A Big Tall Glass of Calmdown Juice

calmdownjuice

Two games into the 2014-15 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers are stuck at zero wins. The critical part of that sentence is “two games.” However, “two games” seems to be losing rather badly to “zero wins” in the minds of many of the fans of the team I interact with.

Frustration

I’ve quoted Twitter’s Dennis Arneson and Jake Murphy here, but the thoughts expressed above are by no means unique to them. It’s been a long, ugly road for Edmonton’s NHL team post-2006, and fans are bitter about it. That’s understandable; for that matter, the Oilers are fortunate that they play in Edmonton – in most NHL cities, that many years of incompetence would take a major toll on attendance on consequently team revenue.

Consequently, for most fans the Oilers have a high bar to clear. Any early stumble – and an 0-1-1 run out the gate really puts the “early” in “early stumble” – and instantly the bitterness created by a largely lost decade comes to the fore.

Emotionally, that’s entirely understandable. However, it’s not a good way to get an accurate read on what this team is now.

For example, the 2009-10 club that finished dead last is one that fans still remember watching, one that helps colour their perception of the Oilers today. But every single member of that club has been dealt away, and the coach and G.M. who build it are both long gone, along with a lot of other front office types. Even in just the year and a bit since Craig MacTavish took over as G.M. half the roster has been turned over, along with the entirety of the coaching staff.

So while bitterness and frustration are justified for the fans who’ve blown money and years on a terrible team, the players manning the roster now and the people organizing them have been largely changed in a very short period of time. If we’re going to judge their work accurately, we need to make sure we’re looking at their work and not that of the folks who preceded them.

What I’ve Seen

19-Schultz-1

I don’t think this Edmonton Oilers team is all that good. Looking at the roster, I pegged them to finish 12th in the West (all of our writers made their predictions in this Jason Gregor piece) and I haven’t seen much that changes my mind.

In particular, the defence looks awfully suspect. In theory I like the idea of a Mark Fayne/Nikita Nikitin shutdown pairing, but Nikitin’s history is mixed and the early results are not good; he may not come around in the role. The organization sees Justin Schultz as a much better player than I think he is in reality; if my assessment is accurate their placement of him in the No. 1 slot on the depth chart amounts to a serious self-inflicted wound. Further, in my view the team has damaged its chances out of the gate by demoting Martin Marincin, the best left-side defenceman in the organization.

With that said, there are some positive signs. Nail Yakupov has played well, and the team’s decision to go with four lines that can all play hockey is long overdue and (I think) having immediate benefits. Those benefits haven’t really shown up on the score sheet yet because the Oilers are only scoring on 3.5 percent of their even-strength shots. That will change, and when it does the team will make gains in the standings.

Others may be seeing different things, and that’s fine. But at this stage of the year, it’s a better idea to focus on individual players, roster strengths and weaknesses and underlying numbers than it is to get caught up in wins and losses.

Learning from History

PatQuinn2

The line “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” gets quoted a lot because it’s true. It also applies in this case. I’ve quoted Martin Male above, and think his comment is both accurate and a pretty good example of fans forgetting about the past.

Let’s go back a few years, to that 2009-10 team we talked about earlier. That team, destined to finish dead-last in the NHL standings, started the year 6-2-1. Tyler Dellow and Allan Mitchell (or, if you’d rather, mc79hockey and Lowetide) each had a post on that team after that start which represented the two sides of a debate; unfortunately the first has been taken down and the second lost its comments section when the website moved. But we can reconstruct the debate.

Here’s what Mitchell wrote at the top of his piece:

The Pat Quinn Oilers are rolling. A shiny new #1 line rolled off the assembly line last night and the club is also enjoying Ladislav Smid’s arrival as a real piece of work on the blue. The Quinn/Renney system features a simple but effective breakout system that relies heavily on forwards and short passes; a wide open offense that allows creativity in one end and asks for button down in the other; a physical style that not all Oilers are well-suited to and most importantly a big fat bag of results so far this fall.

(emphasis added)

Mitchell’s piece was actually focused on Craig MacTavish, and shouldn’t be mistaken for a whole-sale endorsement of Pat Quinn’s new system. The comments section didn’t lack for that, though; there was lots of talk about how the gruff Irishman was a real leader who’d won over the room after MacTavish lost it and that all was going to be sunshine and lollipops the rest of the way.

