jamal Mayers, 38 years old. His best days are behind him, and he plays spot duty. Guys supposedly love him in the room and he’s good at giving older brother advice about opposing players. He’s only been on the ice for one goal against all year. When he plays he is reliable in his own end, but he doesn’t face high-end competition of course.
Johnny Oduya, 31 years old. He was acquired at the deadline last year for a 2nd and 3rd round pick in this year’s draft. What a steal. Oduya plays with Hjalmarsson and his D partner is the only player who faces stiffer competition every night. Oduya moves the puck very well and fits perfectly in Chicago’s uptempo, push the pace style.
Nick Leddy, 21 years old. Another theft by Stan Bowman. The Hawks acquired the rights to Leddy (16th overall pick in 2009) and Kim Johnson from the Wild for Cam Barker in February of 2010. Three years later Leddy is in his 2nd NHL season on the Hawks 3rd pairing. Leddy gets more PP time than Seabrook and plays the softest ES minutes of any defender. When you have a top-four as strong as the Hawks you can have specialists in your 3rd pairing. He’s a bit of a liability defensively, but at 21 years old he can learn the game without having to face tough competition.
Michal Roszival, 34 years old and Sheldon Brookbank, 32 years old. Both were signed as free agents in September and July of 2012 respectively. They rotate as the 6th D-man, and some games Quenneville dresses seven. Roszival is a puck mover, while Brookbank is more of a banger. Rozsival averages about 5 more minutes a game when he plays, where as Brookbank is sheltered a lot more. Quenneville likes having Brookbank against bigger teams like the Kings and Sharks or aggressive teams like Columbus. It is nice to have completely different skill sets amongst your #6 and #7 D-men.
Ray Emery, 30 years old. Signed as a free agent last summer. Many thought Emery was done, but last night he became the first goalie in NHL history to start the season 10-0. Emery benefits from having a good team in front of him, but he’s played well with a solid .925 SV% and a solid 2.02 GAA.
Amongst the Hawks top-four D Hjalmarsson has the least experience, and he’s in his 5th season and already won a Stanley Cup. They only have four players under the age or 24, and none of them have to play huge roles, except Kruger on the PK.
The Oilers have Gagner, Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Paajarvi, Yakupov andJ.Schultz 23 and under. And many of them are forced to play tough minutes.
The Oilers can’t play like Chicago because they don’t have the skill set, yet, or experience to play that way. But the major differences are the top-four defenders in Chicago compared to the top four in Edmonton and the Hawks have a better mix of skill, grit and size in their top-nine.
That isn’t a knock on the Oilers blueline, because Chicago has arguably the best top-four in the league right now, but it is a major difference in the make up of the two teams.
(Before you say Tom Gilbert would be much better, go look at his advanced stats in Minny. He’s playing less competition but with worse numbers. He isn’t in the class of Hjalmarsson.)
If you want to suggest the Oilers should strive to become the Hawks, I’m in complete agreement, but in order for that to happen Steve Tambellini, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish will need to make some astute trades or signings that bring in veteran players who can play in your top-nine forwards or top-four defenders.
The Oilers have drafted well in the first round the last six years, but outside of Jeff Petry and Theo Peckham (2nd and 3rd rounders in 2006) no other late pick has panned out yet since the lockout. Hartikainen and Lander might, but they haven’t yet. A big reason for that is you can’t have all young guys come in at the same time, but none in the last six years isn’t great.
They also need to win a trade. Oscar Klefbom might become the equivalent of the Hawks’ Leddy, acquired for a veteran who’s value dipped after the deal. But the Oilers need to win a trade or two, not just break even or lose.
The Oilers miss Shawn Horcoff terribly. He can battle against the tough competition, which would allow RNH and Gagner some easier minutes. The Oilers could use another veteran or two who could ease the tough minutes of the youngsters.
Petry, J.Schultz, RNH, Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, and Paajarvi all have less than three years of NHL experience, yet the first five are amongst the top 8 in icetime on the Oilers. They are learning as they go, but don’t expect them to be able to play like Chicago because they don’t have the strength, size or experience yet.
The Oilers are not close to being the Blackhawks, and right now few teams are, so the Oilers can either remain patient and let their young players learn how to play against proven NHL talent, or management needs to mix in some veterans who can play significant minutes, to lessen the learning curve and possibly increase their chances of winning.
The Oilers must find some more players who have the competitive drive necessary to win in the NHL. It is easy for the Hawks youngsters to follow behind Toews, Keith etc, because if they don’t match the work ethic and determination of their leaders, they’d hear about it.
It is a long process to become a legitimate contending team, and when you look at the roster of the Hawks it was built with solid drafting, key trades and some useful free agent signings. The Oilers haven’t done very well in the latter two departments.