Here in Oil Country, where looking for a silver lining has resulted in untold cases of eye strain and grasping at straws has worn fingers raw from Hinton to Lloydminster, Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish managed to set the bar even lower during his media availability last week.

MacTavish’s tense and carefully-managed exchange with media has been well dissected already, so I’ll skip a bunch of rehash. What’s stuck with me in the days since and in the wake of Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks was his contention, “I think we are visually better than our record.”

With the Oilers sitting 30th overall in NHL standings today at 7-16-5 and just taking what MacTavish said at face value, it’s next-to-impossible to imagine the Oilers looking worse than their record and their .339 points percentage – short of insisting players wear their skates on the wrong feet and making bad haircuts mandatory – no?

Visually better? Sure. Here and there, I suppose. There are even some advanced stats, specifically improved but still modest possession numbers, supporting that (rendered meaningless by lousy goaltending and the inability to hit the side of a barn on the attack). Maybe that’s what MacTavish was getting at, given the team’s embrace of spreadsheet hockey.

When it comes to the numbers that matter most, this is a case of what you see isn’t necessarily what you get and what is reflected in the daily NHL standings.



“The Oilers have a lot of offensive talent.” With Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, sure they do, in terms of individual skills. When they get buzzing, when the game turns into a track meet and Hall is lugging it to the net or RNH is dealing, the Oilers look dynamic offensively.

Appearance aside, the bottom line is the Oilers have scored 62 goals. That’s 27th in the league. The power play sits at 12.9 per cent, also 27th. Pizazz on the attack and pumping more shots at the net hasn’t translated to enough goals. The shooting percentage is dismal. Will it improve? Probably, but not necessarily markedly enough to translate to more wins.

“If the Oilers keep possessing and shooting the puck and get better goaltending, they’ll win more games.” Probably. Right now, the Oilers have next-to-no chance with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth combining for a .884 saves-percentage, which ranks 30th. Goaltending has flat-out cost the Oilers points in games they’ve played pretty well in.

While Scrivens and Fasth have shown the capability to bump up that .884, there is no guarantee it’ll happen, or that any improvement they make will be enough to translate to significantly better results. Does getting it to .900 matter? What if goaltending improves and the shooting percentage bumps up a point or two but the possession numbers fall off? 



So, while MacTavish’s “visually better” contention is backed by some of the numbers, it’s no surprise what he’s seeing and what he chose to emphasize at the media availability didn’t sell like hotcakes with the fan base because it hasn’t provided results.

When the offense is clicking the goaltending stinks. When the goaltending is OK, the Oilers can’t put the puck in the ocean off a pier. As far as putting all the components — offense, defense, goaltending, special teams — together at the same time for an entire game, it hasn’t happened.

These visually better Oilers are about to miss the playoffs for a ninth straight season. They have gaping holes in the middle. They’re thin on the blue line. They don’t consistently play hard enough. On and on . . . 

The Oilers are 7-16-5 with a .339 points percentage as they prepare to take on the Anaheim Ducks tonight. Visually better doesn’t get it. Fact is, a whole lot better might not be enough either when it comes to the numbers that matter.

Better, my eye.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • Rickymac

    I feel terrible for you Tier 1 season ticket holders being told that your team is deliberately tanking the season with about 50 games left in the season and that your Management is actually deluded enough to tell you that they don’t need to make any changes, everything is progressing. The thousands of dollars that you are wasting must drive you crazy. OMFG

  • Wax Man Riley

    Taking a look at our squad minus our top five , and you see a cellar looking club . Our top five have not exceeded expectations , and thus do not help us rise above the rest of the weaknesses of the club . The first game against the Sharks the team played at a high intensity level that it needs just to remain competitive in any games . That lasted all of one game , to bad they couldn’t have bottled it somehow . Overall the team makeup is poor quality throughout most of the lineup , and that is why we are still toying with the basement of the league .