Dellow’s piece was titled “Irrational Exuberance.” It’s gone now, but Dellow pointed out that the team’s record was wholly unsustainable. Using war-on-ice.com’s date range function, we can go back and look at the team’s numbers at the time; the Oilers were collecting 43 percent of Fenwick (shots and missed shots) events but more than 58 percent of the goals; in other words they were getting destroyed on the shot clock but thanks to a high shooting percentage and a high save percentage (PDO, which combines those two numbers and averages out to about 100 for most teams, had the Oilers at 107.3 at the time) they were winning games.

Dellow, and anyone else who looked at the underlying numbers, knew it couldn’t last and said so. Folks who looked at wins and losses, on the other hand, were blissfully ignorant of what was to come and wrong, wrong, wrong.

I’m bringing this up because through two games we have the opposite situation. Edmonton has a 53.5 percent Fenwick rating at evens (they’re even better by Corsi) and a PDO of 90.7. It’s early enough that we shouldn’t trust those numbers – the Oilers play the Kings and Coyotes on the road before facing Vancouver at home on Friday, and those games could dramatically change the situation – but what they suggest is that so far the Oilers are a better team than that 0-1-1 record indicates.

It’s really easy for all those losses over the last eight years to blur together, and for the only lesson that sinks in to be ‘the Oilers are terrible.’ But it’s worth remembering things like that 6-2-1 mirage because stretches like that illuminate the way the standings can lie, and point out the things worth paying attention to early in the year.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull

    What gets to me is anyone here could have built a team in the last 8 just as good as the Oilers now.

    These people are suppose to be professionals and if we hold them to that standard they should all be fired. We need to cut the head of the snake off. I don’t think it is one particular person in management I think it is their philosophy.

  • justDOit

    Thanks for the stats. It felt like the Oilers were fundamentally better than they were last year. Calgary game was lost because of mistakes. Without those mistakes, Calgary doesn’t even belong in the game. Vancouver, we had a two goal lead but took 7 penalties, handing the momentum to the Canucks.

    The problems I see out there today are much more fixable game to game than the problems from last year.

  • Micbilly99

    Watching this team unlike watching other ‘real NHL’ teams, you see that the Oilers really don’t have the ‘team’ concept. Rarely if ever, do individual Oiler players stick up for each other. Why would RNH fight? Yes, it proves that he can and will stick up for himself, but why should he? He isn’t paid to fight, he is paid to score goals. Every other person on the ice at that time should have been involved in that scrum. But no, every other so called team was watching. This is just one example of this group of players not acting as a team. Until they figure that out, the Oilers will continue to be a ‘Lottery Team’.

    And while I am at it, why is Nurse not playing? And by not playing, I just don’t mean with the Oilers, I mean at all. Young players, especially defenseman need to play and learn. Not sit in the press box and watch hockey. If that was all it took, I would be a star NHL defenseman! Either play the kid or send him back to junior so he can develop. It’s not that complicated!

  • ubermiguel

    Looking at that linked “Every last remnant of the team…” article I’m stunned by the poor asset management but also how lousy that team was. There are a few guys from that team hanging onto NHL jobs, but not many. And none of them are impact players I’d like to have back.

  • Spydyr

    Its only two games, but seems to me we are seeing a replay of last season….. team cannot hold on to leads.

    Until such time that these guys learn to play defensive hockey from all five guys on the ice,you will see repeat numbers from last year.

    It has nothing to do with being young, or not having confidence [ these star players are in their 3.4 5 th year in the league].Stop playing like your still in junior hockey, and that includes Mr. Hall.

    You shold be attacking with 5 men up and defending in the same fashion… play as a team.
    Don’t need everyone to be a solo artist.

