PUSHING THE RIVER

I think we’ve established that Taylor Hall is unlikely to make the Olympic team—he’s on my team without a throw—but as the calendar turns it’s important to keep in mind what Hall’s been through this season, and what he’s been doing recently.

TAYLOR HALL BY MONTH, 2013-14

Early in the season he was a center, and then he suffered an injury. Although he didn’t miss a lot of time (7 games), it certainly had an impact when he returned to play. Still, Hall has been improving and recently has been very good, especially at evens (he has 11 of the team’s 81 even-stength goals). In Hall’s last 6 games, he’s 3-7-10 +4. Things aren’t back to normal (his Corsi For % at 5×5/close is lagging from previous seasons) but he’s trending in a good direction.

I’d love to see him at the Olympics, but Hall’s performances for the Oilers are the real thrill for this fan. Taylor Hall is a difference maker, and the team’s recent record (2-0-2 in the last four game) has a lot to do with #4.

Even having a season that looks wonky based on his own established levels, Hall is one of the top players in the game (76th in GVT right now and trending) and if Team Canada passes on him they’re addled.

HE CAN’T PLAY DEFENSE!

The ‘he can’t play defense’ argument went full sail during the WHC’s last year, when Lindy Ruff chose to hamstring his own team and move Hall down the depth chart. Hall’s ability to push the river and help possession makes him BETTER than a defensive forward—the best defense is a good offense—and hockey fans can go overboard making this argument.

Example: Gretzky. People would bitch and moan about his ability to play defense, completely disregarding the fact that the puck was rarely in Edmonton’s zone with 99 on the ice. I know, I was there and I did it! Today’s modern metrics allow me to understand that Gretzky’s offense was so good that the defensive side of the game was reduced markedly with him as part of the solution (that became less of a factor as time wore on, but as an Oiler the ice was tilted in a major way—more than at any other time in history is my guess).

Now, I’m not comparing Hall to Gretzky, but the dynamics are the same. What Hall does well (drives defensemen back, opening up space for zone entries on sorties) has extreme value in possession metrics, and pushes the river in Edmonton’s favor. Now, they don’t do enough with it, but that’s another discussion.

If the group choosing Team Canada focuses on that, Hall makes this team in a breeze.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

My guess is Team Canada passes on Hall, and that he uses it as fuel to punish the hockey world. As an Oiler fan, that’s the best thing about looking forward to 2014.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    Thing is Eberle and Gagner are finishers by nature. So putting them both together makes that line a null one.

    Last night they created nothing, the only lines creating were the Hall line and a little bit from the Hemsky-Gordon-Smyth line. That, is on coaching.

          • Alsker

            Gags -2 last game looking as clueless as he usually does in his own end. Eakins is talking today like Yak is getting a great opportunity again next game playing with Gagner. As you said, when Gags doesn’t do his job in our end AGAIN, it will be Yak sitting out. Did I miss something? Is Gags buddies with Katz now? Did he move into Horc’s old house? Something is completely off here.

          • Alsker

            Damn, was really hoping Horak was up so Gags could spend some time in the attic since Arco’s not ready yet. Well lets hope next fall there is a line with Yakimov-Yakapov-Ebs…would at least be crazy entertaining.

      • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

        Are we talking about the same coach who stuck Acton into the train wreck that was the 4 line at the start of the year?

        When they want to play good, they play great. The rest of the time, you can make a video of them with the Benny Hill theme song and it will come out natural.

        Say what you want, but in the end, this whole crap show is coaching and management.

        • TayLordBalls

          Nonsense!

          The Oil have turned the corner. The coach is excellent.

          MacT will invest in quality D at the appropriate time.

          This team has the makings of something truly spectacular.

          The dynasty years were exactly the same – the Oil could score, but the other team scored more. Fans complained!

          The moment they added quality D that team became a powerhouse.

          So it was and so it will be again.

          Hang onto your britches because its something special.

