Thoughts on the Oilers: Goaltending, Coaching, Personnel, Mo’ Money

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

This season can’t end soon enough. The Oilers are 24-43-13 with two games remaining, and are destined to finish 28th.

Goaltending

The Oilers will be looking for a new goaltender this summer with Fasth heading to free agency and Scrivens settling into a backup role. I thought Fasth would be the guy to take over, but alas, the Oilers will likely dump a pile of money at someone like Antti Niemi. His numbers are nothing great, but because of his experience and Stanley Cup ring, the Oilers, or another desperate club, will make a pitch for his services.

Good/average goaltending is really all a team can ask for from their netminder. It’s really more important to have an experienced defence core, which to me, makes or breaks a goalies career. If the Oilers want average goaltending, they really should save the money and avoid someone like Niemi. Instead the club should pursue someone younger with upside like Cam Talbot (NYR) or Martin Jones (LA). Unfortunately, MacTavish tried this last season with Scrivens and Fasth, and failed, so it’s likely he’ll chase an experienced goalie. I’m hoping the Oilers’ analytics team can uncover a goalie whose career has been good, but value has dropped because of a poor year. Darcy Kuemper (MIN) comes to mind.

Coaching

This is going to be a tough decision for MacTavish. Do you go with Nelson who has done an okay job as interim head coach or do you chase one of the top coaches who might be available after their respective playoff runs? MacTavish struck out once going with a younger coach, so my guess is he’ll make sure his next hire is a veteran guy. Not to say that Nelson or Eakins aren’t good candiates. Both have done excellent work at the AHL level providing guidance to developing players, and are worthy of NHL positions. I just imagine MacTavish going down a safer route, so he faces less criticism if/when things go south.

Size

It seems every time the Oilers lose, I come across comments online and the radio about how the Oilers need to be bigger.

Chasing a single trait like size, or even speed or skill, is extremely short sighted and is often influenced by our own personal biases and experiences. When assessing anything, whether it be a player or a car or an idea, it’s critical to remain open minded. The Oilers, for whatever reason, have chased size (i.e., coke machines) drafting or acquiring players who had limited potential (JF Jacques and Brad Isbister immediately come to mind). It’s easy to find size..just sort the list by weight and height. But it’s harder to get a big player with strong complementary traits like skating, puck control and endurance. It’ll be interesting to see how the scouting staff does this summer.

Katz

A lot has been made of how terrible the Oilers have been since Katz officially took over the club in 2008. David Staples from the Cult of Hockey put some numbers to it to highlight just how bad they’ve been relative to the rest of the league.

At the end of the day, there really is nothing we can do with who owns the team. The NHL, and other professional leagues are just a time-filler for owners. They all have other legitimate businesses running, and pro-teams are really just for fun for them. It always makes me laugh when someone refers to hockey as a “business”. It’s a cartel. Similar to the drug trade. They have their own rules, their own measure of currency, and their own economy and operational structure. So to hope that another owner comes along and takes the game more seriously is just wishful thinking. You can hope Katz can hire the right managers and staff, but it’s clear that he goes with people he knows personally and has an attachment to. Can’t do much about that, so we kinda have to roll with it.

Side note: I’ve come across a lot of interesting research on social behavior and norms, cognitive psychology stuff. One thing that’s apparent is how money impacts our decision making, the norms that guide our behavior and our relationships with others. It’s possible that Katz’ deep pockets, and early promises to spend to the cap,  may have altered how the Oilers assess and acquire players. There was a time when the Oilers actually pieced together a nice roster (see 2005/2006, Oilers). But something changed along the way where they now rely heavily on free agency and less on true scouting and asessement. Just a thought.

Recommended Links

Don’t Worry, It’s Almost Over – The Copper and Blue

The Character of the Oilers – Oilers Rig

Patience and Prudence in Development – Lowetide

Edmonton Oilers Player Grades, Game 71-80 – The Cult of Hockey

Corsi Didn’t Help Tyler Dellow or Kyle Dubas – Hockey in more than 140 Characters

Money Changes Everything – Dan Ariely

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