Have the Oilers improved?

Improvement

For the sake of everyone in Edmonton, I sure hope so.

I do believe the Oilers have improved, which isn’t hard considering they were the 3rd worst team in the NHL last season, but how much have they improved?

It is hard to say until we see the product on the ice, but I wanted to revisit an angle we looked at in May.

Three months ago, I wrote an article outlining the Oilers lack of size, strength and experience within their top-nine forwards compared to western conference playoff teams. Since then, Craig MacTavish has made significant changes to his top-nine.

How much better do they look on paper now than three months ago?

Here is how their top-nine looked in May.

Edmonton
Name  Height  Weight  Age 
Taylor Hall   6′ 1″ 201 22
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins   6′ 1″ 180 21
Jordan Eberle   5′ 11″ 180 24
David Perron   6′ 0″ 198 25
Sam Gagner   5′ 11″ 202 24
Nail Yakupov   5′ 11″ 186 20
Boyd Gordon   6′ 0″ 202 30
Matt Hendricks   6′ 0″ 211 32
Mark Arcobello   5′ 8″ 166 25
Average  5′ 11″ 191.7 24.7

I understand there is much more to the game than just size, strength and experience, but after speaking with Taylor Fedun on Tuesday and listening to him talk about the challenges of going against bigger, skilled forwards I thought it was worth looking at again.

In May, some accused me of fudging the numbers by including Mark Arcobello and leaving out Jesse Joensuu. The fact Arcobello played more games and minutes didn’t matter in their eyes, but 90 days later I think it is safe to say Arcobello is in a much better position to be a top-nine forward on the Oilers than Joensuu, so I stand by what I wrote in May.

Here is how the Oilers projected top-nine forwards today:

Name  Height  Weight  Age 
Taylor Hall   6′ 1″ 201 22
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins   6′ 1″ 180 21
Jordan Eberle   5′ 11″ 180 24
David Perron   6′ 0″ 198 25
Benoit Pouliot
6′ 3″ 197 27
Nail Yakupov   5′ 11″ 186 20
Leon Draisaitl 6′ 2″ 212 18
Teddy Purcell 6′ 3″ 203 28
Mark Arcobello   5′ 8″ 166 25
Average  6′ 1/2″ 191.5 23.3

The Oilers got taller, but they are actually lighter and younger. I think most would agree they have more talent and a better mix of top-nine forwards now, despite being a lighter group. Pouliot, Draisaitl and Purcell have more combined skill than Sam Gagner, Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks.

I also believe that collectively they have better possession players. So that is a good thing. I also expect RNH, Hall and Yakupov to have added some weight this summers so the average might jump to 193 pounds, but they still won’t be close to the average weight of the top teams in the West. Dallas (202), Minnesota (203), Chicago (204), St. Louis (206), San Jose (206), Anaheim and LA (207). The Blues actually got a bit bigger and more skilled adding Paul Stastny over Vladimir Sobotka. 

I expect the Oilers to be better than last season, but I still believe Craig MacTavish will need to add more skilled size in the coming years before they can truly compete with the top teams in the west.

BIGGER AND BETTER

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Much of the focus in Edmonton has been on their offence and the lack of a second line centre, which is fair, but the Oilers were the worst defensive team in the NHL last year. Goalies, D-men and forwards all need to be better in their own zone, but specifically the D corps has to improve. I also wrote a piece in May comparing the Oilers defence to the top teams in the west

MacTavish upgraded his blueline a lot in my eyes. They are more skilled and thankfully bigger and stronger.

Here is what they looked like in May:

Name  Height  Weight  Age GP TOI reg. season
Justin Schultz   6′ 2″ 188 23 74 23:20 min
Jeff Petry   6′ 3″ 195 26 80 21:35 min
Andrew Ference   5′ 11″ 187 35 71 21:03 min
Martin Marincin   6′ 4″ 188 22 44 19:09 min
Philip Larsen   6′ 0″ 182 24 30 17:10 min
Oscar Klefbom   6′ 3″ 213 20 17 15:47 min
Mark Fraser   6′ 4″ 220 27 23 15:29 min
Average 6′ 2″ 196.1 25.3

The thought of Larsen, Belov and Fraser hopping over the boards likely gives you cold sweats. The Oilers had the worst defence in the NHL last year, and it wasn’t even close. “Our system wasn’t that hard, but too often we had guys in the wrong position or making wrong plays,” a defenceman told me off the record last month.

He said the team made too many mental mistakes in their own end. It was an interesting conversation, and it is hard to argue with his analysis. You need players who are skilled, but who also can think the game.

Three months later MacTavish has upgraded his blueline in experience, skill and size.