          • Serious Gord

            19th in the NHL in GF/G. Yeah, Oilers are scoring machines all right.

            Sorry, but we’re pretty much back to the 1 line team thing again. Completely dependent on short bursts of talent to get anything done with very little useful structure to anyone’s game. We’re in the wrong division to play a terrible team game. I hope you have some good positive spin ready for when the Oilers break the playoff drought record in a couple years.

          • TayLordBalls

            Kevin Lowe? Is that you trying to keep your job by trying to blow that same smoke??

            Katz should walk into a grocery store, pick the first person he sees and make them G.M. Then appoint the check out girl as the Coach, and have random draws every game for assistants! I bet the team would improve dramatically

          • TayLordBalls

            Your just using Lowe as a scapegoat.

            The structure of the team is that:

            Lowe manages the upper management of the team /

            MacT manages the staff (coaches) and secures players.

            Coaches manage the players.

            Consider that Tabo and MacT have essentially started a new NHL team from nothing.

            Hall, Nugent Hopkins, Eberle, Yak and others have not come close to peaking yet.

          • Serious Gord

            Lowe was coach
            Then became GM and HIRED MacT
            Then he HIRED Tambo and had a heavy hand in the HIRING of Quinn and Rennie

            He then fired Tambo and HIRED MacT.
            And he had a very heavy involvement In the assistant GM search sitting in on most of if not all of the meetings including the first meeting with Eakins who was HIRED by MacT. And he is the guy who has done most of the HIRING of the scouting and assistant staff.

            This team continues to have Lowe’s fingerprints all over it – as one would expect a POHO to have – look at how Burke is following lowes lead..

            He’s not the scapegoat – he is at the top of the blame pyramid.

  • Serious Gord

    My question is what is Scarlet riding, one of those ponies at the mall?
    To me it looks like Taylor has made leaps and bounds in his overall game, maybe he decided to quit listening to the coaches.
    “Happy New Year” everyone.

  • Serious Gord

    OT:

    For the hemsky and gagner lovers out there including MacT – take a good look at that Gleason trade. The oil doesn’t have the cap room to even be in on the conversation because those to stiffs are still on the roster

    • gr8one

      The ignorance of this post is astounding on so many levels.

      First of all, the Oilers have over 12 million of cap space currently, more than enough to make taking on Gleason’s salary a moot point.

      Second, and more important, Gleason is TERRIBLE, the last thing this team needs is another slow defender that can’t pass the puck. Especially @ $4m/per for two more years after this season.

      N.Schultz is a better option than Gleason.

      • Serious Gord

        So if the oil have so much cap room – why did MacT unload smid? This is the first I heard that the oil had that much room.

        And yes, Gleason isn’t worth the dough – but then neither is Ference or phaneuf. Maybe what is considered an over pay is what really is the going rate for established defensemen that aren’t tied up by a team that can afford them.

        • gr8one

          http://www.capgeek.com/oilers

          That $12+ million is before bonuses and the projection after bonuses is still well over $6m, still plenty of room to add a player with Gleason’s salary, so suggesting that Gagner’s and Hemsky’s salaries are preventing this team from making moves is absurd. Especially since Hemsky has been one of the teams best forwards.

          As to your other point, overpaying a bit for a player I can’t say as I necessarily disagree with that as long as that player is useful and helps the team.

          Gleason is neither.

          I also think the Ference contract was ill advised and a poor signing, I don’t mind the dollars, nor the player but four years was dumb.

          Phaneuf on the other hand is a legit top pairing D and I don’t really think that’s an overpay in regards to the new CBA and where the salary cap is going, I think it’s pretty spot on for what a player that brings what Phaneuf brings will be getting going forward.

    • TayLordBalls

      I would hope the Oilers were very interested in Gleason he was exactly what they need, and they would have had to trade someone for him, the problem is Gleason had a limited 5 team no-trade clause, I would have to assume Edmonton and their brilliantly run organization would have been on that list.

