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:  

  • Jason Gregor

    This may sound corny but some teams overcome superior opponents because they have a lot of guys that just refuse to lose. A true developing star player reaches a point where his play evolves and he becomes fierce, determined and learns to apply sufficient effort in order to consistently succeed at the NHL level. I believe the Oilers have a number of these types of players evolving and that there will be a quantum leap in performance perhaps as early as this season. Also, we all know how important it is to have a goaltender perform in a manner that allows confidence to spread throughout the team. I think Scrivens will provide that. I won’t be surprised if the Oilers challenge for a playoff spit this coming season.

    • DieHard

      I’ve been saying this for a while now. The core is older and more experienced, secondary players have arrived/improved, the defense is much better as well as goaltending. Throw in a much improved coaching staff and I believe we’ll be still trying for a playoff spot in March. That’s a big thing for me.

    • Jason Gregor

      That’s a big gulp of kool-aid you must of taken Al before writing that. Hall is about the only guy on this team that fits that description. Even Perron who is like tonic to the oilers quit on this team last year and none of the new forwards are like that.

  • A-Mc

    Last year i was hopeful the team would improve, but i never really got too excited. This year, i feel like we’re going to make a good step in the right direction.

    I think a lot has been done both during last year and over this summer, that the team is going to perform much better overall.

    That being said, we finished with 67 pts this year which is good for 3rd last league wide. If the Oilers improve to .500 or even slightly better, I think we can all agree that would be a HUGE step forward (82-86pts). 82 points was good for 6th last league wide.

    A 15 point improvement will net us a gain from 3rd worst to 6th worst, more or less; That’s the bad news. The good news is that another off season of improvements could get us to the 90-95 pt range, and that’s good enough for average to almost playoff worthy point totals.

    I really think the team will improve, but unfortunately the massive jump in points is not going to be reflected very well in the standings; the Oilers are THAT far below average that it’s going to take a mighty tall ladder to get them out of this hole.

    #GOilers !!

  • Gerald R. Ford

    Since the ’05 lockout, the western conference playoff cutline has been 94 points. Have the Oilers improved? On paper, their blue line looks significantly better. The goaltending should be much more stable and dependable. In the real world? I don’t know how much harder they’ll be to play against, and I doubt this team has improved by 27 points.

    What they’ve done is better than a pokey thing in the eye. Hope for the best, I guess.

  • justDOit

    I think a lot of problems laid at the defence’s feet should be shifted to the forwards for:

    – not being in the proper position to help out in the defensive zone.
    – not being able to maintain possession of the puck for any significant time = lots of time spent in the defensive zone = a tired/overworked defence.

    It appears these have been addressed to a certain extent. Again, we’ll see how much when the season gets underway.

  • I am optimistic, though I am scared to be.

    The additions that we have added seem a bit more proven and skilled than in years past, and as Jason has pointed out here, a bit bigger.

    If all things point right for the Oilers (FA signings meet expectations, Scrivens/Fasth hold their own, Nuge & Yak have bounce back years) then this could be a decent year where we stay competitive for a wild card spot into late February/early March.

    If that doesn’t happen though… it won’t be pretty.

    • justDOit

      Try thinking about how many long-term problems would be created by the price paid for JJ in the trade. The Sharks aren’t going to give him away, if he were to waive his NMC.

      • For sure. There are plenty of reasons it wont happen.

        I don’t want to get into trade scenarios or anything, I just can’t think of another player who could check off as many needs as the Oilers have right now.

  • The Soup Fascist

    The Oilers are still thin up the middle and missing a top end D, despite some good work by MacT.

    Here is the thing, despite the additions in the skating ranks, those moves are not likely to tell the tale. With good to very good goaltending they will likely be competitive and improve substantially.

    With average or worse goaltending they are going nowhere. There is optimism with this pair but a lot of questions too.

    Very few teams improve substantially without a big uptick in goaltending.

  • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

    they better improve!
    honestly last season was the straw that broke the camels back for me…
    The Toronto Raptors were always my 2nd favourite sport team and the heart and effort they showed last year banding together to do what no one else thought they could do talent-wise,contrasted with the lazy potential wasting Oilers.. it hurt to watch them last year.. this last year was the first year i stopped watching since 07 when they traded Smytty… I know I’m not alone in feeling almost checked out on the Oilers, its not even that I’m angry anymore.. its been almost a decade of horrible teams and I’m just sad about it now.. atleast you could tell the teams of the 90’s and early 2000’s tried…. but who knows maybe it will be better next year?**

    **statement recycled from 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013

  • Jason Gregor

    I keep seeing that Mark Arcebello is 166 lbs…………I for one say this is not accurate.

