GDB 47.0: The Last Days

Jeff Petry

We’re looking at the last days for a number of men currently wearing Oilers uniforms. The trade deadline exodus is an annual tradition for bad teams, and that means fans should try and enjoy their favourites now if there’s any danger of those favourites being shipped out of town.

The obvious possibilities include:

  • Jeff Petry – pending UFA, gone unless he signs soon
  • Derek Roy – pending UFA, may not have value
  • Viktor Fasth – pending UFA, may not have value
  • Rob Klinkhammer – pending UFA, though I think they keep him
  • Matt Hendricks – pretty unlikely, but his age and current value makes it possible
  • Boyd Gordon – pretty unlikely, but he’s got one year left and they may want to move him before he’s a rental
  • Teddy Purcell – pretty unlikely, but he has one year left on his deal and Edmonton could keep salary

Plus, it’s naturally anyone’s guess what happens at the draft; aside from the fact that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be playing centre for the team next year there’s pretty much nothing set in stone if the rumours going around are to be believed.

Tonight’s game against Washington should be fun. Alex Ovechkin is always a blast to watch, Fasth will be getting a start and has to prove a lot between now and the end of the season if he’s to be in the majors next year, and guys like Hendricks and Gordon played years for the Capitals and should have a little bit of extra motivation to shine.

Lineups

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There aren’t any expected changes to tonight’s lines, which will look much as they’ve looked since Todd Nelson took over behind the bench:

1.20.15 Oil Lines

There is one interesting item, though:

Viktor Fasth has not been good this season and he certainly hasn’t earned more playing time, but the Oilers’ options stink and of late he’s been pretty good. In two starts since January 1, Fasth has allowed five goals on 77 shots (0.935 save percentage) and seeing as he’s rolling it makes sense that he’ll play again tonight. It also made sense that he wasn’t playing regularly before now, as in the month of December he allowed 16 goals on 95 shots over five games played (0.832 save percentage).

It’s just barely possible that Fasth will get on a roll and have some marginal value at this year’s trade deadline. At this point he has no value to the Oilers; if they can add another 2016 seventh round pick for his rights it would be better than keeping him.

What They’re Saying

Washington winger Troy Brouwer’s comments to reporter Mike Vogel do a pretty decent job of giving the Capitals’ perspective on this one:

I like where we are at. We are in a good position. We have a great opportunity to get first in our division. We’re fighting with some real tough teams, but we play [those teams in the second half]. The teams that we’re needing to catch right now, we’re playing games against them. I like where our first half of our season has gone. I think we’re trending in the right way, I think we’re doing the right things to be a real good hockey team. We’ve got one more game before the break against a team that has a lot of speed and a lot of skill, so it’s going to be a quick game night. We want to be able to go into the break with a win.

Washington’s in a tough playoff race and was red hot but is coming off a couple of losses. They have a week off after tonight and haven’t played since Saturday. They should be firing on all cylinders against Edmonton.

Telephone

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When I was in school, we used to play a game called telephone. The whole class would stand in a circle, and a story would be whispered at one end and repeated from student to student until it reached the other end. Those who have played this game will know that the story tends to be dramatically different once it reaches the other end of the line.

It’s a helpful lesson to keep in mind when something really startling pops up, as it did on Twitter following Saturday’s game between the Oilers and the Panthers:

At face value, that’s a pretty incredible story. Let’s break down the pieces of it:

  • The Oilers analytics department is so stupid that it felt a player who had never taken a shootout shot should not be used because of his 0.0 career shooting percentage.
  • The Oilers coaching staff prior to Nelson was so stupid that it bought into that line of reasoning.
  • Nelson is so stupid that rather than deal with such a colossal mistake internally he thought it best to air the organization’s dirty laundry publicly, despite the fact that the same organization has yet to decide if he’ll be coaching in the NHL next year.
  • In short: Total insanity. 

It doesn’t pass the smell test. The Oilers analytics guys are Tyler Dellow (who I know personally) and Dan Haight (who I know by reputation). They aren’t drooling imbeciles, so the viewpoint ascribed to them seems unlikely. Dallas Eakins may not be God’s gift to coaching, but as anyone who has spent five minutes listening to him talk knows he does have two functioning brain cells. After talking to Nelson for hours and hours last season, I also feel comfortable saying that he’s far too smart to embarrass the Oilers publicly like that when he’s hoping to work for the club past April.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, I suppose, depending on your point of view) we don’t live in an era where the beat reporter for the local paper has the same power to control what reaches the masses that he once did. Among other things, the Oilers broadcast what the coach says postgame, so we can watch for ourselves:

Watching the interview, Tychkowski’s interpretation is one possible read of the coach’s comments. But it misses a lot of nuance. It misses the fact that Nelson was laughing as he mentioned there obviously wasn’t an analytics case one way or the other for a guy who had never fired in the shootout. It misses the fact that one of the reporters in the postgame scrum interrupted Nelson mid-sentence in his eagerness to ask if that analytics guy had been fired yet. And if I were to say that the team generally prioritizes guys with a history of shootout success but that Nelson played a hunch based on what he’d seen in practice it would capture what was said without the (in my view unsupported) implication that anyone with any say behind the bench prior to Nelson was an utter and complete moron.

Every media person on the face of the earth looks at the world through the lens of his own experience, and the way he or she hears things is subtly influenced by the bias that comes out of that experience. That’s true of me, it’s true of Tychkowski and it’s true of the very best in the business too, people like Jim Matheson who has been covering the Oilers since before I was born and people like Bob McKenzie who are universally respected. Perfect objectivity is always an unattainable goal, something we can constantly strive for but will never completely achieve.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have the postgame video. You don’t have to take anyone’s word for what happened; you can see for yourself. In an increasingly transparent world, media of all stripes can increasingly be measured against an objective standard. That’s good for the audience and it’s good for the profession.

Predictions

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Game day prediction: A 14-1-4 run by the Washington Capitals was interrupted by a pair of one-goal losses to the excellent Predators and the hard-charging Stars on Friday and Saturday. Those losses probably mean zero complacency from the Caps, and they’re a better team than the Oilers. 3-2 Washington.

Obvious game day prediction: Many people will compare Taylor Hall to Alex Ovechkin and Todd Nelson to Barry Trotz.

Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Viktor Fasth will have a save percentage on the right side of 0.900 for the third game in a row, and scouts watching the game will start wondering about him as a possible backup on a team without a reliable No. 2. There are a couple of teams out there that fit the bill and on that note it’s probably worth pointing out that Capitals backup Justin Peters has a 0.864 save percentage this year.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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