        • gr8one

          He is a lot harder to play against and is an excellent fighter so really he and Smid are not the same except for the contract.
          I don’t know what happened to Gleason but he used to play a lot like the one K-Lowe let get away, one Matt Greene, but according to Mr Willis he is not the same player he was and he is only 30.

  • Fossil

    Hall has definitely been the most improved player this year. The 2 or 3 ugly turn overs per game will be enough to keep him out. How Eberle could be in any Olympic conversation defies logic. He and Gagner have become the worst, regular minutes, defensive forwards on the team. If you take away the continual bad decisions they make with the puck, defenders just need to give them a push and they fall over. Others in the league of their size and skill do not have this happen as much. How these players with such high potential have become so bad makes our future look very scary.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    The way I see it is, if Hall is snubbed from Team Canada, one of two things is going to happen, and I don’t see much middle ground:

    1. Hall uses it as motivation to really round himself out as a player, work on his defensive skills, and try even harder to carry this team to a playoff game on his back.

    OR

    2. Hall comes to the realization that by signing on as an Oiler for so many years, he has essentially robbed himself not only of any real chance to complete for the Cup in the next 5-6 years, but also for any real shot at making the Olympic team. Tolerates the suck for another year, then asks for a trade when the oilers are out of the playoffs next year by Thanksgiving again

  • Man, remember when not too long ago our top 4 d were Visnovsky, Souray, Smid, and Gilbert. They aren’t world beaters by any means, but boy did tambo destroy the value that was there. Vis and Souray could still be here, and I remember Gilbert looking okay in a #4 role getting soft minutes and easier competition.

    How far this d core has fallen. Please MacT, save our back end. For the love of all that is hockey, save it now.

    Start by bringing up Fedun and sending Marincin back down.

    • Having the only defenceman in the past five years (who could shoot, hit, and fight ) leave for nothing is a tragedy. Souray was NOT handled properly by Lowe, Tamby or Quinn) as apparently he was

  • Zamboni Driver

    Complete UTTER nonsense.

    The second best player this year on the second last team in the NHL does NOT MAKE THE OLYMPIC TEAM ALAN. He won’t be given a second thought.

    I’m stunned as well that you actually used ‘regular’ statistics to back up your position. Certainly there must be backhand shot attempts versus American goalies that could really drive your point home.

    • He’s the best player on this team. I’m assuming you have Perron ahead of him. But he shouldn’t be. Perron is great. But hall is miles ahead of every player on our roster at the moment.

  • Serious Gord

    Well I for one am happy that Hall is not going to Russia. Firstly, he is motivated right now and I suspect not being considered for the Olympics is a driving factor?

    Secondly, anyone that plays in this tournament usually comes back in an altered state which requires 10 games to recover. Since we are trying to make the playoffs, ( we can do it we need to go 40-1) a fresh Hall on the team is needed so why send him to Russia.

    On a side note I was wondering if anyone else feels that Eberle is really lacking on the shooting. His need to wrist everything is costing him opportunities………I would make him watch 100 Jarri Kurri goals and he would quickly see that half his goals came from one-timers.

    • Yeah. Ebs has to learn to one time the puck. It was an obvious deficiency in his rookie year and I just figured he’d work on the slapper and add it to the repertoire over the following three years. But here we are and he hasn’t really improved his slapshot/onetimer at all.

      He is still putting up the offense and is looking like he will be a career 60-70pt guy, but I sure hope we don’t see much more of what JW pointed out in the GWG from last night. Ouch. Ebs really failed hard on that play.

  • Serious Gord

    What hall has done in the past few weeks doesn’t erase how he played prior to that interval though it does help make the case.

    Hall being a natural left winger helps a lot. But more significantly is the likelyhood that injuries to some players may force hockey Canada’s hand – to wit Eric staal and stamkos are possible scratches.