    I would estimate that he is at least 180-185 …….now I’m using the L.A.R method of assessing his weight but this has proven to be highly effective. This same method has Eberle at least 190 and the NUge at 185.

    Marincin had stated in an interview that he is well over 190 lbs now that he started living at Krispy Kream.

    Jason is there a place where up to date weights are tested and updated and considered accurate?? Even looking at the Oilers Official website, it’s easy to see no one really changes theses stats.

  • Sorensenator

    Yes they got better. Fanye and Nikitin like Gregor said are huge upgrades and will be a nice addition alongside Ference, Schultz, Petry, and Marincin and with Klefbom and Nurse close behind. Aulie will most likely slot in as a big # 7.

    We all know the centre ice position continues to be a concern with Nugent Hopkins, Arcobello, Draisaitl, Lander, and Gordon. #1 and #4 are fine for now, its the # 2 and 3 slots that lack experience and NHL talent.

    The Oilers like to stockpile wingers, and the NHL network radio on Sirius XM has made several comments on the Oilers Winger addiction. Yesterday was the one hour Edmonton Oilers preview on Sirius XM and they project the Oilers to finish bottom 5 again. Not enough depth in the centre ice position to compete against the likes of Getzlaf, Kopitar, Thorton, Toews, etc… is their main argument.

    Fair enough, it’s going to be tough road for the Oilers against the pacific division.

    I would not project them to be bottom five again, however. The kids are another year older and there is far too much talent for the Oilers not to make a push for vast improvement. The goaltending is better, the defence is bigger, and the forwards have an abundance in speed, skill, and increase in tenacity.

    I project 11th in the west, 18th in the League.

  • pkam

    Hall, RNH, Yak and Draisaitl would all get bigger and heavier this year than last year. I think RNH will likely get 10 lbs, Yak likely get 5, and Hall & Draisaitl each gets a couple, and it is almost 20 lbs.

    Even if the 4 combined get a very conservative 10 lbs gain, the average weight will go up by 1.1 lb.

    • Jason Gregor

      I don’t expect the Oilers to jump over 6 teams in the standings, which is what needs to happen for them to make the playoffs.

      I see them being better than Calgary, Nashville, Phoenix and Winnipeg, but I don’t envision them making the playoffs.

      For the sake of Nation readers I hope I’m wrong.

      • #94 sized hole where my heart used to be...

        You’re dreaming.

        They might be better than Calgary…might, and maybe if everything goes well, they might be better than Winnipeg, too.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Better than one of those teams maybe, but certainly not all four.

        1st/2nd line center ice position vacant, along with a top pairing blueliner. Looks to me like management wants to continue adding higher selections. Rebuild from within and stay the course chosen.

      • Leef O'Golin

        Mostly\hopefully agree; with the possible exception of Phoenix and their truly annoying habit of confounding predictions of their demise.

        @Bring back Salo

        The fact they finished below Cgy last year still stings!

  • Raider Jesse

    I think the 2nd line C is slightly improved over the end of last year. I really think Arcobello is a better fit than Gagner. He’s more defensively responsible, a bit more physical, and our improved offense on the wings I believe will help migitate any perceived drop off in offense.

    It seems from what we’ve heard about Arco that he is very coachable and he does what the coach wants, which appears to be an upgrade on Samwise.

    The defense is much improved, and I like the mix on the wings better. I’m hoping for finishing 19-21 finish league wide this year!

  • IM80

    I agree with Gregor that the Oilers improved. It’s hard not to see that…

    Funny though that the only actual numbers quoted are height, weight and age as the basis for improvement…in comparison to the other playoff teams….while relevant, does not argue they improved, just simply that they are closer to matching the size…

    ugh. Why do i keep reading these articles?

    • Jason Gregor

      It points out they added better players, who just happen to be bigger. I’m amazed at your inability to comprehend a simple point.

      I’m double amazed Gregor had the patience to interact with you.

      He should have told you to stop whining just because an article didn’t include your precious advanced stats. There is more to the game. We all get they have value, but stop whining because an article doesn’t include them. You give the stats community a bad name.

      You wonder why many fans don’t want to discuss them, because close-minded people like you believe they are the do all end all and MUST be included in every paragraph. Give it a rest.

      • Sounds like you need a cup of tea to calm down. I won’t have the patience to interact with you. Stop whining about how I interact with Gregor. Are you his assistant coming to defend his honour?

        If you have something of value to add, then please add it. Did I attack Gregor? not once, just the argument made. Trying to better understand his position.

        Calling someone closed-minded based on what you read in a forum…….isn’t that ironic.

        • BlazingSaitls

          Do you forget what you write?