    • Zarny

      I’ve said early on in the rebuild that this team was not built to win a Stanley cup. The way they drafted to build this team is shameful as a monkey blindfolded can pick the best player available (statistically) in any given draft but it takes hockey sense and knowledge/wisdom/experience in management to assemble a winning team and culture.
      In the 8 years given and numerous top draft picks later, the Oilers did not address any of their needs. In the last 2 years, they have tried to collect high pedigree defenceman but results are still shaky at best. Sure they drafted Hall but he has noone to play with effectively. Yes he is putting up points but the team is still losing!
      Montreal drafted smart by going after P.K. and Galchenyk and Gallagher because they saw how they fit into their organization when they were drafted AND years from now. If memory serve me right, Montreal’s draft picks were after Edmonton’s in the last 8 years! Colorado also didn’t need to have 4 number one picks (I’m treating J. Schultz as such) because they had smart hockey men in the organization!
      I think Katz wears this one because employing men/friends that HE THINKS knows hockey vs employing PROVEN management people in hockey is what we are seeing the results of. Jim Nill was available the same year Mactavish was hired…just saying! And aren’t the Stars playoff contenders this year? And didn’t he make some “bold” trades to do so? I’m still not sold on MacTavish because he believes we have the core to push for the playoffs and win a cup. Sorry, I didn’t see it the last 8 years and I still don’t see it.
      Changes in upper management now are NOT AN OPTION, it is a NEED! Please let Katz read this blog. Katz admits he didn’t know much about hockey but continues to trust his instincts about hiring good hockey men to manage his team, leaving behind ESTABLISHED AND SUCCESSFUL hockey men to tend to the Oilers. Yes, it is only two games and yes this year’s team seems improved even though the numbers don’t show it but I’m not basing my comments on the last 2 games, it’s based on a good body of evidence the last 8-10 years since Katz took over. I am not bashing my team as I will always root for the oilers, but management needs to wear this one along with Katz! Would you ever hire a rookie GM and rookie coach to right the ship with a bunch of rookies on the player side as well?
      Especially when better more experienced personnel were available?

      Nuff said

        • Spaceman Spiff

          Perhaps you didn’t read the entire entry…the rookie part was only a fragment of my point. Sakic had great hockey sense when he played and was/is considered a great hockey man. Roy has proven himself as a coach for several seasons and owned his own hockey club after he retired. I think he knows a thing or two about hockey to do that. They also had men who drafted properly because they had a vision for the team.

          Is MacT a sharp hockey mind?
          Is he a good assessor of player personnel?
          What was he known for as a player?
          What did Eakins do?
          Which players did he develop for TO? Which players did Roy develop in his time coaching?
          Did Eakins even have winning seasons as a coach?
          When hired, Eakins said he develops great relationships with his players, have we seen this?

          Do you see this current Oiler team winning anything?
          When have you seen Eberle, Hall stand in front of the opposition net to sacrifice their bodies? Too many prima donnas on this team. We need more Ryan Smyths and fewer superstars who have had things handed to them. Just my opinion.

      • Zarny

        Sorry but your comment is nothing but revisionist history.

        Montreal was smart going after PK Subban? He was the 43rd pick overall drafted 3 spots ahead of where the Oilers took Marincin. To suggest Montreal knew how good Subban would become is foolish to say the least.

        Brendan Gallagher was drafted 147th overall. To suggest Mtl based a 5th round draft pick based on what “fit” their organization is flat out dumb. Gallagher is a 5’8″ 174 lb hobbit with one 41 PT season to his name. Mtl took a flyer on a guy in the 5th round and he’s become a regular NHL player, but he’s hardly a linchpin to the Habs success.

        Try reality sometime…you’ll like it.

  • Bucknuck

    I’ve been steering clear of twitter and comment sections ever since the Oil dropped their first game. I didn’t want to immerse myself into the vat of negativity until I had dealt with my disappointment.

    A small part of me is happy that they dropped the first two games. Ever since they demoted Marincin, I have been angry with the coaching staff. I didn’t want to see stupid-a$$ decisions like that positively re-inforced.

  • Spydyr

    The problem is our GM does not have the necessary experience in assessing player personnel. This is the trend in the NHL—– Montreal- Bergevin; Buffalo- Murray; Vancouver- Benning; Boston–Chiarelli; Calgary- Treleving; Anaheim–Murray. These guys all headed up scouting staffs before they became GMs. These teams are or will become successful– whereas as Edmonton will continue to flounder making bad personnel decisions because McTavish , albeit he has played and coached in the NHL, has not demonstrated a knack nor does he have the necessary background in assessing player personnel.