    This is very likely the last time any players over the age of twenty play in the Olympics so if hall doesn’t make this year he never ever will. Perhaps that is pushing him…

    God knows there’s nothing else besides personal pride worth playing for on the oil.

  • Batfink

    Another point in case is that we’re likely to take a multitude of centres because they’re the best players with the most amount of points. This makes me queasy as most of them are elite level talents at centre, but merely great players on the wing, lol. Against the Kazakstans of the world, they will dominate. Against the Swedens and USAs they may be exposed. I would take Hall over ANY elite centre who isn’t playing centre. ‘Cos when the chips are down, people tend to naturally revert to what they know best, and we don’t need 3 centres fighting each other for position and the puck.

    I also agree that Hall isn’t and shouldn’t be made into uber-defensive winger. Give him the puck, let him back them d-men off of be burned, then let him either score or hit the elite sniper trailer. Opposing teams HAVE to respect that if they give him half a yard, then he’s gone like a scalded cat and you ain’t catching him. That’s pretty good defence if used correctly. Have him float on the blue line, make the other team not commit all their assets down low.

    Basically, I’m pissed when I see Hall below our goal line digging for the puck. That means he’s not where he’s scaring the crap out of the opposition. I think a case could be made for other teams to be more than happy with us trying to teach him how to play ‘defence’.

    • “I also agree that Hall isn’t and shouldn’t be made into uber-defensive winger. Give him the puck, let him back them d-men off of be burned, then let him either score or hit the elite sniper trailer. Opposing teams HAVE to respect that if they give him half a yard, then he’s gone like a scalded cat and you ain’t catching him. That’s pretty good defence if used correctly. Have him float on the blue line, make the other team not commit all their assets down low.”

      This team needs Hall to be a top defensive guy. If he just waits for his linemates to break the opposition’s cycle and breakout to him then he will be waiting forever. Having hall get back and help shutdown the opposition’s cycle and retrieve the puck is huge for us because it gets the play going back the other way sooner rather than later.

      I’m sure you’ve noticed, but when our team gets hemmed in their own end, we often can’t stop their possession game and just wait until we get a whistle after a shot on net is covered up. It’s bad, real bad.

      Hall has the ability to take over the game everywhere on the ice. That’s exactly what he should do. And it’s exactly what he’s been doing as of late.

      • Batfink

        “This team needs Hall to be a top defensive guy. If he just waits for his linemates to break the opposition’s cycle and breakout to him then he will be waiting forever. Having hall get back and help shutdown the opposition’s cycle and retrieve the puck is huge for us because it gets the play going back the other way sooner rather than later.”

        That’s the problem I’m trying to get across: If we rely on Hall to break up cycles down low, then what the hell are d-men for? I wasn’t doubting his ability to do it, just the wisdom of having him do it. If he breaks the cycle, who the hell does he pass the puck to? Himself? He’s the player who should be receiving the puck after a broken cycle, not the player who should be breaking it. Square peg, square hole. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t back check on lost possession or shirk man/zone coverage, but use his attributes to the fullest effect instead of trying to get him to do stuff that is supposed to be the job of other players just because he can do it. I would seriously love Hall to be that player, he would be the best player in the league if he could get 100+pts and be dominant in his own end too. LT’s article was highlighting that if Hall is too busy scoring goals, he wouldn’t HAVE to play defence. ‘Cos we’d be winning by eleventy billion goals.

  • Nuge&Connorvs.Sam&Sean

    What were seeing is leadership by example. 3 years in. What we are seeing is Hall taking his game to a new level. He has taken personal responsibility for his game on both sides of the puck. He may not be ready for prime time just yet. But 4 years from now Hall will the cock of the walk. He’ll be to this team what Messier was to the 80s Oilers. He already is the emotional barometer of this team. When Hall is on. The team is tough to beat.

    IMO.Sharp is the guy. Has earned it.