EDMONTON
Name  Height  Weight  Age GP TOI reg. season
Justin Schultz   6′ 2″ 188 23 74 23:20 min
Jeff Petry   6′ 3″ 195 26 80 21:35 min
Andrew Ference   5′ 11″ 187 35 71 21:03 min
Martin Marincin
 
6′ 4″ 188 22 44 19:09 min
Mark Fayne 6′ 3″ 210 27 72 18:18 min
Nikita Nikitin 6′ 4″ 223 28 66 17:06 min
Oscar Klefbom   6′ 3″ 213 20 17  15:47min
Keith Aulie 6′ 6″ 228 25 15 9:49 min
Average 6′ 3″ 204 25.8

Fayne and Nikitin are massive upgrades over Belov, Larsen and Fraser. It will be interesting to see who Dallas Eakins and Craig Ramsay use as D pairs this season. Willis had a good article outlining Fayne’s ability to play against elite forwards, so I’d safely assume he will get a heavy dose of DZ starts against tough competition. I think Fayne will be paired with Nikitin.

The Oilers’ blueline is more skilled and they are heavier, a nice combination that will help them in the D zone. Fayne and Nikitin are big enough and strong enough to play battle Getzlaf, Kopitar, Thornton, Marleau and the rest of the huge skilled forwards in the west.

That should allow Schultz and Petry to spend less time against the big, strong, skilled forwards, which should result in better possession numbers for both of them.

The Oilers blueline is now bigger, heavier and more experienced. They are getting closer to matching up to the size of the playoff team’s blueliners: Kings (215), Blues (210), Avs (210), Stars (208), Ducks (205), Sharks (205), Hawks (204) and Wild (198).

At the end of last year, the Oilers spoke to Marincin about getting stronger and heavier so I’d expect he will come to camp heavier than 188. With his frame he eventually needs to be 200 pounds. If he is around 195 this year that will help him during one-on-one battles.

The Oilers’ blue line needed an overhaul, and I believe MacTavish did a decent job. I never expected him to add a top-pairing guy, which would have been nice, but I expect he will keep trying to land one or hope that one of Schultz, Marincin, Klefbom or Nurse can become that guy in the future.

The Oilers needed to improve many facets of their roster, and getting bigger and stronger was one of them.

The added size combined with skill should make them more competitive this season. It won’t solve all of their problems, but MacTavish has to check off his weaknesses one by one, and I think he did a solid job of addressing their lack of size and skill, especially on the blueline. 

Recently by Jason Gregor:  

  • vetinari

    Seems like the defence got the most attention (which they needed) and the forwards simply got shuffled, although I like the current mix of talent and skill sets better (such as Pouliot’s possession numbers over Gagner’s).

    And goal looks like it is set– as long as Scrivens and Fasth don’t have a Dubnyk-like October and November, we should at least be competitive, especially behind the rebuilt defence.

    And while a solid “defence by committee” approach could work, I do have some concerns about the 2C spot, especially if RNH goes down and the centres need to be reshuffled– and barring a trade, Draisatl looks like a lock for the opening night roster.

  • vetinari

    I wonder if weight plays a bigger factor than height. If I had to guess, I would think that the additional reach because of a player’s height would contribute more towards success because you cover more ice collectively if you were a longer team.

    Another thing that would be of interest is to compile how a team finished relative to their size and height over the years. Is this a recent trend? The oilers team of the 80s weren’t that big relative to the competition at that time but they had a lot of success. I also remember the diminutive sabres team circa mid-2000s and they also had a lot of success.

  • A-Mc

    The roster changed a lot last year throughout the season. Guys were being called up and sent down, players were acquired halfway through the season, Injuries, etc etc etc.

    I look at the forward upgrades like this:

    GOING OUT
    Hemsky (2RW) 72″ 185lbs 672GP
    Gagner (2C) 71″ 202lbs 481GP
    Jones (3/4LW) 73″ 208lbs 334GP

    COMING IN
    Purcell (2RW) 75″ 203lbs 401GP
    Draisaitl (2/3C) 74″ 212lbs 0GP
    Pouliot (3LW) 75″ 197lbs 374GP

    The averages Going Out: 72″ @ 198.3lbs With a total of 1487 Games of NHL experience
    The averages Coming In: 74.7″ @ 204lbs With a total of 775 games of NHL experience

  • Action Jackson

    Gordon will play more than Arcobello; Replace Gordon with Arco and the average jumps from 191.4 to 195.4. The Oiler’s size has been improved more than you are indicating here.

    • A-Mc

      I Agree!

      I had a problem with Gordon’s line being left out of the new assessment as well. I dont like the top 9 comparison, as opposed to the full 12 forwards.

      The team is being structured to have 3 scoring lines and 1 defensive zone start line. It’s not unreasonable to expect the defensive line (gordon, Hendricks and [Gazidc?]) to play more in a night than the 3rd scoring line on some nights.

      There is no way gordon and hendricks are going to be relegated to typical 4th line minutes of 6-8mins/game. They are too important and are more valuable than that.

  • BlazingSaitls

    A New DJ for Rexall/Oilers. Darn rights Oilers have shown improvement. Im not sure how you would rate Oilers entertainment corsi/feniwck but im sure its down there with Gazdic. Bold Moves! Bold frickin Moves!

  • Mason Storm

    Looking at the numbers, and this may have been mentioned already, but our d is still on average smaller then the forwards of the top 8 in the west. Oilers had a lot of trouble breaking up the cycle last year, hope Fayne and Nikitin make a bigger difference then I think they will.