    Mistakes leading to goals is part of every game and team . We have more than most and results are indicative of it . Like turnovers in football , the more you make the less likely your going to win .

  • Deported to Ottawa

    I’m tired of excuses. I’m tired of rationalization. I’m tired of the Oilers on ice product and the nine years of futility.

    The Oilers are dysfunctional and rank amongst the worst organizations in all pro sports.

    It’s sad that after all the high draft picks you look at the roster and realize they’re no closer to competing than they were when the rebuild began.

  • Lumley

    Robin, ” The Oilers have a lot of offensive talent” [ you correctly identified it as individual talent/efforts.

    We know they don’t play as five man unit like most teams do with a unit break out from the blue line up.

    I am starting to have doubts how good those “individual talents” are?

    Oilers Top points player in NHL. Eberle – 89
    Nuge.- 99 and Hall 100.

    Teams in the TOP – 30 listing have two and some three players in Top list, we cant even get one in the Top 60.

  • tileguy

    I still think the forwards are a lot more responsible for “bad goaltending” than what we think. Dubynk, Fasth, Scrivens didn’t just become bad overnight, they had help.

  • tileguy

    THe Oilers should change their name to “Almost Oilers”……..yea.

    They almost look good on some nights.
    They can almost score on most nights.
    The goalies can almost stop the puck.
    The defense can almost play their positions.
    The coaches can almost coach……at least some of the time.
    Management can almost manage.
    Scouting can almost find those gems we all look for.

    Except for offence, defence, goaltending, coaching, scouting, and management we are a almost a good team!

  • YFC Prez

    This years version of the oilers is playing better hockey, more structured in their defence. They have played a number of excellent games that would have been worthy of a better fate. Unfortunately they have found inexplicable ways to hand games to their opponents. This group lacks the will power to make the plays required to win games, I have heard these gaffs referred to little plays by the players – they are not, they are crucial plays. The most frequent ‘little play’ that they can’t execute is the zone exit when within 5 feet of their own blue line. This leads to a period of 30-40 secs of panic in their own zone. This is referred to in beer leagues as the ‘old timer breakout’ – keep the puck in our zone long enough then when the opponent scores we will be able to lineup at center. Ultimately players have to care enough to make these ‘little plays’ in order to win games. Hope they figure it out soon.

  • tileguy

    I must say Klefbom impressed me for the first time last night….and i’m a Marincin believer, there’s hope that jultz might be expendable by the end of next year.

  • Lumley

    Who Cares anymore. Enough with the articles about the MacT mandate. It’s been written about soooo many times. The season is lost. It’s just hockey people. Who cares. Oil fans here just feed into these pathetic sports “writers” that keep repeating themselves. At least some of them switch it up to something positive. Have you oiler fans thought maybe You are the ones that’s wrong with the organization? Stop doing this to yourselves! There are other things to better worry about. I understand. . We all love the oilers and we can’t believe they suckered this bad wahhhhh wahhhh wahhhh. It’s gonna get better. It’s unfortunate that it’s gonna take longer but did u really think they were gonna end the playoff drought this year? I had them finishing close to last this yr to begin with based on holes at C & defense men. Stop being pecimists! You’re all showing to be horrible human beings. WHO CARES. Go to rexall place and cry at the feet of Waynes statue. Cuz that’s really what this is all about isn’t it?? The infamous glory days that edmontonians keep hanging on to?


  • hitchikerforajax

    The Oilers goaltending is in one word, bush. This team can’t score enough, to account for the minor league goaltending a.k.a., Scrivens & Fasth. These guys let in more soft goals, than the Oilers score goals. Thats one reason for last place in the league. There are many other reasons, but thats the most evident.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The 9th annual smoke and mirror campaign continues. Even with MacTavish supposedly at the helm. I had hoped he would be different than the POHO. Accountability nowhere to be found after all these years.

    82 nights per season, a rather damning self portrait of this management group.