  • 24% body fat

    Another possible opportunity for MacT to make a deal. Kadri from the Leafs for either Gagner or Hemsky and, if necessary, a prospect. Would add some size and muscle to a roster that is short on these attributes. Kadri may be a bad ass in Toronto, but this is something the Oilers need to balance the roster.

    We’re still waiting for MacT’s bold moves.

    • 24% body fat

      Kadri is going to want 7M, no thanks, his numbers will be like eberles and will fall off because he is overly lucky right now. As for his size he doesnt use it so why does it matter

  • Impartial Oilers Fan

    Can someone please explain why fans and bloggers believe that they’re smarter and know more about hockey than the guys in charge of picking the Olympic team?!

    I do not understand how fans have an blind belief in players, specifically like Hall and Yakupov. These fans that come across like hockey mom’s talking about their own son’s, spouting off that they are better than kids picked on a team that their son wasn’t.

    So, do tell, why are these fans and bloggers not seeing the same flaws in Hall and Yakupov that some of the most important and influential minds in hockey are seeing?

    Obviously standard stats aren’t the sole criteria, otherwise Hall would be a lock apparently. And its not a anti-Russian thing, because even Russian’s own Olympic committee was talking about the glaring deficiencies in Yakupov’s game. Yet, everyone that loves to scream YakCity before he’s even proved anything substantial, think that its only a Russian bias as to why he needs to improve and drop the prima donna act in the media.

    So again, please, inform me why fans and bloggers are right about Hall and Yakupov and their respective Olympic selection committees don’t see them the same way??

    • Bryzarro World

      I’ll tell you why. In Turin in 2006 Olympic brains trust (coincidently, lead by ex- Oilers Gretzky and Lowe) decided to let loyalty to the past govern their team selection and chose veterans like Kris Draper and Todd Bertuzzi as well as a host of slow footed d-men to the team, rather then a new generation of forwards (young players have terrific years like Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal and Marc Savard).

      Their selections were hotly debated and criticized and as it turned out, for good reason – on the larger ice surface the team’s lack of speed was exposed woefully -they were shutout by the Finns and Swiss and barely edged the Czechs in the preliminary round, and were shutout again by the Russians in the quarter final.

      The Sochi Olympics will be very different than Vancouver (horrendous time change, hostile crowd and outside distractions, larger ice surface). Are the current NHL executives choosing team Canada creative enough to consider these differences, or will they, like they have in the past, end up designing their tactics for the previous battle.

      In my humble opinion, a topic well worth debating.

      • The Oilers Shot Clock

        Rob Zamuner made an NHL eligible Olympic team. The brain trust has a history of outsmarting itself. World Junior selections will always be so political that on any given year, the kids left off might be able to beat the team we send. Putting faith in the selection process is like putting faith in the government. It’s just too big of a monster to really fully trust.When we win at any level we do it despite ourselves.

    • Strange Tamer

      You lost me in the first sentence. Tambo used to be heavily involved in picking past Olympic teams and 6rings still is. Seeing their handy work up close for the last decade in Edmonton leads me to believe that a lot of fans could be in charge and get the same results seeing as the Oilers have been the worst team in the NHL the past 5 years.

      Canada has so much depth you could send a second team and they would have a decent shot at medalling. Pick top 50 names and have a monkey throw darts at a board and you would get a better result than the geniuses who picked the team that finished 7th in 2006. In retrospect that should have been foreshadowing for the current edition of the Oilers and 6rings and Tambo were the main architects for the Canadian team that finished behind the power house Swiss. Maybe that’s why Tambo hired Krueger ? All this Oiler failure is starting to weave a bizarre historical web.

    • Serious Gord

      I guess we put you into the camp that was 100% behind the team that bobby Clarke picked for Nagano – the one that left messier and others off the roster.

      And you also fully backed ray bourque getting a chance in the shoot out over Wayne.

      After all you consider the pros to be infallible.