  • The team better get their act together and learn how to play defensive hockey as a five man unit, particularly in their own zone.

    Puck possession is key. Hopefully some of the new size will help them.

    If they don’t improve the “goals against” in a big way , they will be a cellar dweller again this year.

    LA Kings scored one less goal than the Oilers last year… and they won the Stanley cup.

  • BlazingSaitls

    I was a big fan of Gagner until last year, it seemed the guy was lost and he could not defend in a Patrick O’Sullivan kind of way. There has been an addition via subtraction and if Draisatl does nothing else but defend better than him we are eons ahead on that alone. I wasn’t really worried about the top 9 I was more concerned about the bottom 6 and the defence where there is much improvement. We by eye are better.

    • Fear pretty much destroys an athlete’s ability to perform. Sam’s whole season last year was overrun with fear. He’ll kill it in Phoenix next season being healthy and working with Tippet.

      • I’m with you Davids.

        I believe MacT did right in trading him. I expect Gagner expressed concerns about playing the wing.

        Although I like a lot of what MacT’s done so far, the Gagner contract was a mistake, which I’m sure he’s now well aware of.

        Best wishes to Sam. I expect he’ll do better with more appropriate help on the ice. I’m sure he’ll lose his checks for many goals against and I’m sure he’ll create some regrets in Oilerville but it’s still an improvement by subtraction for the Oilers this season.

        I firmly believe Arco outplayed Gagner last season but Arco is not a better hockey player.

      • D-Unit

        I never was a fan of Gagner. Fresh start and health in Arizona should help him, but I don’t see him “killing” anything.
        I had the opposite thought of Tippet on Gagner. Tippet seems very strict and demanding with his players, and Gagner has never had to deal with a coach he made him be truly accountable.

  • Not only have the Oil gotten bigger, but we replaced our 4th line with our 3rd line by adding 2 experienced wingers (Pouliot and Purcell) to our top 9. Now, how Leon and Arco slot in is yet to be seen and some would suggest it won’t turn out well which is a possibility. We do need further depth at center (or any at all), however over our 12 forwards, we HAVE improved.

    Now, if Eakins has improved and any of the “CORE” have put on some much needed weight, we may actually see a team that competes this year. Maybe I’m out of my mind to think that Eakins would improve but with new assistants, he’s the end of the road. I can’t see the fan base or MacT dealing with any more crap if it hits the fan in October like it did last year which was about when we stopped watching meaningful games.

  • "Frank the dog"

    I don’t see the most significant reason for optimism mentioned in these comments yet.

    From 2008 to 2013/4 this team was stuck with political appointees masquerading as Assistant Coaches, that demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, under 5 different HC’s, that they did not have a clue how to get even average performance out of their roster.
    This year we have people who are being used in their areas of demonstrated expertise, who are also indisputably on the same page as the current HC. This Coaching team would likely have achieved better results with last year’s roster than the prior clowns and should be expected to perform significantly better with this improved roster.
    I’m not saying Stanley Cup, but I am saying challenging for the playoffs late into the season as a minimum, barring a catastrophic run of injuries to key players, which you can bet the goons of the league will try to inflict early on.

  • Serious Gord

    So the oilers are incrementally bigger than they were last season.

    Compared to the glory year teams I would wager that they are huge. The trend has been a steady increase in size and weight for decades.

    Which begs the question: have other teams – particularly in the west – also gotten bigger year over year?

    It’s all well and good that the oil have gotten bigger, but what if that has largely been nullified by the growth of the competition?

    My WAG is that the oil have closed the gap, but that the other teams are not standing still and thus in the war of throw weight EDM still trails.

    All that said the worn cliche “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters most but the size of the fight in the dog” is accurate. Who wins a battle along the boards – Martin St. Louis 5′ 8″, 180 or gagner 5′ 11″ 202?

  • Admiral Ackbar

    The Oilers have improved. Their biggest problem is the rest of the teams in the west have improved as well.

    This team is an injury to a top 3 forward away from having the season crash & burn. Imagine if Hall or Nuge spent any time on IR. This team lacks true depth in a serious way.

    STL,Chi, Anh, Dal have all gotten better. LA & SJ have largely stayed the same though their recent playoff experiences will make them both tough as nails. Col is a little worse without Statsny but they’re a year older. Van and Cgy are the only treats that are worse off.

    The 4 playoff teams in the Pacific were SJ, LA, Anh & Dal (wildcard). Can the Oil compete with these teams?

    The west is an arms race and the Oilers can’t keep up. They’ll be playoff ready (maybe) in about 4 years.

  • Sorensenator

    Glad to see that Gregor thinks the Oilers are better. I would like to look at the world through his geeky rose colored glasses. Not much has changed from last year, they moved a few chairs around on the deck of the Titanic and oh ya, they added more upper management. That is what makes a team better, more Vice Presidents and Presidents. This organization is a mess and I have to say some of those old chairs look good in their new spots on the Titanic.