    For instance , we all remember McTavish , when he was the coach, felt Liam Reddox and Toby Peterson were NHL players. Two summers ago , mcTavish had a choice between Tom Gilbert and Dennis Grebeshkov as to who he should bring in on a contract. He should know these playes as they both played for him. He clearly made the wrong choice. He also wanted to sign David Clarkson to a long term contract at more money than what Clarkson ultimately took from the Leafs–McTavish was very lucky to duck this bullet. But his luck may have run out with the Nikitin contract which term and amount seemed very high for Columbus’s 7 th defence man. After the 1st 2 games of the season this contract looks even worse as there is already talk he will be sat down. A GM who has player personnel experience would have brought in another qualified center but our GM is asleep at the switch. For instance Vancouver brought in Lindon Vey to center their 3rd line and play on their 1st power play unit. Toronto brings in Peter Holland and Calgary joe Colborne. All 3 of these players are centres who have size, offensive ability and came very cheap because they were lost in organizations that have lots of depth in those position

    We need a GM with a strong player personnel background. It is too bad we didn’t get Benning who is Edmonton Born and raised.

    • Serious Gord

      Good points. I wonder what the correlation is between a GMs success level and then having scouting experience. One would think that scouts are the best place to find GMs.

    • Zarny

      MacT has the necessary experience in assessing player personnel. He was an actual NHL player for almost 1100 games and a head coach for 8 years.

      Sorry but the trend is not to hire guys who have headed up scouting staffs. Peter Chiarelli was a player agent in Ottawa before becoming an assistant GM for the Sens and then joining the Bruins. Brad Treliving co-founded the Western Professional Hockey League (WPHL) and ran the Central Hockey League before joining the Coyotes as an assistant GM.

      In a league of 30 teams you list 6 guys, 2 of which actually have no scouting experience, and conveniently leave out most of the GM’s of the best teams in the league who don’t fit the description. Picking cherries isn’t much of an argument.

      What the 6 GM’s you listed, in addition to many other GM’s in the league, have in common is not a scouting back-ground, but experience as assistant GM’s.

    • Spydyr

      Sideburns and MacT did not bring him on board.

      As far as NHL defenceman go I’m not a big Petry fan.As far as Oiler defencman go IMO he was the second best defencman here last year.Then again they sent the best defencman down to the minors.

  • Serious Gord

    Arcobello’s and Yak’s goals clearly demonstrate how good things can happen when players drive to the net. Our goal production at evens will improve when all lines are demonstrating this. Gordon’s line will score a few if all three of them continue to drive the net on the initial shot. When our top line find their groove and get a few “dirty goals” we might steal some points (assuming Fasth’s game two performance becomes the norm in net). We are doing a much better job gaining the offensive zone with possession this year from my spot on the couch.

  • Serious Gord

    I was having night tremors before the season thinking about our centers.Now RNH injured after two games.This is starting off very nightmareish. Arco and Acton as 2 of your centers?This could be real ugly.Mac get on the phone, a bold move might be in order.Oh ya how did Chabot ever get the goalie coach job?Just askin.
    Maybe Gretz and the boys left some very good karma at rexall Friday night, heres hopin. Lets go Oilers.And to all you jersey tossers kiss my @#$%^& &*) stay away we don’t want you there.

  • freelancer

    The fact that RNH was on the ice practicing but then left makes me think that he may be more bruised than seriously injured. The fact that Eberle wasn’t even on the ice could mean bad news. And did I hear right the Petry wasn’t at practice at all?

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Hey Oilers…your time to tank is past! Light a fire boys and start trying to compete!

    Give everyone else a chance at a top pick. (Same goes for NYI, FLA and BUF.)

    Signed…Flames & Hurricanes.

  • Kodiak

    It’s extremely tough to calm down when management continues to shoot this team in the foot. Not addressing center depth when there were numerous stopgap players available in the summer. Sending your top LD down. Lauding Schultz as being Norris capable and playing him as such even though he isn’t close. Giving Brad Hunt way too many ES and SH minutes. And now healthy scratching Petry. Are you freakin kidding me?!?