  • WTF2

    Nice try Brownlee. Try to visualize this.

    To pay the top line $18 million per season for what they produce deserves a gross misconduct. Each one of these clowns should be made to donate one-half of their salary to local charities. The other half would be well spent on English and public speaking lessons.

  • WTF2

    MacT = Willie Nelson

    Willie Nelson getting caught cheating on his wife.

    “As one of his early wives did, no doubt, that famous time she walked in on him in bed with another woman. Mr. Nelson focused those soulful, sexy eyes on her and asked: “Are you gonna believe what you see? Or what I tell you?”

    I think MacT stole the line from Willie in his press conference

    “Are you gonna believe what you see? Or what I tell you?”

  • charlie manson

    I’m 40 yrs old,and I don’t really remember the last time the Oilers making the playoffs not being #8,#7 or the #6 seed after the early 90s….they always snuck in,or didn’t make it at all.When was the last time the Oilers finished top 4 in the conference??so frustrating.

    • YFC Prez

      I’m quite confident the last time they finished top 4 or higher in the conference they played in the Smythe devision and Brownlee was still in the locker room after every game……..that’s how long its been. about 25 years ago

  • I see three keys to eventual Oiler success.

    1. Going hard to the net, deflections, tip ins, rebound goals. Oilers are the worst in the league in this skillset, hense the record. If Don Cherry was coach pucks would go the net and sticks would be on the ice. The Oilers set up guys in the slot and make pretty passes. This is the result of Eakins poor coaching. 100 games he has coaached and his team still does not know how to go to the net enough.

    2. Continual Reduction of Justin Schultz ice time. If the Oil played Justin less and say Fayne more, and even had the unescusably maligned Marincin in the lineup, how many more wins would they have. I say 4-5 more wins. We still suck but not as bad. Schultz and the Oilers need to part ways. Schultz is the Western Conference version of Del Zotto, with less offence.

    3. Goaltending. Nuf said.

    All 3 problems could be taken care in one big swoop by firing Eakins. Maclean is available, and got shafted. He is a Detroit trained knows how to win coach. Ottawa was over-achieving, but when when you don’t get along with Murray, the guys ruthless. Oilers could give a proven winner and coach of the year coach the reigns and chart course to success to success. The Oil could turn around the franchise, save millions, and get the same effect Anaheim got when Washington turfed Boudreau and they signed him weeks later. This move needed to be done yesterday.

  • YFC Prez

    Can someone teach the defence to have a sense of urgency to return to their position? Hall, in your defensive zone you need to remain on your own half of the ice. You are a winger, not a center. Watch how many times that Hall skates into Eberle’s lane during a break out. At least the other team needs one d-man to cover all 3 forwards. It’s like watching a poorly coached peewee house league team.

  • Wax Man Riley

    It was not he best way to say it. I’m not defending him, but would it be fair to say this:

    When you look at this team, they look like they should be better than what was in the ice last year.

    Visually better?

  • G

    Is it just me, or does Hall look like he is doing whatever he wants out there. This isn’t beer league shinny Taylor. NHL teams know how to defend (except the system-challenged Oilers run by Eeekies) He’s our best player, blah blah blah, he just seems to puck-hog it a lot, and ends up with a WEAK wrister from the perimeter, that has a 1% chance of going in.

    But hey – there is never anyone in front of the net, so his options are limited I guess.
    Speaking of that – how does Eeekies not tell the team “OK. When we get the puck, you (player X) skate as fast as you can in a direct line to the front of the net IMMEDIATELY, and stand there.” It doesn’t matter if player X is a shrimp, because whichever D-man is covering him will also provide screeny-traffic in front of the goalie. Then maybe one of TH’s weak wristers from the perimeter might go in, or get a bobbly rebound. If you’re scared – don’t be. You wont be injured by a big slapshot, because no one on our team has that “amazing skill”.
    Unbelievably simple, yet it does-not-happen.
    Please forward on to Eeekies.