          Your first post you whined, “Ugh why do I read these articles.”

          His position is easy to understand…it didn’t involve your beloved Corsi so you automatically belittle it. Idiotic on your part.

          You might not be close-minded, just not as smart as you think.

    • Jason Gregor

      Matching the size and experience with BETTER players.

      Fayne, Nikitin and Marincin/Klefbom are bigger and more skilled that Larsen/N.Schultz/Belov from start of last season. Pretty straight forward.

      Did you not see the link to Fayne’s ability to play against top players? If you read it you’d realize he can handle tough competition better than the D-men Oilers had last year.

      • Appreciate the response Gregor.

        Yes, I saw the link, and had actually already read Willis’ article just after he wrote it (also read your piece on Fayne and his attitude about enjoying matching up against the best players defensively)

        My point is that there are a ton of stats out there to justify the improvement, but you chose for the most part to use the increase in height & weight. Didn’t seem the most relevant examples

        • Jason Gregor

          The Oilers were the lightest team in the west last year, and it wasn’t close. They needed to improve their skill, but needed size with it. They did that, especially on the backend.

          They are on average 8 pounds heavier on the blueline, that doesn’t include Marincin getting heavier and stronger. Also the players they added are better.

          It matters in the D zone when you are battling the huge, skilled forwards on the top teams in the west. Adding skilled size is very relevant, unless you haven’t been watching how the best teams in the west are built.

          • No worries.
            I read your previous article documenting the Oiler’s lack of size compared to the other teams, so i had been aware of their need for size. In retrospect, i can see why you used this example.

            I agree with you they are bigger, with skill (and by this i would include Fayne and Nikitin’s defensive awareness and willingness to battle as skill).

            btw – i’m not cutting you down or attacking you with my posts, just trying to point out something that didn’t appear to be the most relevant example. Contrary to your insinuations, I have been watching the other teams in the west and i have been reading the articles written, i just have a slightly different opinion for how to justify improvement.

          • Jason Gregor

            Care to share with us how you justify improvement, if it is not through adding higher skilled players with more experience who are bigger and stronger.

          • Ok, here you go…

            I believe you have completely missed my initial point. I have never disagreed with you regarding adding skill and size with more experience. Not in any of my posts.

            I simply stated that using size and weight numbers only, to justify improvement, is not the only/most relevant way. The numbers alone demonstrate a bigger team. Height and weight numbers do not justify a more skilled team

            off the top of my head, some categories that would show more skill could be EV SP/60, CF% rel, QoT TOI% rel……but no amount of advanced stats can paint the whole picture.

            for example, Gordon’s CD/60 is -15.9. But his ZS% is 17.8%. He is always exposed. Does that mean is not useful….hardly…..

            …now, back to my actual job

            I appreciate that back and forth Gregor. Take care.

          • Jason Gregor

            Every article doesn’t have to contain the CF% or TOI% rel to make a point. If so, then every article would be the same.

            Also, I included the link to Fayne’s QofC as well as pointed out in the first paragraph that the new acquisitions were better possession players.

            I simply stated that using size and weight numbers only, to justify improvement, is not the only/most relevant way. The numbers alone demonstrate a bigger team. Height and weight numbers do not justify a more skilled team.

            Did I write that added size was the only way to justify improvement? Nope, you assumed that.

            I said it was one area they needed to improve, and they did. MacTavish did a good job of adding players with size, who are also skilled and had good possession numbers, which I said in the article and linked to re: Fayne.

            So, your point is that the article doesn’t outline every possible angle of improvement? An article would need to be a 10,000 words at least if you wanted that. This article focused on one element that the Oilers needed to improve on, and they did. It never said it was the only area they needed to improve on. Take care.

    • IM80

      Arco may be a useful player, but his skillset doesn’t seem to fit with the current mix of players on the Oilers roster….is he a 3C? prob a stretch, and Gordon is the 4C, so where does he actually fit?

      i too hope he can rise to the occasion, but not holding my breath. he’s an ahl player and my guess is he will end up back there.

      time will tell

  • Spydyr

    What I have learned from the Oilers off-season acquisitions the last eight years is this:

    The acquisitions look a lot better in August than they do in December.

    • cabaj

      Perron and Gordon were A+ acquisitions. Especially Gordon – he’s the most valuable bottom 9 forward this team has had in years.

      It’s sure possible that at least 2 of purcell, pouliot, fayne, nikitin will also turn out to be A+ acquisitions.

      It’s also possible that we’re only missing a 2C and a top D before we’re a legit playoff threat.

      I totally understand your pessimism, but objectively, I like MacT’s hits more than I dislike his misses.