    We’ve been the laughing stock of the league for way too long and current managements decision making hasn’t changed that and if they are doing things like healthy scratching Petry it’s only going to continue. As fans the last thing we should be doing is calming down. We should all be screaming at the top of our lungs for some accountability.

  • Didn’t the team just hire Dellows? I mean, how has he not just up and quit yet with some of the decisions being made.

    It’s nutz how the centre gamble looks to be paying off, but then they decide to give Marincin’s spot to Hunt. I’m glad he has a point shot, but where is the defence? Somehow, this team actually got worse on defence so far this year.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Wow Petry being a healthy scratch comes as a shock. He’s looked like the one d-man capable of skating with and moving the puck.

    Plus Eakins’ answers today regarding RNH’s and Eberle’s injuries was very cryptic. Maybe they don’t want to tell other teams what the injuries are, but it seemed very unusual to me.

      • Spaceman Spiff

        I suppose not, but by the end of the presser it sounded like Eakins was getting quite irritated with the line of questioning. Losing his cool a bit.

        Plus we all know Petry has a bum shoulder so why not just say it?

      • banged up players sitting out against LA in a game Edmonton is more than likely to lose, regardless, in the hope of having them heal in time to play Phoenix, and be effective in a game that edmonton will have a slightly better chance of winning…I suppose Eakins can’t just say that in a press conference, can he.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Petry is a healthy scratch and the message is “calm down”?

    How many absolutely stupid, moronic, these idiots don’t deserve to run a peewee hockey team moments do we need before we are allowed to get angry?

      • maybe they’re just giving him the night off against a team that will beat edmonton regardless. no sense in having one of LA’s big forwards smack him into the boards, tear his shoulder up, and have him sit for the rest of the season.

    • vetinari

      FOUR!

      Let’s see…

      1. Using the last game or two of preseason to audition whole lines for 2 or 3 possible roster spots rather than bring the main roster together to work out the kinks on 5v5, PP and PK.

      2. Sending arguably the best, or at least top two defenceman on the team down to OKC to start the season.

      3. Sitting the defencemen (Nurse, Klefbom) who arguably are pushing for roster spots on the team against the weakest competition to start the season and instead saving them for higher quality of opponents because, you know, +/- and success is over-rated.

      4. Eroding the NHL centre depth on the team in the offseason so that we cannot adequate cope with an injury or two to our centres when they inevitably occur.

      Okay… you can now get angry…

  • Spydyr

    You know what the real problem of this organization is that no body seems to be talking about???

    The Oiler Greats that keeps popping out of nowhere and showing off their glamorous records and talking about the PAST!!!

    I am 29 yrs old. Although I know the history and all the players involved, I have 0 emotional connection to the early 80s Oilers. Dont get me wrong, i love them and what they did for the city, but why cant they bugger off!? I firmly believe that the oilers s**t the bed on opening night because of this. It seems that the oilers key players today are always in the shadow of the greats of the past! Can you imagine playing for this team and every so often there’s always mentions of the oilers past? I would be offended. It seems that its constant. Always with “the greats” I’m sick of it, I can only imagine how the players feel. They keep celebrating their greatness but yet the team of the present hasn’t been to the playoffs in almost a DECADE!!! Does anyone else find this even just a little bit off?! Or am I on my own?

    People of oilers nation! This team will never move forward if they keep looking back at the past! Its overkill how much they are around. I am probably going to get banned for saying this but someone needs to raise this concern. Its a little pathetic to me.

    • Do what Weight did?

      Y’know what I love about being an Oiler fan? It’s the damned if you do, damned if you don’t attitude from the fans. Last year, Eakins comes in and cleans out the connection to the dynasty Oilers. The result from the fan base? Heavy criticism. This year, the ’84 team gets a celebration, and what’s the reaction? More criticism.

      We’ve had hundreds of posts complaining about Gagner, begging for him to be traded. He’s gone now, and all I hear are complaints about center depth. Valid as those complaints are, they are complaints about management doing what the fans were begging for.

      We’ve got Oilfan4ever complaining that we didn’t draft for need. If we would have chosen a defenseman instead of Hall, Nuge or Yak (we’ve been trying to acquire a Weber for Omark for years) the team would be roasted for not taking best player available.