    • Stud Muffin

      I guess since we are not all hockey “experts” we are not entitled to an opinion

      Why do you come here then? Just get your news from NHL.com, after all, there are no hidden agendas or slanted stories there.

    • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

      Your name makes absolutely no sense and neither does your post. How the heck can you be a fan and be impartial? Oxymoron much? Do you own a dodge ram too?

    • First off, it’s the people here in edmonton that see Hall’s flaws more than anyone else. We watch him closer than anyone on that panel except maybe klowe, but even that’s up for debate.

      The reasons we are right about Hall are as follows:

      He is the best left winger on the planet.

      Hall was playing centre to start the season and was -9 after 13 games. Brutal.

      Since then he is +3 on an absolutely dreadful team. The fact that he is able to consistently drive the play towards the opposition’s zone against the best d men in the league game in and game out despite having a horrible team supporting him is huge reason all on it’s own. Right now, Steen, Kunitz, and Sharp are the canadian left wingers with more points than Hall. But none of them have more points/game than him. He leads in that category. He has more p/g than every canadian left winger in the league, and he’s on the 29th place team. Think about it. How has he been able to be +3 since game 13 and produce the most points on a team as bad as the oilers? Because he is just that good. He has a reputation for being a selfish player who turns the puck over way too much. He earned that reputation because that’s how he played earlier in his career, but he is doing his part to shed that rep.

      If you listen to the reasons the Olympic selection panel isn’t leaning towards Hall, they are as follows:

      He turns the puck over too often when trying to gain the zone. (He’s almost completely removed this from his game.) He seems to know when to dump it in and when to carry it in now.

      He doesn’t back check (false false false) Over the last 20 games he’s often been the first forward back, and I’ve seen him below our goal line supporting our horrible defensemen more often than any forward not named Nuge or Gordon.

      His defensive game is non existent. Also false, see previous point.

      The truth is, if the Oilers were in the playoff hunt, Hall would be in consideration for the Olympics. The fact that he hasn’t been able to drag this team to the playoffs all on his own is basically the real reason he isn’t on the team.

      He is so much better than Couture it isn’t even funny. But unfortunately for him, he isn’t playing for san jose.

      • gr8one

        Unfortunately, Taylor Hall is VERY predictable to other teams. He plays with passion, but plays the same reckless moves around the boards – game after game, immediately alerting the opposition to what he’s going to do. Then, if he doesn’t fall down, he will give the puck away as the opposition is waiting for him. He scores when he has a breakaway or clear ice, when he’s up against D men from the other team, he’s hooped. Does that answer your question?

        • gr8one

          Not really. He’s in the upper echelon of scorers in the league, so he’s doing something right.

          Everyone is ‘predictable’ to a degree. The excellent players produce despite the other teams having a book on them. Hall’s been in the league long enough for other teams to know what he’s bringing, and he produces.

          Even if we allow for your argument re: clear ice and breakaways – shouldn’t we then acknowledge that he is good at finding clear spots and good at hitting a gap to create a breakaway opportunity?

    • 24% body fat

      Not completely disagreeing with you but there clearly is an eastern bias. (ovechkin allstar team last year) Ruff was in Buffalo so long he has become super stubborn. He could not find a way to use his weapon so he threw it away. Did they win gold? no. Epic fail on him.

      Everyone has there biases, even professionals. We all know that they wont take the 25 best players, they will try to build a team and all the top hockey minds will have a different opinion on this.

      Taylor Hall is a superior player to a lot of the players that will make this team. If he was the same player and the oilers were in a playoff spot this wouldnt be a conversation.

      Remember 6 rings is on the management of team canada, Dont right hall off yet.

  • 24% body fat

    why kunitz, I would rather take neal

    props for neal

    trash for kunitz

    HALL SHOULD BE ON THIS TEAM.
    His D game would look a lot better on a team like san jose. Hall is better than couture also.

    Patrick sharp is almost a god with his two way play.