      To paraphrase another poster, there are enough real problems with this team that we don’t need to invent new ones.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Love your blog Jonathan, but as you stated let’s judge MacTavish on the progress that he has made.
    I know your too young to probably know, but Paul Coffee got a lot of the same negative feedback, that Shultz does, due to the fact he was weaker in his zone, as well. I remember Mario Lemieux stating that he won the scoring title, the first year after the Coffee trade, due to Paul’s presence on the Penguins. We were never as good after the Coffee trade, his offensive awareness and great passing skills were really undervalued, by those who felt he was too weak defensively. Sometimes I believe that Lowe overvalued offensive defensemen, because I feel that maybe he knew what a difference it made to enhancing and complimenting the Oiler’s offence and style, during their dynasty.
    I really like and am impressed by the progress MacTavish has made and we know from your great blog and others that he had irons in the fire, but free agent centers chose not to come to Edmonton, even though they seemed to have been offered a little more money. Developing also includes building players’ confidence, as well as them “earning” a place on the NHL club. Marincin will only get stronger mentally from this challenge, I hope, and Nurse did deserve recognition for his hard work and progression.
    I really feel good about what is being built and we are definitely getting closer. We have a right to expect progress and we are significantly improved in relation to last years’ group. If injuries don’t change things significantly, we should be looking at a much, much more competitive team than we have in years.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      With all due respect, Paul Coffey was a generational talent and was quite-obviously so, right from the get-go. I’m not sure the same can be said of Justin Schultz.

      Don’t get me wrong – I’m also a Schultz fan and I applaud your defence of him.

      But Paul Coffey’s offensive talents were, at the time, the best seen on a blueline since Bobby Orr and I doubt there’s been a better skating stride, from a pure technical point of view, than Coffey’s since he retired(he could go from goal-line to far blue-line in three or four cuts). And the offensive/defensive tradeoff was far more worth-the-trouble from Coffey than it has been for Schultz so far. In fact, it’s not even close.

      By Year 3, Coffey was a world-class player. Right now, we really don’t know what Schultz is yet. No way can we cut Schultz the kind of slack that Coffey would have gotten by now.

      As for your assertion that the Oilers “weren’t as good after the Coffey trade,” well that depends on what your definition of “good” is. The 1987 Cup team was definitely the most talented, but the 1988 team was far more committed to team defence. It marched through the 1988 playoffs with a disciplined style that reminded many of us of the Islanders around 1982-ish, which is high, high praise. In the 1988 final (and the 1990 final, for that matter), Steve Smith out-defended Ray Bourque and the Oilers checked and grinded with the best of what the Bruins threw at them.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    Nuge & Petry out. That’s tge top Dman and best centre.

    6-0 Kings.

    When Boyd Gordon is the teams best C, that’s a problem.

    Had the Oilers picked up a #2C, it would have come in very useful right now.

    Goodbye playoffs.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Honestly … if you’re queasy because the Oilers are 0-2, then you really need to find a new hobby. Professional sports are far too gamey of a meat for you.

    If you’re bitching and moaning about the Oilers’ defence or lack of centre depth or whatever … after 125 minutes (plus shootout time) of actual NHL playing time, you need to go watch Survivor or something because hockey is not the right viewing choice for you.

    Breathe, everyone. Breathe. It’s early.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I love the notion of “Don’t look at the results after 2 games. Instead, look at the advanced stats after 2 games!!”

    As if to imply that advanced stats based on 2 games mean a sweet lick of anything.

    Especially when those advanced stats come not only from a miniscule sample size, but also from games against the two teams who, next to the Oilers, were the worst and the second worst teams in the conference last year. Also, 50% of your opponents were in the 2nd leg of back-to-backs.

    Advanced stats 2 games in tell you even less than the win-loss column.

  • Spydyr

    Until Eakins figures out how to coach all the new players, (say about 20 games) we will lose more than we win. By that time our season will be over and soon enough the talking hair doll will be fired!

    Benching Petry smacks of desperation ……….exactly who has beed better on defence than Petry? By the eye I would say Petry would be one of the bright spots.

    I have no faith in this clown to get it right ……..ever!